Even the executive assistants of Bill Gates need assistance on how to use all of Microsoft's shortcuts and Vickie Sokol Evans, a certified trainer in the computer giant's products and software, is the woman who helps them out.
Microsoft specialist who’s as good as her Word
“There’s a button in PowerPoint that can reset and reformat all your slides,” says Vickie Sokol Evans. “It’s like magic. It gives me goosebumps.” Ms Evans, a certified trainer in all things Microsoft, is clearly a big fan of the technology.
The Texas-based mother-of-two trains thousands of people a year to improve their productivity using Microsoft’s Office software through her Red Cape Company, from administrative assistants to Bill Gates’ own executive team, who oversee Microsoft, the foundation and his entrepreneurial efforts.
It sounds ironic, she admits. Why would the man who created the Microsoft technology need any explanation on how to use it? “No one has time for training – nobody,” says Ms Evans. “And technology changes. People need the most relevant training in the shortest time.”
It’s this advice, along with much more wizardry, that she will be sharing with delegates attending this year’s two-day Executive Secretary Live event in Dubai, starting tomorrow.
“Assistants are the backbones of our companies and not only free up time for executives and managers – they have become their strategic business partners,” says Ms Evans, also the author of best-selling Microsoft Office 100 Tips series for PCs and Macs. “It is critical that they be as productive as possible. Technology is so prevalent in this role.”
Ms Evans recommends a series of shortcuts to help assistants achieve this.
She says she recently sat with one of Mr Gates’ assistants, who manages his hectic travel itinerary. “We created an automated template together. I like the collaborative effort of that – it’s something very specific for the assistant and their leader and we can automate or streamline the process.”
She also extols a feature in Outlook called “quick parts”, which allows repetitive, boilerplate content such as conference call-in details, links to videos or how to validate parking to be automatically inserted.
Automation minimises errors, she says. “If you have one mistake, nobody believes your report or anything in it. I avoid typing at all costs to minimise mistakes.”
But she says most people are “not ready” for automation. “They still need the fundamentals, such as styles, and then just an awareness of what else is possible.”
That “magic” reset button in PowerPoint she mentions allows assistants who are consolidating several presentations written by users with “bad habits” – different fonts, colours and formats – to merge them all using one format.
In Word, she recommends assistants learn to use styles and style sets “as formatting 80 to 800-page documents as you go is very time-consuming”. Painting in styles like a header 2 for all headers will allow you to easily move content around or make global changes without needing to reformat it or add a table of contents at the click of a button, she says.
In Outlook, Ms Evans highlights a feature called ‘conversation clean-up’, which will remove hundreds of redundant messages. “If we have corresponded and there are five emails, four from me, the first four are redundant because the fifth has the entire thread. Clean-up will delete those – unless they have attachments.”
She also highlights a global feature across Office software, themes, which can easily allow any document to be formatted to corporate fonts and colours. “There needs to be a level of professionalism for documents,” she says. “I’ve had vendors send me something with a mishmash of fonts and colours – I couldn’t work with them.”
Even Ms Evans, a former receptionist and personal assistant who spent two years working at Microsoft as a data analyst, is not immune to missing those time-saving shortcuts.
“I was working there at Microsoft, as an expert, creating pivot tables. I nearly cried when I found Excel tables months later, which would have saved me weeks of time and given me more time at home with my baby,” says Ms Evans, whose sons are 13 and 10.
The trainer, who has 15 Microsoft certificates under her belt, has been teaching for 20 years; she was even teaching Microsoft colleagues about their own software.
The executive also works closely with both Microsoft and Google. As a result, the Outlook team recently tweaked time zones to make them “sticky”, so users don’t need to click a button to show multiple time zones when booking appointments. “We have such global workforces today,” Ms Evans sayss.
“People tell me they don’t need training because they’re tech-savvy. I don’t like the term. We’re tech-dependent. Anyone who really is tech-savvy would never stop learning. Most people overestimate their skills.”
And while she gets lots of comments from users on things they think are missing, “94 per cent of the time the features we want in our software are already there,” she insists.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter