They're a strange breed, alright...
Their passion appears endless. Their optimism seems to willfully disregard the odds of actually scoring a big deal. And the more extreme among them; that group seems to get a special kind of rush from mortgaging the family home to make next months payroll. But despite those things, they press on trying to find better ways to get their all important value proposition across to the chronically busy and distracted.
Last week I had an opportunity to work with several groups from a wave of 75 entrepreneurs who descended on Portland, Oregon with the hope of walking away with a check and some fresh hope for their ideas. And the only thing between them and a cash infusion… a 5-minute presentation.
[We provided a pre-pitch presentation workshop to help them prepare for that moment.]
You’d think with all that reckless abandon, they’d eat up a presentation workshop but to be honest, some were pretty apprehensive about putting their presentation skills under the magnifying glass (delivery and messaging shaping). How do I know? They told me…
“I was skeptical about the training session when I was driving from Seattle in a really bad rainy weather. I thought I have been presenting for 20+ years and I’m a pretty confident presenter…”
But unlike their “traditionally employed” friends with predictable paychecks, these folks had a unique motivation to be there… survival. There was no promise they would be around a year from now. No assurance a big customer would magically appear at the last minute to underwrite their next quarter. And one of the most important tools in their arsenal (and the reason they were there), was their ability to tell a compelling business story.
That’s seems to be the kind of motivation needed to take a hard look at old habits and perhaps how most of us are nothing like entrepreneurs.
Here’s what we did during the 4-hour sessions. We spent time breaking down old notions around presenting and started fresh. How do you engage busy and distracted people? How can you help your message stand out from the crowd? What are the “how” skills that convey messages like trust, believability, passion and confidence?
The time went fast for both groups and the transformation of message and messenger was pretty dramatic. (I think they actually surprised themselves)
By noon the next day, the original group of 75 companies was culled to just 5 as they headed into the final round in front of a handful of real investors (with real checkbooks) and an audience of a few hundred that crowded into the room.
I was delighted to get this email a few days later…
“Jim – we won! We were among top 2 winners and got the biggest check! I redid my whole pitch after your session, added personal story etc. Then worked on my “How” part and it was powerful. …I used variation of my voice, pauses, hand gesture as much as I could. This was wonderful. I didn’t even think we’ll make it to the top 5. But we not only did we make the list, we topped it too.”
Truth be told, a lot of folks got this same coaching but couldn’t execute when it counted. So it says a lot about this women. But it’s time to circle back to my original statement of being more like an entrepreneur than you may know. What could you possibly have in common with them?
- You have to communicate the value of your ideas all the time. (Budgets. Proposals. Sales pitches….)
- The ability to do that well will always affect the trajectory of a career. (Promotions. Performance plans…)
- If you don’t connect in the first minute, you probably never will. (Busy and distracted people)
- You have much less time to make your case than you think you’ll need. (Reality)
What if our ongoing employment was determined by a single presentation that we had to deliver every month? Nothing was guaranteed and we got no do-overs. I suspect we’d gain just a little insight into the world of entrepreneurs.
But maybe, just maybe, that’s the world you live in too – whether you realize it or not.