Last week I had the pleasure of doing several presentations for Junior Achievement LATAM at its conference in Mexico. Spending time with hundreds of high school and college students over three days was energizing and playing teacher was something I have missed terribly.
I did a session for 50 of the students who had their own businesses about validating a new concept. We went through a Top 10 list, starting with the problem statement. They were wide-eyed and asked complex questions, some becoming emotional at times because of the tasks before them in creating a successful company. Young people with big dreams, authentic, looking for guidance. Over several private sessions, I was continually surprised by how far along their businesses were because of the openness and humility the entrepreneurs consistently showed in discussing their challenges.
After the conference, I spent an afternoon in Mexico City. My first meeting was with an entrepreneur with a new startup. Just a year older than some of the students at the conference, he was in a corporate job and wanted my feedback on his business that he had been developing on the side. The concept was strong, but his presentation wasn’t clear, and I was having a hard time following the story line of the pitch.
Instead of using a deck, he gave a demo of the site functionality. This made our interaction feel awkward at times because even though I love seeing the product, it felt like he was doing the pitch that goes with his deck.
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Becoming skilled at presenting a demo in a personal setting, having all of your bullet points to cover while still making it feel like a personal conversation, just comes down to practice. A lot of practice, especially when your assumptions and strategy are being questioned.
The inspiration for this column came from the stark contrast between a few meetings I had on a single day. The CEO of a company has to be the leader and have a clear vision and plan for building the company, no question. Confidence and thoughtfulness in discussing your plans is also a strength, but being sensitive to the situation and your listener’s needs and wants should always be a priority. While “having all the answers” seems like it would be a strength, you may miss hearing an important comment or insight. And being too quick with an answer and then moving on to your next bullet kills any chance for spontaneous meaningful conversation. If you are too focused on making your points, even a private meeting can seem distant and cold.
Here are some practices to consider in making both public and private presentations:
1. Your public and private presentations should have a clear story so the listener knows what problem you are solving, who has that problem and how many people have that problem.
2. A good pitch will walk the listener down a path of where you were, where you are and where you are going. You won’t be able to answer all of their questions but the main, high-level points should be clear.
3. A one-on-one pitch at a table is very different than a presentation to a room. Practice having a more conversational style and you are much more likely to be interrupted.
4. Prepare scripts for a pitch presentation and a demo presentation, and practice with people who understand what you are doing and others that have no knowledge of your area.
5. Be prepared to tailor your presentation to the audience. Whether it is a room of investors or a single potential partner, give examples with which your listener(s) can identify.
6. Know the goals of your presentation before you start. Positioning the company for investment means focusing on traction and the vision of where you can go with funding. A strategic partnership meeting should highlight your existing strengths and how complementary and synergistic the relationship will be to take both of you to the next level, all about the win-win. Enticing an advisor or mentor to support your efforts will require them to believe in YOU and your vision.
7. Educate your listener about the need for your business, that you have the right solution, that you are the right person to do it, that he or she can add a lot of value to your concept and that you appreciate and reciprocate (with investment returns, building their business, personal satisfaction from mentoring someone, excitement and challenge of building a cool company, etc.).
8. Try to schedule your time together so you end up listening more than you speak. Prepare questions and take notes.
Compressing your vision into a few minutes is hard. Taking someone through your thought process who isn’t devoting his life to that area is not easy either. Use your presentations to make personal connections, remembering that these interactions show exactly what your listeners can expect in future dealings with you. Do you want them walking away thinking you will be a great partner or a know-it-all who won’t listen when the going gets tough? The more important the meeting, the more valuable the advice and counsel you may receive. Be willing to show you can listen: That intention alone may have a surprising impact on your relationships and your business.
Susan Amat is the founder and CEO of Venture Hive, an entrepreneurship education company, www.venturehive.co. You can follow her on Twitter at @SusanAmat.