Startups, I Am Sad To Announce…

Startups, I Am Sad To Announce…

Indeed, my startup friends– I need to break this to you gently. That idea you think is a sure-fire win that no investor in his or her right mind would pass up, I regret to inform you, is much more interesting to you than perhaps anyone else, and I repeat anyone else, on the planet.

We become doggedly committed to our new technology or venture, enough to willingly live a frugal and single-focused life during its infancy, ignoring friends and spouses, and investing every waking hour (and our own bank accounts) in hopes of making our ideas a go. We see a gilded future, a pathway to riches, unprecedented sales, IPOs, buyouts, private jets, and the kind of wealth where others with far-lesser ideas in days ahead will come to us for funding.

There is a thin line between confidence and out-and-out delusion, yet envisioning success, whether delusional or not, is actually an valuable attribute. It will help you endure the often discouraging world of capital-begging and fuel the way you think, what you say, and you how you say it. Entrepreneurs lacking this passion will likely fail.

A lot of those mired in the startup mode think all they need to give investors is detailed information, spreadsheets, projections, technical specifications, factual comparisons and quantitative hoo-ha. While this is ultimately necessary for funding, a startup will probably go nowhere unless its spokespeople can instill a little of their passion.

So the presentation, my friends, is not just about what you want investors to think, but what you must get them to feel.

So how do you help ignite passion?

  1. Remember the things that kindled enthusiasm in you.
    Chances are, your excitement was born of a very basic vision, an idea. Once that enthusiasm was kindled, you were able to refine it, improve it, and create a much more intricate tactical plan to move it from notion to reality. Too often, we focus our discussion on those later details and operations, failing to share the vision that got us excited in the first place---perhaps the very thing that might get investors excited as well.

  2. Know your audience.
    Learn about what lights their emotional fuse. Use that knowledge as you craft your message. Sometimes small tweaks that acknowledge what is important to the audience can make dramatic changes in how your audience sees you and your ideas.

  3. Make it interactive.
    An audience is more attentive when it is active and not just a passive receptacle for your message. Get them involved. Let them talk. By listening to questions you get them to ask you, they are telling you what it might take to convince them.

  4. Help them see themselves in your story.
    Those presenting too often mistakenly think the focus of the story is them, their technology, and their business structure. You must help the audience see themselves as part of the story¬–why them and what's-in-it-for-them.

  5. Most important–Let your enthusiasm exude.
    Show them what made you excited in the first place. Passion is contagious. You must convey enthusiasm and confidence, without seeming arrogant or naively unrealistic. If you do not seem to be enthused about your idea and the likelihood of success, your audience never will.

Research has shown us that decisions are made in the emotional recesses of the brain, and all the compelling facts and figures we feed to the rational side don't mean much until the side controlling passion says "OK."

While your audience may never become as obsessively wacko-crazy about your idea as you are, you may make them just excited enough to part with some money in the hopes of making them, and you in the process, more successful.

© Copyright 2015. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

You Will Both Curse Me And Thank Me For This

You Will Both Curse Me And Thank Me For This

I am about to make your work a little harder, but perhaps increase your chances of securing funding. You might curse me momentarily for the suggestion I am about to make, but you will be grateful later on when investors shower you with money, or at the very least return your emails, but let's see if you remember to pick up the telephone and thank me then.

If you are in the investment cycle, you already know you need some kind of a presentation, and chances are you (1) have one and know it is not as good as you need it to be, but (2) know it is no crappier than most of the others you have seen.

Likewise, you believe you need only this one presentation, and since it is all-about-you, you can pretty-much use it in any situation when anyone lets-you-talk-about-you.

What you may not realize is that you are, well, wrong, and having a single presentation for every pitch would be a little like owning, say, one pair of shoes, which you use for formal occasions, running marathons, mountaineering, and wading through snake-infested swamp water.

Savvy entrepreneurs know that a good investor presentation is not a one-size-fits-every-occasion tool, unless of course that occasion is "to fail."

You really need a number of different presentations, each responding to very specific opportunities.

  1. The Big-Pitch-You-Already-Know-You-Need
    This is the one we all assume we must have. However, to be effective, it must be flexible. A small tweak in a big presentation is sometimes just enough to align it precisely to a specific audience and to the style that will work best with your investors.

  2. The Very-Flexible-Brief-Overview
    Think of this as Pitch-Lite, a five-or-so minute presentation that hits the key points relevant to an audience, but in far less time than you swear you need. Your skill and savvy will be in your ability to choose what to include and what not to include.

  3. The Obligatory-Elevator-Pitch
    Most of the 30-second pitches we hear today are a useless waste of air and words. In their attempt to sound like what people think an elevator pitch should sound like, they are chock-full of meaningless cliché and jargon, trite phrases, and so much-ambiguity that they leave the audience still wondering what the company does and how 30 seconds has irretrievably been stolen from their lives. The purpose of a 30-second pitch is NOT to cram everything-you-do-and-everything-you-know into 60 words, but simply, to say just enough to (1) get someone to ask you a question and (2) allow you to talk to that person for more than 30 seconds sometime later.

  4. The Presentation-When-You-Cannot-Be-There
    You will be surprised the visibility you will enjoy with a freestanding presentation that does not need you, that can be viewed by investors at their convenience or that they can send to others. Providing a link to a well-produced, concise, high-impact presentation on YouTube or your website will pay benefits you can only imagine.

It will not take you four times longer to create four presentations. Each presentation is a variation on your core content and strategy.

Your investor presentation may be the most important communication you ever create. Every presentation, and I reiterate, every presentation communicates both information and your image, and sometimes the latter is more influential than the former. They have a name for companies that have already discovered this, and I think that name is "funded."

In this highly competitive environment, the ability to show the right presentation to your audience will increase your chances of getting a call back. It's worth the effort. I swear you'll thank me for this. Just don't call to do it during dinner.

© Copyright 2017. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

The Contagion Of Enthusiasm

The Contagion Of Enthusiasm

Mr. Crenshaw was the worst teacher in the high school. For students, finding his name on the Fall schedule was like losing the lottery: he was a terrible teacher, but made up for it by never giving good grades. Mr. Crenshaw was in his early 70s, well past retirement age, and clinically cranky since 1962. Though universally disliked by both students and fellow teachers, no one on the School Board had the courage to ask him to retire because, rumor had it, his son was connected to local organized crime, allegedly part of its senior management.

In his prime, Mr. Crenshaw was perhaps a decent History teacher, cared about what he did, and didn’t mind getting up every day to face high school sophomores. But he had been teaching from the same History text that he used when my mother took his class, and it appeared that he was now quite bored with the limited sliver of world goings-on between 1066 AD and the Renaissance he was assigned to teach. Unlike Physics teachers who can be rejuvenated cerebrally by the discovery of new sub-particles or English teachers who can add emerging writers to their curriculum, there is not much more to say about the Norman Invasion today than was said in 1940 when he started teaching, and probably not too more than was said in, say, 1067. So, he lost his enthusiasm for his content and in doing so, lost his ability to make World History anything but a mind-numbing experience for the rest of us.

Each day, he droned on about the reign of King Philip or an otherwise pivotal moment from the past as if it were some worldwide inconvenience, and he even made the Black Death—which in gore-value alone should have been a very cool topic for 10th graders— sound bland. Mr. Crenshaw just read word-for-word, without inflection, from the text book pages we were assigned to read the night before, stopping when the bell rang, often in mid-sentence.

While it was sad for us, having the very life sucked out of a subject that students having anyone but Mr. Crenshaw enjoyed, it was perhaps more tragic for Mr. Crenshaw, who lived in abject boredom for the past thirty years and felt the 45 minute class crawled even more slowly for him than us. He was unable to find ways to keep his own enthusiasm kindled, which in turn prevented him for igniting ours. As a result, few of his students ever went on to pursue any field that needed to acknowledge anything happened prior to 1690.

I have encountered many Mr. Crenshaws in my professional life: people who have delivered the same information day after day, and have lost the ability or even common courtesy to portray it enthusiastically. Or people who present ideas that might not be their own, and fail because they seem not to be convinced themselves. Or people whose insecurity or lack of confidence surfaces as apathy or dispassion.

An audience will never buy a concept that a presenter does not appear to be sold on. Whether languor is a product of boredom, weariness from a busy schedule, or uncertainty, the end result will be the same: the audience will see the topic as unimportant to them as it appears to be to the presenter.

Enthusiasm is contagious. That which seemed unimportant can take on urgency if the messenger is committed. Low priorities can be elevated by excitement.

Embedded in every topic is that thing that will makes it appealing to you and to your audience. Find it. If you can’t immediately, look again or try harder. If the spark has gone out, rekindle it. Keep in interesting for you and chances are you make it interesting for your them. Tap your passion. Show it in your voice. Portray it in your visuals. Convince people of it when you look them in the eye. Make your enthusiasm the catalyst for theirs.

You owe it to your audience and your content. And don’t read from the text book.

© Copyright 2015. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

The Chicken. The Egg.

The Chicken. The Egg.

It is the all-too-common chicken-and egg dilemma suffered by startups: they know the importance of an effective presentation to attract investors (often because the current approach is not producing results), but don't feel they have the money to invest in one.

So much rides on a presentation. Months or years of work are focused into a few brief moments. One in about ten startups are lucky enough to get an audience and access to a funder's attention---an opportunity that would be foolhardy to squander. Yet so many do, failing to tell a story that rouses interest, informs, impresses and separates one startup from the other hundred or so thousand sure-fire ideas that emerge each month.

Even if you have an decent presentation doesn’t guarantee that a funder will like your technology or business plan. But if you don’t, or have one that is difficult to follow, chock-full of predictably ineffective slides, or is less-than-professional, you can almost certainly bet on not getting a call back.

It's sad that interest might have been aroused if the story had been clearer, more engaging, and better than the competition's. But your presentation¬–what you say and how you say it–will tell an investor as much about you and your bankability as about your technology or business projections.

Frugal entrepreneurs, worried about getting through the day financially, often balk at the cost to do it right and think they can squeak by, forgetting that a good presentation is more-often-than-not that one-time chance to ignite interest and convey enough to make an investor want to talk to you a little more. Sure, you only one chance to make a good first impression. But you have all-too-many opportunities to make a bad second one.

Sure, an effective strategy and presentation may cost a couple of dollars. But if you are seeking a hundred thousand, a half million, a million, or upwards of five million dollars, your return-on-that-investment could be 10,000-100,000% or more, quite a bit greater than the 0% you are guaranteed if you fail. But if you need further incentive, that same presentation (with a couple of small tweaks) will double as your marketing, sales, recruitment, and general information piece down the road.

Yes, it is the chicken and egg dilemma. But remember, too many really good eggs never get the chance to grow up to become chickens and many chickens never survive long enough to produce eggs.

© Copyright 2016. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

Front Line Managers Can Make Or Break Your Onboarding Process

Front Line Managers Can Make or Break Your Onboarding Process

When reviewing an organization's onboarding program, I'll ask if front line managers, especially those who have worked there a while, go through new employee orientation, at least once every few years. Often the response is an involuntary quizzical facial expression, identical to one I would get if I asked whether any employees have ever, say, been attacked by wolverines or if molten lava occasionally comes up through the heating vents.

"Well, no," is politely answered and with pausing inflection that actually means "of course not."

The reason, explained in a way that they hope will make what is painfully obvious to them clear to me, is that managers already know about the company, since they, well, already work there. Besides, this might not be the most productive use of time for individuals whose schedules are already overstuffed.

For organizations with orientations that are not much more than cursory "welcome" meetings," where a few more forms are filled out and an avalanche of way-too-much information is stuffed into a morning, then agreed, it would be a waste of time for managers to attend. In fact, it might be just as well if new employees did not go either.

But if the onboarding process is even moderately effective, where the goal is to introduce and align new hires to mission, vision, values, and culture, then participation of first-level, front-line managers is not only valuable, but crucial to the success of the onboarding process.

Managers play perhaps the pivotal role in translating that cloud of ideas, roles, and idealized processes into the real world of how-things-get-done. Managers are the face of the job, processes, and the organization. If orientation paints an attractive oil-on-canvas representation of how the organization would like to see itself, then it is the manager who guides new hires into the actual three-dimensional landscape and the way-it-really-is. For onboarding to be meaningful, the message and reality must be the same. If they are not, both onboarding and the organization lose credibility, and the message to new employees from day one is that they cannot necessary trust what is said to be true. Or worse still, they are joining an aberrant subculture within a company that is doing it all wrong.

The only way to assure that the story is the same and true is for managers to hear the message new employees hear and to believe it, embrace it, and model it.

Manager involvement keeps all departments aligned and focused on the bigger picture. If there is a disconnect between story and real world, either the culture and process within an individual department must change to align to the rest of the organization or the message delivered to new hires must be changed to more accurately portray the way-things-really-are.

Assuring that managers hear what their new employees are hearing assures:

  1. CONSISTENCY. That the way-we-talk-about-what-we-do and what-we-do are the same thing, and what new hires hear during the onboarding process can be trusted. In addition, it assures that mission, vision, and value of employees are consistent no matter where someone work in the organization.

  2. THAT ONBOARDING CONTINUES ON THE JOB. Onboarding is a process and continues long after the welcome meetings. In fact, most of acculturation will occur on the job, where attitudes and work habits will be forged through actual work. The manager is mentor, guide, and translator of mission and vision into practice.

  3. BUY IN AND OWNERSHIP. By involving managers, sharing the message, providing them with tools to help bring out the best in their hires, and seeking their feedback, we encourage managers to own onboarding and enjoy its benefits. They will be more likely to embrace to message, contribute ideas, and be partners in the process.

Without managers carrying the process forward and living the story, orientation is meaningless theater. Mangers need to know just how important they are to the process and be aware of the benefit that will accrue in new employee productivity, commitment, and enthusiasm.

But this involvement should not stop at front line manners. The story told during onboarding must be delivered and embraced up through the entire organization, to middle management, and into the offices of the senior leaders. So make sure they go through it too. Doing so is the only way to ensure that the new hire is joining the same one they heard about in when there were coming onboard.

© Copyright 2010. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

The Bar Is Set Extraordinarily Low

The Bar Is Set Extraordinarily Low

Most presentations do not trigger openly aggressive behavior in an audience, psychotic fantasies of ritual mutilation of the presenter, or the hope that perhaps something in the room—- either a furnishing, a piece of equipment, or a person—-will spontaneously burst into flames.

Presentations are what people have come to expect them to be, and little more— a convenient container for presenters to throw everything they can think of, with talking points fully detailed and projected onto an adjacent wall, and then the invitation to the audience to sift through the salvo of words-they-hear and words-they-see for the tiny amount of information that is actually important to remember.

When I go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, I know I am about to stand in a long, slow moving line and a irretrievable piece of the time I have left on this planet will be unfairly taken from me, and there is nothing I can do about, unless I am willing to commit the rest of life to walking.

When I enter a conference room and see an LCD projector crouched and ready to go, I set my expectations low, and I lower them further still, if the first slide I see is a multi-bulleted prose-preamble in 12 point type.

Ask most people who just sat through a presentation, replete with a 20 slide document they had to read from 25 feet away, and they will say that the presentation was OK, and pretty much like every other presentation they have seen or will probably ever see in their lifetime.

It included fully-formed sentences that often replicated—word-for-word— the script that the presenter was mouthing, as well as a cluster-bombing of charts and graphics, whose one or two important conclusions were eventually visible to those who squinted. The slides were identical to the review handouts the presenters passed out before he or she began, so the audience, if it got impatient, could read ahead, though couldn’t leave the meeting until the presenter caught up.

Most people do not expect much from presentations, and they are seldom disappointed that this expectation was unmet. As a long as it is not a disaster, a presentation is considered a success. This is how it has been seen since the beginning of time.

But with the bar set so low, anyone with even the even the most basic skills of content structure and storytelling, anyone with a few tips of how to use visuals for clarity/ emphasis/attention/retention, anyone who has applied a handful of Best Practices, and anyone who has been warned about the obvious and ridiculously-simple-to-sidestep-pitfalls that beleaguer most presenters, will surprise and impress an audience.

It will not take much work to be better than the next-guy.

When you can confound expectations, the result will be a more effective presentation that an audience will sit forward to hear.

Be even a smidge better than they expect, and you will own the room.

In the land of the mediocre, that which is “just-a-little better” is king.

© Copyright 2014. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

Muddle Through On Your Own

Muddle Through On Your Own

I am a little unsettled by the math. A widely quoted statistic claims 30,000,000 PowerPoint presentations are delivered every day.* The hard-to-get-down-the-gullet stat doesn’t indicate whether that is just in the United States or if it includes everywhere else on the planet, including Paris, Mumbai, and in dirt villages in Papua, New Guinea. For the number to be that high, I would think it might also need to include locations beyond our own solar system, where language and syntax differ, but bullets are still considered the way to go. I also hope that “every day” does not include Saturday and Sunday, which would sadly mean that American families are now replacing family discussions around the kitchen table with executive summaries and break-out groups.

Thirty million presentations. And note, that’s presentations, not number of people viewing them. Since we seldom create PowerPoint for our eyes only, each presentation encumbers two, three, or maybe ten often-unwilling participants, all in various states of consciousness. So if I am calculating correctly, sometime during the day, upwards of a third-of-a-billion people are sitting in a darkened room looking at bullets or heavily annotated bar graphs. That would mean two out of three Americans, including infants and the elderly, are perhaps watching a presentation as you read this.

I do not want to place too much value in a number that is so stupifyingly high that it is just too hard for me to comprehend. Rather, I am more interested in the consequences of that number. It means that we are delegating a disproportionate responsibility for communication to slides—maybe ten trillion a month—and we think that the way we are using them is actually make our messages clearer and more persuasive.

We believe that if we can turn it into a bullet or a graphic, that those we wish to influence will enthusiastically accept and understand it. We think that more we can include, the better prepared and really, really smart our audience will think we are.

We have let a badly flawed technology dictate—and often limit— how we communicate, rather than subjugate that technology the way we want to, in order for us to tell our story better. We use software such as PowerPoint to help us make slides, not to help us make our point.

Think about it. Most people use PowerPoint with very little training, and most training naively focuses on the mechanics of wrangling templates and making bullets twinkle, and not the more mature task of how to structure compelling content and create engaging visuals that clarify that trigger attention and retention. Most presenters create weighty text documents, because that is what PowerPoint encourages them to do. They do not know how to differentiate between slide and handout, so neither does its job well.

Most tragically, presenters forget what they are doing is telling a story.

If I were a betting kinda-guy, I would also wager that the next presenter I set eyes on is also spending unnecessary time and money on development, and would probably increase quality and streamline development this very day, if they were only given a handful of key practices,

If I were that betting guy, I would also predict that improving their presentations would get their audiences to nod “yes” a little more quickly.

If your presentations are not as effective as you know they can be, blame some of it on PowerPoint. In the past twenty years, we have learned a lot about how the brain processes and stores information and how decisions are made. A lot has changed in two decades, but the basic approach and architecture of PowerPoint has not. It grew out of a text-based technology and aside from the addition of schmancy effects and production add-ons, it is the essentially the same tool as was when it was released: a way to create documents for the screen.

But blame yourself a little if you haven’t done anything about it. Opportunities to increase effectiveness and cutting costs are, just maybe, being squandered.

But by looking at presentations a little differently, by applying some research and best practices, you can turn this selfsame technology into a persuasive tool and turn yourself into a more persuasive presenter, to inform, inspire, and move an audience to action.

About 300,000,000 people, here and in New Guinea, are counting on you.

* That statistics is many years old. I shiver to think what the updated number is, and pity the poor person who has to peer in conference doors and count.

© Copyright 2014. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved

Saying It Out Loud

Saying It Out Loud

Inside of your head is a very different place than the inside of a conference room. One is a jungle of neurons and squirting synapses, with all kinds of exposed wiring, prone to new ideas---an enchanting place where language and insights bio-electrically merge. The latter may have coffee and a tray of Danish, and must often be booked 24 hours in advance.

Most people practice their presentations within the silent confines of their heads, speaking to themselves in that quiet inner-voice that no mortal can hear, mistakenly thinking that the presentation playing inside their cranial-space is identical to the one they intend their audience to hear in Conference Room B.

People generally do not like to rehearse aloud, because delivering it once during the actual prime-time presentation seems to be enough to ask. Some people are also a little self-conscience about talking in a normal voice to themselves. But unless you do, you will sadly discover (in real time) that while the slides and narrative may be the same, the presentation you later give you will be bewilderingly different.

It goes without saying that you must rehearse. Some people think they do not need to, and their first rehearsal, prone to all manner of mistakes, fumbles, and regrets, is in front of their audience of decision makers.

But as important as rehearsing, is rehearing out loud. It must be done. You need to hear, and by "hear" I mean "hear," exactly what the audience will. Our brain, as efficient and trustworthy as it tries to convince us it is, does not follow a real-time clock, has no interest in punctuation, and will ignore things that our more attentive ears will pick up.

If you do not mouth each word, you may find that the fifteen-minute presentation that took fifteen minutes to rattle off in your head is only halfway through at the 20 minute mark of your meeting.

Saying words aloud will also give you a better idea of pacing, transitions, and emphasis, as well as giving you a heads-up on a phrase that you might wish you hadn’t used.

If you can close your door or run off to an empty conference room or janitor’s closet to practice, mutter quietly there. If you are in a cubicle, you may appear psychotic if mumbling aloud, but weigh the short-term puzzled looks of passersby against the long-term career-enhancing-or-destructive value of your talk.

If you cannot find a private space or if you need to rehearse in a crowded space, the next best thing is emitting no sound, but clearly moving your lips, because your lips (being one of the more laid-back organs) will be more likely to flap at the same cadence as real presentation, where presumably your lips will also move.

If you are forced to practice at a Starbucks or on an airplane, people will wonder why you are murmuring to yourself, which may be less disconcerting to them at a Starbucks than on an airplane. In rare cases, people on a flight may just assume you are afraid of flying, and are not averse to public prayer.

In a communal space, attach a Bluetooth thingee to your ear, or maybe one of those wired cell phone devices that hangs from the side of your head and has a tiny microphone that you can hold to your face. People will think you to be a self-important fool, but at least not delusional.

Another good bet is rehearsing in front of someone else, perhaps a colleague, or better still, a person who works for you since he or she will have no choice but to seem enthusiastically focused.

If you can enlist no one, consider delivering in front of your Labrador retriever. A tape recorder or video camera can also be extremely valuable, so you can see and hear yourself in the third person, just as your audience does, and you will notice those quirky mannerisms that everyone else talks about behind your back, but no one has the courage to mention.

© Copyright 2010. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved