Not everyone is good ‘off the cuff’.

Some of us are methodical thinkers.  We sit in a meeting, listen to all the details and take a few days to process and form answers.  Well that won’t work.  That meeting is over, discussion had, decision made.  You are too late.

Others don’t feel comfortable voicing their option in a crowded room, in front of peers with everyone looking directly at them. So they stay quiet and talk about it with one co-worker at the water cooler.  Again, it’s too late. You missed the boat

Or maybe you are great at chiming in (insert my photo here).  But that gets me in trouble too.  It can be unedited, unfiltered and unproductive.

So how can improv teach you to be great off the cuff?

  1. You have to think on your feet.
    There’s no script, no predetermined outcome (not unlike most meetings) You have to process information quickly and you have to react or the scene ends.  You can’t just come back in a day or two when you come up with a great comeback.
  2. Be Present
    The key to great improv is that the players are completely in the moment.  They are listening intently.  They react appropriately and they feel at ease and in command of themselves.

  3. “Yes… and” – The first rule of improve
    This rule makes all things possible.  If at any point you negate a situation, another’s point of view or anything others say about you, the scene or the meeting goes off the rails. Open yourself to all possibilities to free yourself and speak in the moment.

So go out and try an improve class.  I get that going to a class can seem terrifying to some.  But honestly, it’s no different than putting yourself out there at work every day.  Only you are in a safe place where everyone else is out on a limb as well. I promise it will get you out of your head and into the present.   Then let me know your improv experiences – they usually make for great storytelling.

 

More and more companies and executives are reaching their audience through video and media interviews.  And while most are great in person, they don’t always do as well on camera.  Why is that?  It is the same phenomenon that happens to actors.  A great Broadway actor doesn’t always make it in film and film actors almost always struggle on stage.  People think it should be an easy transition – acting is acting right? Nope!

The art of connecting to an audience on stage or on camera requires very different skills.  Energy, eye contact and what the audience sees changes on camera.  But professionals rarely take the time to get better on camera.  They often wing it, hope for the best and sometimes, get better over time.  Why risk ever getting it wrong.  There are a few simple strategies you can use today to help you become a more effective communicator on camera.

  1. Remember – the camera captures thoughts not words.
    People think that what they say is what people hear.  Wrong.  This isn’t even true when you are face-to-face.  But this is especially not true when you are on camera.  The view is trained on your eyes.  They can give you away.  If you are distracted, not comfortable with a question or only telling half-truths, your eyes will give you away.  There is hardly a modern politician who hasn’t given a great example of this.  So what happens – we don’t trust them.  We don’t connect with them.  They don’t feel authentic.  So make your thoughts match your message or you may find the viewers don’t quite trust you.
  2. Big personalities  can look crazy
    Some charismatic leaders are great in the room.  They have energy and confidence.  But when they get in front of the camera that big personality can just be too much. Bold hand gestures, an overly strong voice or puffed up body language will come across as cocky, loud and a bit… well, crazy.  So if you have a big personality, tone it down on camera.  Don’t lose your charm just bring it down a bit.
  3. The camera is an energy suck
    There is something about being on camera which requires a great deal of energy.  The problem is, if you bring a lot of energy and it’s not focused, you (go back to #2) – look crazy.  It is not natural to be in front of a camera so everyone’s energy can slump a bit.  Our minds race with too many thoughts about how we look or sound and we get in our own heads.  So bring up the energy level, but keep it centered and focused.  Use it to make you more aware of the interviewer or the questions. This will help you come across as present and engaged.
  4. Camera lights wash you out
    Part of being successful on camera is how you look.  The reality is that bright lights wash out color and not just on your clothes, but on you.  There is a reason newscasters, men and women alike, wear make-up.  I realize some people don’t care, but at least do yourself a favor wear dark colors and try to stand near a contrasting background. Find a dark background if you’re fair skin and a light one if you’re dark skinned. This will help contrast you with your surroundings and draw attention to your face.  If you are willing to wear make-up, add extra color to your cheeks, lips and brows.  This will highlight and frame the two things people will look at the most, your eyes and your mouth.
  5. The camera is in the conversation too
    If you are being interviewed and the camera is off to the side, speak to your interviewer but imagine the camera is just a silent third person in the conversation.  It will help you keep your body turned toward them – you wouldn’t want to be rude.  It will also help relax you.  It’s just someone else listening in, nothing to be nervous about.

So don’t walk into that interview or the video studio as if you were in front of a client or your board of directors.  Take the time to get ready to switch things up a bit.

Send me your videos if you want some additional quick tips on how to be great on camera.  Be bold and make sure I can share it to help others as well.

This is a pet peeve of mine and I know I am not alone.  No one wants to be read to after the age of 6.  So why are you cramming words on a presentation slide and then reading to a group of grown professionals?

STOP IT – NOW! 

There is never a reason to fill your slides with text and there is certainly never a reason to read it all out loud.

Here are some DOs and DONTs:

DO: Keep your slides simple – the longer they spend looking at your slide, the less time they spend listening to you.

DON’T:  Cut and paste a document onto your slide.  Who wants that?

DO:  Give it to them in a handout.  If there is too much detail to give your audience verbally, give them a handout to take home and allow those who want a deeper dive to do it when they have the time and interest.

DON’T: Ever give the handout before the presentation.  They will spend the time flipping through papers instead of listening to you.  Wait and give it to them at the end of the presentation.

DO: Take advantage of being in front of you audience to deliver your message with persuasion and energy. Your delivery gives your commentary context emphasis and impact.

DON’T: Leave your meaning and influence up to a few (or more likely too many) words on a page.

DO: Always assume your audience is at least as intelligent as you are.

DON’T: Read to them as if they were your 4 year old niece.

Own up, are you guilty of reading from your slides?  Try it my way and let me know how it goes.  I may want to interview you for my upcoming book.

This is always a challenge for me as a coach.  Clients want to be better presenters.  They want to get ahead at work.  They want to be more successful at business development.  But, when it comes down to it, they don’t want to do anything differently.  They tell me they have been doing it for years or the do it all the time, but that doesn’t mean they do it well.  I always have to push back and say if what you are doing now is working for you, why am I here?  I wish I had some magic fairy dust I could give them to make it all better, but that’s crap and they know it.  No one who wants to get fit will get there without changing how they eat and how much they exercise.  Why would it be any different for how you communicate?

Getting better at anything takes work and often struggle.  Ask any Olympic athlete or successful CEO.  Reading books can give you ideas, going to a workshop might spark enthusiasm and hiring a coach may give you strategies, but at the end of the day the work still lays with you.   You have to take those ideas, strategies and enthusiasm and do things differently every day, day after day.  Nothing happens overnight, but if you remain dedicated, things will begin to shift.  Your presentations will be more compelling and impactful, prospects will start signing on the dotted line and your business will begin to grow.

So don’t sit around waiting for things to get better just because you show up, DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.  The difference may surprise you.

Try doing one thing differently and let me know how it goes.  Next time I may share your success story with the world.

 

Avoid the Pitfalls of Pitching as a Team

Should your whole team pitch?

This is a common question when teams are putting together their investor or sales pitch.  Often different members of the team can bring a unique perspective and expertise to the presentation.  But this can be tricky, because everyone brings a different energy, pace and presentation style into the room.  If not handled well, this can make for a muddled, disorganized and hard to follow pitch.

In most cases I believe only one person should give the initial pitch.  Here some examples of when to pitch alone, when to pitch as a team and why.

 

WHEN TO PITCH ALONE

Pitching to investors

Ultimately, VC or angels are putting their money on you as much as on your business.  They need to know how you think and communicate as a leader.  I always recommend the CEO give the pitch.  This is especially true if you are a founder.  No one knows more about the business or will have more passion than the founder.  That’s gold when pitching.  That does not mean you can’t bring key team members to the meeting.  You lead the pitch and they can join in during the Q & A when the investors will have more detailed questions.  This is when the deeper expertise can shine.

Pitching as the account contact

If you are pitching for new business and you will be the account manager it is best not to confuse them by having too many people pitching to them.  You will need to spend more time in prep with your team to fully understand their part of the presentation, but ultimately, you will instill greater trust with the client.  They will never be confused about who to contact or who is in charge.

 

WHEN TO PITCH AS A TEAM

Start up with more than on founder.

If both founders are crucial to the business and are truly equals, they should pitch to investors together.  You want to ensure that investors connect and build trust with both of you.  If not, someone could find them on the outside of the relationship later on.

Sales pitch when the client will be working with the whole team.

In this case, it is important that the potential client get to know and trust all the team members.  This give them the context for each team member and allows them to establish some common ground which makes communication easier later on, especially if you will not be working together in person.

To avoid the pitfalls of pitching as a team, follow these simple tips.

  1. Divide the topics each presenter will discuss before you even put the pitch together.  If you each know the areas you cover, you can avoid answering questions at the same time or sending mixed messages.
  2. Layout the pitch so that you only pass off the presentation once.  If you go back and forth, the listeners will feel they are at a tennis match.
  3. Practice in advance together.  Two presenters practicing separately are like the actors playing Romeo and Juliet rehearsing separately.  They will never be in sync and it will feel awkward to the audience.
  4. Align for the pass.  When one presenter turns things over to the other they can often fumble the pitch.  You need to align energy, pace and thought process.  It should feel like you finish each other’s sentences.

Do you have a good presentation story?  Or have any questions?  Leave a comment or email me.  Maybe your story can help someone else.

Are You Seen As Leadership Material?

Just because you are leadership material, doesn’t mean you are seen as a leadership material. 

I hear this so often, we put our head down, do great work, align with the culture and follow the rules and expectations, but no promotion.  Why we ask ourselves.  I remember working in theater and always hearing, how did HE get the part?  Why did they cast HER?  Sometimes, promotions and jobs go to people with a particular expertise.  But what happens when more than one person is ‘qualified’?  You need be seen as already filling the role, not just showing the potential to fill the role.  So how do you do that?  People think that means they need to get louder – NO.  Being loud can get you noticed, but rarely in a good way.  You want to be noticed for you.  You want them to see your authentic leadership style.

Here are some things which can get people to see you in a new way.

Pipe up – A well placed comment in a meeting can go a long way.  You don’t need to comment on everything, but make yourself heard when it really matters.  Often, I see clients who think of things in a meeting and wait until it’s is over to discuss it with their boss or co-workers.  It may not feel natural to you, but if you don’t do things differently, nothing will ever change.

Volunteer - Step up and take on a challenge, take the reins of a new project or even offer to organize a company event.  Chose something that will put you in the role of a leader.  Initiative will go a long way to changing how you are perceived

Change it up  – This will sound superficial and it is, but it works. Change up your look.  Cut off your hair, buy a suit or shave off the goatee.  This is the quickest way to get noticed.  You will need to follow it up with other changes like the ones above, but it can serve as a bit of a jolt and a reset of how others perceive you.

So go out there and get noticed.  Next time you will be the one in the new office.

Comment or email me and let me know what you do to get noticed.

Every day there is a new article, study or book about how we as women undermine our own road to success.  There are few mistakes that most of us have made along the way.  Here are some dos and don’ts to help you begin to strengthen your presence and get ahead.

Do run the meeting with authority and confidence
Don
’t undermine yourself with self-deprecating comments

Do apply for the job you want
Don’t
second guess yourself because you don’t fit the job description 100%

Do ask for a raise
Don’t
talk yourself out of it because…(insert insecurities here)

Do speak with a firm, clear voice
Don’t
worry if some people think you are loud.

Do interrupt a meeting if it is important
Don’t
ever say ‘sorry’.

Do listen to what others advise
Don’t
forget your own voice should be the loudest

Do go above and beyond at work
Don’t
keep it to yourself

Do admit to yourself you deserve your success
Don’t
just think it, you need to believe it and let everyone know

Toot! Toot!

Many people find it difficult to toot their own horn.  They think it sounds cocky.  It bugs them when they see others do it (poorly).  They think their actions and competence should speak for themselves.  Well, unfortunately that is not how it works.  People are busy.  They have their heads full of their own work and concerns.  If you want to get noticed and get ahead, you occasionally need to make others aware of your successes, however small.  There is a right and wrong way to do this, however.  So here are some do’s and don’ts:

Do mention at the water cooler that you signed the big client
Don
’t mention it more than once

Do celebrate small successes with your team
Don’t
take all the credit

Do let potential clients know about you, as well as your company
Don’t
take top billing.  You want the client to trust you, but do business with your company

Do use social media to update others on career achievements
Don’t
update your profile every week – you look like you’re trying too hard

Do talk up your successes at networking events
Don’t
look for compliments, just state the facts

Do let people know what you are great at
Don’t
mention what you have yet to achieve

Do toot your own horn
Don’t
assume others know how great you are

These three questions are how one investor I know described to a group of young entrepreneurs what investors are asking themselves during your pitch.  I couldn’t agree more.  You have spent hours, days, maybe years working on every element of your business, the product, the market, the team, even clearly defining the ask.  Now, how much time have you put into yourself and how you come across to investors?

Ask any seasoned investor and they will tell you that they would much rather invest in a great team and an average product, than a great product with an average team.  So what do you do if you have 10 minutes to convince them that your team is strong and that you are a leader?  You have to show passion, conviction, expertise, and confidence all without being cocky or defensive.

But what happens when you don’t plan, prepare and practice presenting your pitch?

There is the entrepreneur who walks in with confidence, knows a few people in the room and focuses on them and ignores the others.  Their demeanor is overly confident and the presentation can seem lazy and half-hearted.  An investor sees someone like this and asks – Do I like them?

There is the CEO who is happiest behind the computer and can’t stand in front of a crowd without sweating or losing their train of thought.  They walk in, don’t make eye contact or smile, rush their pitch and walk right out. An investor sees someone like this and asks – Can’t I trust them?

There is the young energetic entrepreneur who has pitched a million times and has a clear idea of what she/he wants.  They are so set in their answers and overly confident that they seem inflexible and shut off to new ideas.  An investor sees someone like this and asks – Can’t I work with them?

So what can you do to ensure that investors answer yes to all three questions?  Here are 3 quick tips.

  1. Do I like them?
    Do your homework – Investors are much more likely to like you if you understand who they are, what they like and how they invest.  You can overcome the first hurdle by beginning to establish a rapport the minute you walk in the door.  Knowing what THEY want, will enable you to speak their language, find common ground and have them on your side before you even begin your pitch.
  2.  Can I trust them?Show conviction – this is something that others can read both in how you speak and how you stand.  You need to be confident in your pitch.  When you are prepared and easily in command of your story and facts, you speak with conviction.  You’ll say “we will…” instead of “we hope to…” or “we are planning to…”.  By the same token, your body is centered and strong, not swaying or stiff.  You look at ease but could withstand a 100mph wind. 
  3. Can I work with them?
    The Q & A of your pitch should follow the rules of a good improv.  Never say NO.  Show investors you are open to new ideas and changes.  If after several meetings and due diligence, don’t agree with them, you don’t have to take their money.  However, if before they get to know you, your company and your product you shut down their input and ideas, they may see you as difficult and move on to the next opportunity.

So take the time to think about THEM and what they are truly looking for.  Ask your team and friends for feedback, practice and do your homework. Then walk into the room and get a YES.