This is a great example of why editing can make all the difference.  But it’s not just for writing, it’s for speeches too.  It is even more important in a speech, because the tighter the content, the more likely the audience will stay with you until the end.

Most people find it hard to cut out even one word, much less a whole idea, but if it doesn’t add to your overall message, if it isn’t something the audience needs to hear, then ax it.  This is not about you, it’s about them. Read more in (And other wisdom from Steve Jobs) add link to other post

So take the time, edit your words, your thoughts your ideas and the result will be a better, more compelling speech.  And who don’t want that!!

You have to start from the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.  You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you are going to try and sell it.  — Steve Jobs

This quotation is true for more than just technology.  It is true about any communication you want to have, from a conference speech, to an investor pitch, to a conversation with an employee.  You always begin with them.  If you don’t take the time to understand what they need, what why want and where they are coming from, then they will never ‘buy’ what you are trying to ‘sell’.

So often when we begin writing a speech or walk into a staff meeting, we are busy thinking about what we want to say.  But we forget that whomever we are speaking to may not care.  If they don’t care, they won’t listen and then you can never accomplish your goals.

So before you put pen to paper, or open up PowerPoint or go ask your boss for a raise, think about what they may be thinking.  What objections could they have and craft your answers. If out why they came to the conference.  Get to know who they are and what is important to them.  The better you know and understand your “customer’ the easier it will be for you to create the experience that will make them want to buy whatever you are selling.

Executive Presence

Executive Presence counts for 26% of why we get promoted.  That is almost a third! So, working hard and keeping your head down is not enough.  As women we often work hard on our competence, but not ready on our confidence.  But that lack of attention can lead to a subdued, unfocused or aggressive executive presence.  Whether we like it or not, how others perceive us is more relevant than how we perceive ourselves.  Unfortunately, our perceptions and that of others don’t always align.

So what can you do about it?  How can you create the presence you want others to see?

Here are three tips on how to get started.

  1. Choose some juicy words that you wish others would use to describe you. Maybe for you it’s generous or bright or quick or commanding.  Find words that you want to embody and keep them top of mind.  I keep mine on a post it in my office and in my car.  I look at them before I go to a meeting or work with a client.  It helps me edit my messages, tone and body language and will eventually create a shift not only in me, but in how others perceive me.
  2. Show your words to someone you trust.  Ask them to let you know if there is anything you do that undermines those words.  Ask for only one thing, or it will overwhelm you.  Now that you are aware of the habit or behavior, you will find yourself editing it out over time.
  3. Ensure that your presence is reflected in everything you do.  If one of you words is organized, then don’t have a messy office.  Make sure your online presence aligns with your physical one.  Watch your tone on the phone to ensure you are giving the right impression.  It is a bit like your hair, you may only see it from the front, but others get a 360 view.  You want your 360 view to reinforce your presence.

So decide how you need your boss, your co-workers or your investors to see you.  Then find the unique and authentic qualities you bring to the table that will let them see you with new eyes.

For more information or the opportunity to work with a group of dynamic women on your executive presence click here.

Last Wednesday I went to another great panel discussion for ACG Central Texas. This particular panel was a spotlight on private equity, and it included partners from Vista Equity Partners, Virgo Capital, and some of the other top equity firms here in Texas. They shared their observations on today’s market and talked about what, in their eyes, makes a successful business founder.

One thing really caught my attention — and the reason I’m writing this blog post — was that they all talked about the importance of founders being open-minded: open-minded to unexpected opportunities, to different strategies, to new directions. And I couldn’t agree more.

The word I use for this quality with my clients is coachable. To me, open-mindedness isn’t just about entertaining new ideas or new ways of doing things; it can also be about taking someone else’s informed opinion or criticism and using it to positively impact your company and career.  People often ask for help and are then unwilling to execute on it.  So why ask?  If you want to get better at a musical instrument, let’s say, you would look for a great teacher.  Meeting with the teacher they will give you suggestions, advice, homework and feedback.  You listen and practice because know that is the only way things will get better.

Whether you’re a founder of a bootstrapping startup, an experienced entrepreneur, a manager trying to move up in a large company, or a C-suite executive, true success comes when you are open minded and coachable.

A lot of my clients come to me for help, but instead of being open to suggestions and new ways of doing things, they want me to wave a magic wand and make everything better. (If anyone has figured out how to do that, please let me know. My business will skyrocket.)

The truth is that real breakthroughs only happen after a lot of hard work and some coaching from those trusted advisors that you’ve already vetted and brought into your inner circle. Be judicious about who you take advice from, but once you decide who those people are, take their advice!

No matter how experienced any of us are, there’s always something we don’t see, there’s always something we can learn, and there’s always someone else who may have valuable perspective and insight. Being open to others’ ideas and suggestions (while not always being reliant on them) will lead your company or career to new heights you hadn’t even imagined.

So try being open and coachable, and watch how things take off.

 

I recently came across an article on eye contact that the Harvard Business Review highlighted back in October. Those of you who know me know that I’m a big proponent of eye contact, so I was understandably confused to see that this study actually discouraged eye contact. To be honest, I started yelling at my computer screen because I so adamantly disagreed. Why such a strong reaction? Well, the study was conducted using video recordings of speakers expressing different views. Not real people — videos.

Of course we’re going to be turned off by direct eye contact in a video! We know instinctually that, if the speaker in a video is looking right at us, he isn’t making eye contact, he’s just staring directly into the camera. We know that this effect is achieved without looking anybody in the eye. That’s why it feels uncomfortable, insincere and unpersuasive. They say in the article that “eye contact decreases the success of attempts at persuasion.” Well, I’m not sure what the speaker was unsuccessfully trying to ‘persuade’ the camera to do, but I know the viewer had no part in it. The viewer was simply an observer of the speaker/camera interaction. Of course they weren’t persuaded of anything.

Eye contact is a powerful tool to create connection. It’s not one sided; it’s an exchange between two real-life, present people. It has the power to establish trust, credibility and confidence through mutual acknowledgment. But you can’t receive mutual acknowledgment from a video. You just can’t.

I was watching the news the other day and saw that the Pope took two young boys on a spontaneous joyride through St. Peter’s Square in his Pope-Mobile.  After the story was over, the news commentators all said: I LOVE this Pope! And while I am not Catholic, I have to agree.

So what is it about him that inspires such reaction?

Why does everyone feel such a connection to this man? And how is he igniting enthusiasm around the world and reenergizing Catholics?

The key is that he connects. He’s not focused on how he can be the best Pope that ever was – he is focused instead on them.  Whoever they may be – the elderly or disabled, the homeless, even two young boys on a school trip – he is always thinking about how to help and connect with them. Everything that he does and everything that he is comes down to what he can do for others. He isn’t just speaking from his glorified pulpit about caring for the poor and being a good Christian – he thinks, “What can I do that will be meaningful to this man, this child, this crowd.”

This is what makes people want to see him, listen to him, and be around him. This is what makes people want to engage.

When you are trying to communicate with someone — whether it’s an infuriating coworker or a potential investor – you will always be more successful if you focus on them and look for ways to connect. Communication at its best begins with generosity.  Think of this the next time you are about to lead a staff meeting or speak to your Board of Directors.  Remember, it’s all about them.

Every good public speaking coach will tell you that stories strengthen any presentation, speech or pitch. Stories put information into context. However, not every story is a good story or even the right story. So here are three rules to follow to help you identify the right stories.

Connection
Relatable:
This is one people often overlook. Your story may be perfect for your speech, but not for your audience. Each audience is different. Telling a story the majority of your audience can’t connect to, is worse than no story at all. So realize you may have to change stories each time you give that presentation. If not, it may feel like an inside joke that alienates you from the audience.

Clarity
Relevant:
I have often seen speakers who include anecdotes or stories because they read in a book that they should. They never bothered to figure out how or why that story makes sense in their speech. If you don’t see the connection, why should they. Think of the story as a picture you are painting for your audience so they can remember your points and put them in context. Make sure your stories are a good fit.

Credibility
Real:
First and foremost stories need to be true. An audience can usually sniff out a ‘planted’ story that was crafted for the occasion. They always fall flat and leave you looking like a twit. By the same token, I have seen people use other people’s stories as their own. While it is always more powerful to use personal stories, there are times when an experience that a client or colleague has had can be useful. However, if they are not your own you need to qualify that at the beginning. Give credit where credit is due. Keep it real.

So think about your audience, your information and your experiences. The stories that intersect all three are always the ‘right’ stories.

Your research is done. Your deck is ready.  Your business is poised.  Now all you need to do stand in front of the investors and make the pitch.
So, make sure you…

6. BREATHE 

Nerves are normal, even healthy.  Nerves can create energy and help you get your message and passion across.  But uncontrolled nerves are deadly.  So breathe.  It sound so simple, but it the first thing we stop doing when we are nervous.  Besides being generally good for you, breathing is the key to controlling nerves.  Standing in front of important and influential investors is not the time to limit the oxygen to your brain.  Take long, slow, deep breaths.  This will help you control your heart rate and by extension, your nerves

7. FOCUS ON THEM 

Another tip for controlling nerves is to focus on the investors.  Often when we are making a presentation or trying to persuade someone, we stay in our own heads.  We think ‘I hope they decide to fund’ instead of ‘I can’t wait for them to hear about my company’.  Get out of your head and into theirs.  Now instead of nerves, you will show passion, focus and connection.

8. PACE YOURSELF

The single biggest presentation mistake entrepreneurs make in a pitch, is spending too much time on the product and not enough time on the company.  When you are practicing, practice your pacing.  Make sure you are spending more time on your team, financials and growth strategy and leave time for Q & A.  Nerves on the day will eat into your time, so practice your pace and plan to finish early.

9. SPEAK UP  

You may be lucky enough to pitch to a couple of folks in a conference room, but you will probably stand in a lecture hall or auditorium in front of an entire angel network .  Prepare to present anywhere, at any time by gauging how much you will need to speak up to be heard clearly.  If you lose your place, don’t mumble.  Just take a breath and move on.  Your voice helps you tell your story, but only if they hear it.

10. LET YOUR SLIDES DO THE TALKING

Hopefully you have spent the time and money to put together a smart, clean, brief deck.  If not, call the folks at InvestorPitches.com for some help.  But now that you have the slides, don’t read them.  This is not kindergarten.  It’s ok, they can read.  Don’t waste precious time repeating what they have read.  Instead, use your deck simply as a tool to tell your story.

Now go forth and get funded and let me know how it goes.

Your research is done. Your deck is ready.  Your business is poised.  Now all you need to do stand in front of the investors and make the pitch.   So, make sure you…
1. PRACTICE
You’ve spent countless hours developing your idea, putting together your team, validating your value proposition and creating your pitch – now practice.   Actors rehearse, athletes train.  Great actors and athletes rehearse and train relentlessly.  So practice as often as possible and out loud  (things always sound different, and usually better, in our head).

2. PRACTICE TOGETHER
If more than one person is presenting, don’t practice separately.  In theater, the actors playing Romeo and Juliet never rehearse separately hoping that opening night everything will work out.  Practice your timing and hand- offs or you risk looking unprofessional and disorganized.

3. LOOK THE PART  Remember you are asking someone to trust you with their money.  Make sure you look like the kind of person they can trust with it.  Think more debate team captain and less hipster geek.

4. SHOW YOUR PASSION  When pitching, entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in facts and figures that they forget to show their passion.  Show it!  Passion means you are serious about your company and will do what it takes to succeed.  Investors will be energized by your passion and get excited to be a part of your vision.

5. EYE TO EYE  Not looking the investors in the eye can cost you.  If you seem like you are avoiding them, which can happen if you are nervous or unprepared (refer to #1), you will seem insecure and uncertain.  Regular, direct eye contact helps create a compelling presence and a connection with the investors.

Come back next week for Part 2.

There is often a misconception that we need to keep a poker face when faced with difficult people or situations at work. The truth is that a poker player is encouraged to “maintain an emotionless, apathetic demeanor”. That is not how we want to be perceived at work, any more than anger or frustration. So, how can you keep from sending signals which might just anger someone or escalate a difficult situation?

Here are some tools:

Relax: Facial muscles are often the first indicator to others of what we are thinking. We break into a smile. We purse our lips or squint our eyes. So when you are facing a tense situation or you hear bad or frustrating news, start by relaxing your facial muscles.

Blink: Often when we hear surprising information or are angry, we fail to blink. It is almost as if we can’t believe what we are seeing/hearing. So remember to keep blinking.

Look Away: Our eyes give away a great deal. That is why poker players often wear sunglasses. Briefly look away from the source of conflict. Give yourself time to process your thoughts and ‘put on’ the right face. Look at a friend across the room or down at your papers. By the time you look back, your initial frustration will be subsiding.

Smile with your eyes: Now you are ready to use your eyes to counteract any signals that may have slipped out in the first few seconds. A soft smiling eye, give others the impression that you welcome their thoughts and input and are open their ideas.

Overcompensate: Sometimes we are don’t have time to fully process what we are thinking or how we are taking the news. In these cases you are always best to overcompensate in a positive direction. If your employee has just shown some attitude or your boss just gave you a less than positive review, be kinder and more receptive to what they say than you might feel. If you don’t create tension at this point, you can always come back to them in an hour or a day with a well thought out response.

Walk in with a positive outlook: If you have to go to a stressful meeting or are giving a review to a difficult employee, tell yourself before-hand that it is going to go very well. Your positive attitude and demeanor will show in your voice and your body language. You might be surprised to the effect it will have on others.

Know your tells: We all have a tell or two, a habit or tic which immediately tells others what we are thinking without us even opening our mouth. It is almost impossible to notice these in ourselves, so ask a coworker. Find someone at work that you trust enough to not only help you identify your tell, but to give you a head’s up when they see it. Maybe you can have a secret signal they can send you from across the room. Over time you will find that becoming aware of your secret signals will allow you to control them.