Most people suck at presenting to big groups. It’s a shame because the ability to nail these presentations at key conferences can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to influence journalists, business partners, potential employees, customers and VCs.
So I thought I’d write a piece on how not to suck when you give a presentation.
1. Show some energy! – No great presentation can be delivered like a conversation. You’re not lecturing to a college class, you’re not at a cocktail party and you’re not chatting with a small group in a board meeting. You’re on stage!
People are sitting in their chairs for too long – most of them squirming. Many of them have their iPhones and laptops ready to command their attention the moment that you start sucking. You’re on stage – act like it! Get out of your comfort zone. You need to be an order of magnitude more perky than you would feel comfortable with in a normal conversation.
Project your voice. Use your hands. Don’t mumble. Speak quickly sometimes. Speak slowly to emphasize a point. This is called “vocal variety” and it’s critical. Speaking in a monotone voice is, well, monotonous.
If this isn’t naturally you then you need to learn it. Go join your local Toastmasters. It’s the best way to learn. It’s how I did. If you care about being a compelling presenter you need to work on it if it doesn’t already come naturally.
Monotony. Kills. Speeches.
2. Tell a story – Every great presentation tells a story. Stories have starts, middles and ends. They are human and touch emotions. They bring your product to life. They are not buzzwords or bullet points. Why do people think that buzzwords are going to interest audiences?
Be human. Try to connect with your audience.
CEO transparency. It almost sounds uncontroversial. A CEO should tell her staff everything! Right? Right?!?
Of course not.
It’s a hard topic to write about because it’s almost an accepted norm that total transparency is good. It is not.
For starters let me use “CEO” as a proxy to include her “inner circle” which might mean co-founders or might just mean senior execs of the business. I do believe in total transparency with your core.
The Mind of the Founder
You took the risk to start your company. You quit your day job and look the leap off of the cliff. It’s so much scarier than most people admit – even to themselves.
All of a sudden you know you’re going to be judged.
Your parents want to know why on Earth you’d leave a job at Google. “Honey? Aren’t they worth billions of dollars?” “Yeah, Ma. But I’m working on a large team of people trying to figure out how to make micro improvements to a paid-search algorithm. Fun stuff, I know, but it’s time for me to try something more stimulating.” “Oh, OK, Honey.
My internal compass has always steered me strongly toward the belief that founders who can scale with their startup companies are better to back that founders who eventually need to hire a CEO.
I have talked about this publicly a great deal – how I prefer “missionaries” over “mercenaries.”
But lately I’m more swayed by the wise words of Reid Hoffman.
“Founder is a state of mind, not a job description”
We all love the mythical stories of our great founder heroes who drove startups from scratch and led their businesses many years later: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos and so on.
Very few founder CEOs go into the job ever expecting to give up their seat. It’s your baby. Your idea. You took the biggest leap of faith. It becomes an extension of self rather than a job.
So give up the CEO role?
But it’s actually not that simple.
The one word the best entrepreneurs never accept.
I said it.
Now let me walk you through a broader story because avoidance of the word in and of itself will seem cliche. Stay with me.
When I was little I had a role model for entrepreneurship – my mom. She was a natural leader. She was president of the UJA in Sacramento. From this I saw civic involvement and leadership first hand.
She was a nurse but was never graduated from a 4-year college. Still – she can do the NY Times crossword puzzle better and faster than I. Even today.
She was a hustler. And a ball buster. And a natural sales person. She was never afraid of the word “no” even to the point of embarrassing me.
My youth was filled with her arguing with vendors if they tried to pull a fast one. As my wife will tell you – arguing is cultural – you grow up with it or you don’t. I did. It’s very Jewish. For better or worse. She’s learned to embrace it in me.
I believe that groups coming together to make tough decisions driven by consensus tend to make poor decisions.
This is especially true in startups where speed matters and where there is a need to constantly calibrate direction and where these decisions can have existential outcomes.
Should you increase your burn rate by adding 2 senior hires who will help you ship faster or sell more but then have less time for fund raising? Or maybe their existence itself will help accelerate fund raising. Who the fuck knows? But YOU have to make that tough judgment call.
Should you raise $3 million in stead of $2 million even though it means more dilution so that you will have a longer runway?
Is it better to have 2 VCs in the deal at 12% each or one at 24%? There’s no right answer.
Do you ship your product in what you don’t feel is feature complete so that you can be in market first or should you hold back and deliver a product you believe will get better reaction from the market but is 3 months later?
It’s hard being a leader.
This article originally appeared on TechCrunch.
It is election season.
So it’s tempting to think this is going to be a partisan post – it is not.
I use George Bush vs. Al Gore as allegory and I’ve been using it with entrepreneurs for years to sink in a simple point about how to communicate with the market. I use it because I believe in the power of visual and memorable stories to sink into the consciousness. I talked at this point at length in a previous post on “The Importance of the Narrative.”
If you don’t read any more of the post, the summary lesson learned for entrepreneurs is this: Product-centric founders often over-intellectualize their communications and therefore fail to sell their concepts to the masses.
This does not mean you shouldn’t solve big, complex problems or write complex code.