Monday, August 31, 2009

Play Within Structure: More on Giving a Successful Pitch

On the subject of practical tips on giving a pitch, here's anecdote about working with a very successful client.

This client is an advertising executive -- let's call her Lucy. Lucy had been effectively selling ideas to companies for years. But she felt that something was missing. (More on that here).

A Different Way of Depending Too Much on Content

Lucy is a strategist and excellent at what she does. However, when it comes to doing her pitch, there always seems to be too much information to relay in the time allotted.

Furthermore, Lucy has many slide decks to present every week. She would need a photographic memory to remember it all. So she compensates by looking quickly at a slide's headline and improvising on each topic. To remind herself of where she is, she uses industry jargon to get her from one subject to another rather than telling a story that could stand on its own for anyone.

The effect? Lucy hits a heading, wandered around a topic, hits yet another, and rambles again. All the information is there. But there seems to be no emphasis, either within or among the paths that lead between sign posts.

You can follow the plot line, but it isn't exactly gripping.

Creative Performance Depends on Structure

When in doubt, impose a structure.

In this case, I suggested Lucy should ask a Question (or State a Premise/Heading), explain step-by-step how to get from the question to the answer, and end with a So-What? Clause.

For those of us who are new to this blog, a So-What Clause is the content with which you should conclude all presentations -- written, or oral. Time and space is valuable real estate when selling an idea. You've already told them the WHAT. Now tell them why they should care.

It Worked

Lucy was thrilled with the results. She said she hadn't been able to reconcile her feeling of being lost with her thorough knowledge of the subject area and experience presenting. She had gotten bored and hadn't really addressed her audience. She felt she was focusing instead on her content.

Lucy concluded enthusiastically by saying she wished she had met me when she was 20.

I must admit I was chuffed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More Tips on Presentation: Don't Rely on Your Content

I promised to unpack the post from last week a bit -- the one that talks about how to give a better presentation.

Here's a start.

When Last We Saw Our Hero(e) . . .

I was recently with a very accomplished fellow who interviewed me for a project at a cafe in Mayfair. He asked me the usual questions -- what qualifies you to do performance coaching? (20 years of doing it), how did you get to London? (brought here to establish and run a charity), what's formal credentials do you have (PhD in drama and five years of teaching from Brown University), and so on.

Then he surprised me by asking me to review his performance.

I thought this a very canny move. Most people don't think of conversation as performance. However, in business as in life, all interactions are an opportunity te sell yourself.

Information Can't Sell Itself

The conversational mode is a little intimate for this level of direct talk on first acquaintance. So the question demonstrated an unusually high level of self-confidence in the face of possible criticism.

Just that piece made me want to work for him.

What I Said, and What Might Be Useful to You

I told client that he relies on his content to sell itself rather than using eye contact to get his point across. His charm, too -- which is considerable -- was interrupted and the effect eradicated when his eyes wandered away.

This is true regardless of the fact that the content my client offered would have been tremendously engaging if I hadn't been so distracted by what seemed like careless or lazy delivery. I followed his line of thought because he's a client -- but if he hadn't been, my mind would have wandered several times.

The Lesson?

Even if you've been to the moon, don't expect the story to stand on its own. You need to sell it, although a tale of space travel probably requires a lighter touch than, say, doing your laundry.

And Now, Back to Our Story

The client agreed. He told me that it's difficult for him to hold someone's gaze -- that it's uncomfortable. He mentioned that perhaps it's because he's British and culturally determined.

Everyone faces internal obstacles in some process or other. These can be either overturned by new habits or, if deep-seated, they can merely be adjusted for. Ultimately, it depends on how much time you want to put into the process.

The Easiest Route

If you find yourself with the same challenge, try the suggestion I made to this client.

At the point of feeling uncomfortable, look away in a deliberate manner rather than allowing your eyes to wander off. The latter looks rude and undisciplined. The former makes the speaker seem as though he were thinking -- or, at least, seems to connect the intermittent periods of eye contact. This connection gives the listener an impression that he or she is being attended to in a focused way, regardless of the moments of disconnected eye contact.

And So . . .

It seemed to work for the client. If any of you try this, please report back on the results of how you feel -- and how it works.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Performance Coaching: Some Tips

For those of you who need performance help but do not live in London, I thought I'd share a few tips with those who feel nervous about presenting that I offer to my clients.

It's certainly not all there is to the process, but it should help.

Tips for Non-Actors

1. Good presenting skills are not mysterious. Here's the math:

95% of great performance is preparation and practice. Only 5% is inspiration and/or innate talent.
People are innately creatures of habit. Once we start, it’s almost impossible to stop. Effective performing habits can be learned.

= The odds are in your favor to become at least an above-average presenter - at best, excellent -- with practice. No matter where you are today, you can get there.

2. Inspiration is a meeting point of emotional and intellectual insight. So get that 95% preparation down cold – only then will you find a way to channel inspiration into your performance with consistency.

3. Empathy is a chemical reaction – you automatically effect the people in the room by being present. If it feels natural for you to smile, do it – it’s about the most effective sales tool you’ve got. But only if it’s genuine.

And, believe it or not, acting with sincerity can be learned.

4. The best way to channel nerves is enthusiasm. The alternatives are dire.

5. You’re most effective when you find your own presenting style. But steal whatever works from wherever you can get it.

Become aware of the way people move, sit, and stand around you. If there is something particularly effective in a gesture or expression (or particularly undermining), write it down with as much detail as possible. It will make you more aware of your own body language.

6. Practice. Slides never sold a thing, so don’t depend on them.

Pretend there’s only one word on every slide – the main idea, say “Opportunities” or “Management Team” – and then explain why it’s there. Don’t point or even look at the screen unless there is a very good performance reason.

7. Practice. The value of your performance reflects the credibility of your company. Half an hour a day. Every day. In front of someone who doesn’t know your material.

Don’t say you don’t have time. If you had a big bug in your software, you’d throw all resources into fixing it.

Think of your performance as the most important software you’ve got.

8. Practice. Find different emphases for different audiences, and have a few presentations up your sleeve. Make sure you can do them in automatic pilot.

But don’t. Ever.

More in the next post.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Teach Engagement, Not Content

Continuing from the last post on performance coaching:

To a large extent, great presenting is like great teaching -- Ben Zander's performance at PopTech! might shed some light on other aspects of such things.

The key, I think, is that everyone remembers a favorite teacher who inspired more than any other. However, it's the passion, not the content, that people remember most. I've covered this before, but it's worth restating here:

Teach your listeners, not your content. It couldn't be truer in business than it is in school.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Creativity Redux: How to Get Where You Want to Go

Following on the heels of the last post, how do you become more flexible in the ways you think about yourself and what you do for money?

I thought it worthwhile here to link to a post from 2005 on just this subject. No less true today than four years ago.

Funny how that works.

For those of you who just came aboard -- and to continue yesterday's discussion -- please take a look at why Creativity is not a singular quality. It's a practice. In business and elsewhere.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

You Aren't What You Eat (or What You Do, Either)

The recession has made me think anew of the relationships among profession and our sense of identity.

The US is famous for 12-hour work days, short holidays, and a focus on profession to the exclusion of all else.

Europeans, who came up with the stereotype and like to look down on the US for this attitude, brags a higher quality of life with long holidays and much shorter work days.

But how different are the cross-continental individuals' sense of self based on what they do?

What Has Changed

So many people have lost jobs that there is a big push to "retrain". Not just in the US but everywhere. Look at how much effort the UK, for example, has put into new initiatives for just this.

It's going to be a problem.

Re-learning, on the other hand -- particularly learning how to learn -- is going to be the key to success in the new economy. Just ask a financial services leader.. Or for that matter, anyone in the world -- CEOs, policemen, teachers -- with charges to tend and grow.

I've banged on enough in past posts on the differences between training and learning. Long story short, the former is about mastering a specific set of skills, usually in a particular environment to accomplish a fixed group of tasks. Learning is about seeing the relationships -- among environments, ideas, skills, tasks, and so forth -- across disciplines and contexts. And it's process-driven as well as oriented toward results.

Again, ask a business leader in advertising who feels passionate about it.

And This Has Changed.

I've found in the past, when asked "What do you do?", most people describe a profession with conviction. Lately the statements sound a bit shakier. And they're amended with "But I've also done other things."

Being someone myself who has had a series of interesting jobs rather than a career -- and being forced to justify the relationship among them -- I find this encouraging.

Not just for me, either. Given momentum, it could be very good for the economy.

If we retrain, what happens if the new job goes away like the old one did? Retrain again?

Why not instead be the kind of effective learner that everyone is looking for -- from kindergarten through the Boardroom?

Just a thought.