Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oracle's Innovation Expert, Stewart Townsend

I have the great good fortune to work with Stewart Townsend when offering help to start-ups on communicating more effectively to investors.

He is a brilliant guy and a lovely one. Stewart was interviewed about European Innovation, and it's worth checking out.

Presentation Skills 101: Who is Your Audience (Other than You)?

What Makes Presentations Fail?

The biggest challenge to improving communications for clients is the art of perspective.

Everything good (or bad) comes from the ability (or inability) to see the forest for the trees and visa versa. In the case of pitching to investors or clients, it entails understanding where your communication ends and your audience's understanding begins.

All the stock phrases for improving communication sound simple: know your audience, be passionate, speak to (rather than at) your listeners.

In fact, as in Buddhist statements everyone takes for granted to be true (be here now, for example), nothing could be more complicated. All require a kind of perspective that is difficult to maintain when you are the one speaking.

As in any relationship that feels important, the one between you and your listeners requires the ability to observe and change behavior (or tactics) when you're not getting through. The challenge, of course, is that the more important a relationship feels, the less perspective we tend to have on ourselves.

With technologists, one often has to curb the discussion of a product or operation in order to focus on its effect's relevance to the listener.

With high-level executives, it's often a challenge to get rid of jargon that might feel transparent to them but abstracts an issue when it should be directly felt.

Those Who Teach Are Not Exempt

I'm not immune to the tendency to lose perspective, but I have created a habit of checking to ensure my client and I are working well together.

My challenge for myself is always checking to ensure that I'm not talking at -- but with -- the person to whom I'm giving feedback. There's always the risk of taking over the conversation. However, it's essential to remember to listen rather than talk when appropriate because my goal is to bring out the strengths in a client rather than change him or her into someone else.

It never works to try to change someone into something else -- the conversation becomes a performance that doesn't engage 9 out of 10 times. Each person's strengths is his or her biggest asset. And my job is to ensure that each client is being the most engaging self (himself or herself) possible.

Sometimes Grown Ups are Just Tall Children

My friend, Kate Quardfort, who teaches drama in the South Bronx, wrote a great piece for the Huffington Post about the challenge of creating trust and perspective. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Difference Engine Pitches at Microsoft

The Demo day at Microsoft in London for The Difference Engine offers proof that boot camps work.

In the 13 weeks in which I helped teams communicate their ideas more effectively, every participating entrepreneur has come so far that (as another mentor said) the pitches were unrecognizable. The teams began with nascent ideas and ended up with complex and persuasive products – and engaging stories to match.

It is remarkable how these teams have transformed themselves. Living for almost a fortnight in Middlesborough university digs, they worked around the clock to prepare for investor presentations in Newcastle and in London. Most of their days were spent in a great new building SeedCamp has nothing on the work put in here.

I was the teams' pitch coach, and although my contributions helped, credit really goes to Jon Bradford. North East Finance gave the money, but Jon miraculously found a way to help each team in ways that met myriad unique needs.

Check out The Difference Engine FAQs -- the website is great. And if you are a start-up and have not applied for the September’s Difference Engine programme, do it today.

It was sad saying goodbye, but I'm sure we'll be hearing about most (if not all) of them as they get their funding and build their businesses.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Difference Engine TV: Episode 5 - Presentation Skills

I am thrilled to be involved in The Difference Engine's first year's boot camp. On Monday, the teams will present at Microsoft in London as a finishing touch.

If you're a start-up, it's definitely worth checking out The Difference Engine TV - a very generous series of videos that work through the process of preparing your tools for investors.

There is a lot on presentation skills in Episode 5, but check out the other segments as well.