Right pitch, wrong shirt

Know your audience before you start talking… This is not only the title of one of my earlier posts on this blog, but even more a piece of good advice for anyone who’s speaking in public. A group of people that also includes a growing army of young entrepreneurs, pitching in front of venture capitalists and potential investors to obtain the so desired initial funding to realize their dreams.

Not so long ago, I had the honor to be part of the jury for a (try-out) pitching session organized by a local business incubator. Among the 6 jury members were representatives of a regional business angel network, a few technology professionals (like me), and an investment expert from a major bank.

During the event, one of the startups was pitching a social app they developed for sports clubs. In an effort to accentuate his message visually, and probably to charm the audience and the jury too, the presenter-on-duty entered the stage dressed up in a colorful soccer shirt.

rsca_shirt

A great idea. Theoretically. The young guy made one wrong choice: the club shirt he was proudly wearing displayed in large letters the name and the logo of… a large bank. Unfortunately, not the one of the sixth jury member’s employer. But rather the one of its fiercest competitor in the market place.

Shit happens. The presenter delivered a great pitch for a nice product. But he won neither the hearts nor the (virtual) money of all jury members (guess which one wasn’t convinced?) A mistake that could have easily been avoided by conducting some quick, upfront research on who would be in the audience and in the jury (actually, the speaker should have known; the event was held at the bank’s HQ premises.)

Thought leader or entertainer?

“You know that I’m a thought leader, because I’m wearing a blazer, I have glasses, and I’ve just done this with my hands…”

Maybe you’ve already seen the recording of a This is That TED-like talk by self-proclaimed thought leader Pat Kelly. And if you haven’t, take a look at the video below.

Unless you’re an alien without any sense of humor, you must have realized that this is not a real keynote. And observed that Kelly’s character is an empty shell with nothing to say, though with an impressive ability to deliver his message (and entertain his audience.)

Then, you also know that it takes more to being a thought leader than wearing the right clothes, putting on a pair of smart looking glasses, and making some gorgeous gestures with your hands. But, if you still believe you are one – or have an unstoppable ambition to become one – here are a few tips…

  • Stay ahead of the curve. Keeping Malcolm Forbes’ wisdom that “the best vision is insight” in mind, always base your opinion – and accompanying narrative – on trustable and traceable facts and figures.
  • When acting as a thought leader, NEVER deliver a sales pitch. Take the stance of a neutral observer,  and a dependable domain expert. Of course, when you’re explicitly speaking on behalf of your (or another) company there’s no problem to recommend or acknowledge the ‘sponsor.’
  • Never stop earning your audience’s respect. Show them that you are an authority on the topic, and prove them that you have the right to speak. But even when world considers you a champion, always stay your humble self!
  • Talk as often as you can with customers, end-users, and opinion makers. Listen to them and benefit from their insights and experience to further develop your expertise and evolve your narrative. Be careful with dropping names or citing facts or figures on behalf of any 3rdparty to make yourself look more important.
  • Create an elevator pitch, define your mantra and don’t be shy of repeating yourself – repetition is one of the tools to make your message stick. In the mean time, keep evolving your story and updating your content as technology and markets evolve.
  • Craft and deliver compelling content for a broad audience. Keep it simple and sweet, but don’t be fluffy. Be aware of audiences’ needs and expectations and remember, people are always looking for the WIIFM.
  • Build a personal brand, establish your social media presence (also as a follower!) and develop a multi channel content strategy. Try to create and share quotable quotes, tweetable data points, and impactful visuals.
  • And finally, invest in developing your storytelling and public speaking skills. Being able to create and deliver a compelling presentation is certainly one of the basic competences an opinion maker (or any business leader) needs.

Unfortunately, there is no college class or MOOC that will teach you how to become a respected thought leader. It takes a lot of insight, expertise, and communication skills. And, even if you (think) you have all of these, the next time you’re on stage and walk over to your laptop, your audience may still look at you as an entertainer…

thought-leader

As a final note, by writing this blog post and giving you the above tips, I am not pretending to be a thought leader at anything at all. Think of me as a singer-songwriter, who’s passion is to perform a good song, while trying to entertain his audience.

More reading:

Know your audience (before you start talking)


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


“Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it ‘to whom it may concern.’” – Ken Haemer, former AT&T presentation research manager

Did you ever wonder why the people in the auditorium or meeting room came in to listen to your presentation?

In fact, you should ask yourself that simple question each time again. Because each audience –or even each single member of that audience– may have different and personal reasons for attending:

  • “Learn something.”  As you, the guy in the front, are assumed to be an expert in your domain.
  • “Get the necessary foundation for making a business decision.”
  • “Obtain confirmation or recognition from managers or peers in the same room.”
  • “Meet with other people in the industry.”  At public conferences and seminars.
  • “Be entertained – and enjoy a networking cocktail at the end of the day.”  Also often the case at public events.
  • None of the above. Some people may just “feel obliged to attend.”

As such, it’s extremely important that you have a good knowledge of who is your audience to tailor your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.

In the following sections, I will introduce 3 tools, the Power Quadrant, the Influencer Quadrant and the Personality Quadrant, to help you better understand – and thus better address the people you’re dealing with.

The Power Quadrant

In many cases the persons that demand most of your attention or ask many questions are not the ones that are taking the (business) decisions at the end of the day. Power mapping techniques, like drawing a power quadrantoften lead you to a better identification and understanding of the key players in the room.

power_quadrant

A power quadrant assesses the (e.g. technical or financial) authority or expertise of your listeners vs. the effective decision or execution power they have. A well prepared presenter knows to which category the people in front of him/her belong, and how to deal with the different roles they play.

  • Influencers are experts in an advisory role, but don’t have clear decision power. Provide them with the arguments to convince their managers. Go through the details and help them score.
  • In many cases, controllers have a final word. As they often don’t have the expertise to grasp all the details of your presentation, just make sure that you win their confidence, trust and support.
  • Deciders are the ones who have both the knowledge and the power to close the meeting with a clear “go” or “no go”.  Give them all necessary elements for making a decision –here and now!
  • And finally, there are also non-contributing spectators. There is no need to pay special attention to them. Just help them make it through the day.

The Influencer Quadrant

Unfortunately, getting decisions made is not only about bringing the people with authority and power on the same page. Some of the members of your audience may have (often unspoken) reasons to support or to thwart you, or may even have the intention to hijack your presentation.

This is where crafting an influencer quadrant often turns out useful.

influencer_quadrant

It allows you to proactively identify potential advocates and opponents in the audience, and adapt your attitude, behavior and content accordingly.

  • Friends: in an ideal world (which unfortunately does not exist) the room in front of you is filled only with men and women that like or respect you, your products or your company. Give them the opportunity to express their opinion and contribute to a constructive conversation.
  • There may be adversaries present too. People who had a bad experience with your company or your products or have been charmed by a competitor. Always be respectful and try to convince them with arguments –hoping they will change their mind.
  • Having allies in the audience is even better than having friends. As they combine a positive stance with influencing or decision power, get them involved into the discussion and let them help to prevail upon the others.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes there is also this one annoyer in the room whose intention is to spoil the meeting or hijack your presentation. Even if he is nothing but a pain in the… (fill in your favorite three or four-letter word): stay polite. Block him off when you can, but make sure that you don’t lose the support of the other people.

As a conclusion, it’s always good to think about which and why people in the room may be prejudiced, either in a positive or negative way. So make sure you know how to deal with friends and foes, and deal with them appropriately.

The Personality Quadrant

There are many typologies and taxonomies that may help us understand why certain people respond to specific situations the way they do. The dichotomy between introversion and extraversion is one of them. If you to want build a good rapport with your audience and get your message across, you need to understand your speaking/listening partners’ personality, anticipate that they may react differently to what you say, show and do, and adapt your interaction style to their needs.

In the previous sections, I introduced a power quadrant and an influencer quadrant as tools to characterize your audience, and to adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior. Recently a came across a document that introduces a 3rd –complementary– matrix that takes your listeners’ introversion and extraversion into account.

personality_quadrant

Introverts care more about information than about interaction. They value exact data, facts and figures to learn, apply and reuse. As they need some time to think before formulating a response, don’t be surprised if they appreciate the handouts of your presentation more than your narrative. You may even consider to provide them upfront with a copy of your slides, so they have ample opportunity to prepare, annotate and digest.

  • Listeners: When what’s being presented is either uninteresting or irrelevant for them, introverts may just limit their participation to passive listening. So, make sure you supply them with ample (oral or written) information to take home and share with their management and colleagues.
  • Participators: Even when the content is relevant, don’t expect introverted people to be enthusiastic about what you say or to explicitly show their appreciation. Be ready to answer many questions about details – if not during the public presentation itself, probably in a tête-a-tête afterward.

Extraverts tend to think while they speak; they appreciate a good story (which they can retell) and are in for a good conversation. Surprise them, challenge them and acknowledge their thinking with your words and images.  Expect them to interrupt your speech from time to time, and prepare for an inspiring discussion after your presentation.

  • Discussers: As extroverts tap their energy from interaction with other people, they may (intentionally or unintentionally) hijack your presentation by starting a discussion – with the rest of your audience – about their own vision, project or experience.  It’s good to have them in the room, but make sure you stay in control of your speaking slot.
  • Conversators: A problem with many extroverted people is that they like to talk about (almost) everything, just for sociability. Don’t allow them to deviate you from your topic – ands end up in a “rest room conversation”.

Of course, Introversion vs. Extraversion is not the only dimension of human personality. There are other models, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, that introduce (and combine) other typologies, e.g.:

  • How does someone take in information (Sensing vs. iNtuition)
  • How does someone make decisions (Thinking vs. Feeling)
  • How does someone orient himself/herself to the external world (Judging vs. Perceiving)

By the way, my MBTI personality is E-N-T-P.  I invite the readers of this blog to figure out what this means, and how you’d get me warm for your presentation.

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and on LinkedIn)

Creating personas for audience-centric story design

“In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.” – David M. Cooperstein, Forrester Research

Not so long ago, I participated to an ideation session in which we used personas to represent different user types of a new application. In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters, created to represent classes of users that might use (or appreciate) a site, brand, product, or service in a similar way. Sketching imaginary characters with a name, a face, and a story makes it easier for people to generate and evaluate ideas. Musing about a day in the life of Fiona Wright, “a middle-aged female manager with two digital native children, who’s interested in technology and gastronomy” could e.g. facilitate brainstorming about the functionality and the GUI of a new restaurant finder app. Defining and fleshing-out personas may also help you with personalizing your presentation for a specific audience, and building a narrative that resonates with a number of (possible) archetype customers in the room.

lego_persona

Starting from a sheet with made-up demographic information, such as their name (or nickname), age, gender and family situation (some marketers even search the web for a picture of a look-alike), these are a few other questions to ask and – consequently – assumptions to make about your targets:

  • What is their job, level of seniority and role in their company or organization?
  • What do they do in their free time? What are their personal interests?
  • What does an average day in their life look like?
  • What do they value most? What are their goals? How do they get motivated?
  • What are their main challenges and pain points in their job? In their daily lives?
  • What could be their most common objections to your product or service?

The answers to the above questions will empower you to tell a better story, by putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience and establishing an emotional connection with them – as they’ll help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need. In older posts I have described a few tools for characterizing, predicting and influencing the reactions of people in the room. Drawing a power quadrant, an influencer quadrant, and a personality quadrant for each of the personas you create will enable you to adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior. More reading:

Keep calm and be relevant

Here’s a question that I received in reaction to one of my earlier posts on this blog:

“Can I present the same slide deck to different audiences, or do I have to customize my visuals every time again?”

This is certainly a good topic to discuss, but IMHO it’s too much focusing on the ‘material’ aspects of your talk: the visuals you prepare and present.  If you understand what’s preoccupying the people in the room, you can be relevant to them, even without projecting one single slide. Yes, you can

Did you ever consider looking up the participants’ LinkedIn profiles before the meeting starts? Try conducting a dialogue with them, instead of the usual monologue? Ask questions about their interests and needs? Address them with the right messages at the right level of (technical) detail?

In three of my older posts I have described tools that may help you characterize your audience, and adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior: the power quadrant, the influencer quadrant, and the personality quadrant.

If knowing your audience is step one, then managing their expectations is certainly step two. Provide them with a heads-up on what you are going to present and — even more — how you will present it to them. What are the goals of your presentation (if you’re smart, you can already link them to the call to action that will come later)? When can they ask questions (should they interrupt you or did you plan a Q&A session the end)?

As an illustration, here are three samples of visuals I have used to manage my customers’ expectations ― and get them into the mood for a good conversation…

In my first example, I am exploiting the fact that I am Belgian. Belgium is the country known for its surrealist painters, like René Magritte. Therefore, I often use the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” image below to inform my customers about what they may expect from the meeting and what they should not hope for.

not_a_pipe

Another visual I show from time to time is Dilbert’s “PowerPoint poisoning” strip. Even when I have only 10 or 20 slides on hand, I try to engage my listeners by asking them if they’re prepared to go through the next 844 slides with me.

powerpoint_poisoning

And finally, when I want to satisfy my audience’s hunger for information ― and free myself from having to present all the details ― I put up a “keep calm and read this at home” slide (and hand out a copy of it after the meeting), inspired by the 1939 “Keep Calm and Carry On” pre-war campaign of the British Government.

keep_calm

 My posts about the three quadrants I mentioned above:

Walk and do look back

Past summer vacation I went trail hiking in the mountains. Already during the first walk, I found out that one of my travel companions was obsessed with topographic map reading. As such he was certainly of great help for planning the excursion and keeping the herd on track.

topographic_map

But, untrained as I was  (and maybe getting a bit older and slower too), this same person also turned out to be a major source of irritation. I can assure you that it is frustrating to be constantly trailing 100 meters behind a self-declared leader, who is only concentrating on his map and not paying attention to the folks that aren’t able to keep up with his pace – and as such getting (literally and figuratively) disconnected from the group.

Unfortunately, I have seen the same happen with professional speakers too. Though they carefully prepared their slides and rehearsed their presentation, they neglected to pay attention to the (non-verbal) feedback from the people in the room.

So, here’s a piece of advice to all business presenters: your audience is far more important than your slide deck. Pause, repeat and summarize often. And slow down your talk when people start dropping out.

And for my hiking buddy, there are also some leadership lessons to take away: don’t waste your energy scrutinously executing a plan, when your associates are not at the same speed (yet). Walk on, but don’t forget to look back from time to time!

Additional reading:

Baby, baby, you’re out of time

Recently, while attending a large event, I did some time checks on the speakers. And to my surprise, less than 1 out of 4 of them managed to complete their presentation within the assigned time slot. Isn’t this a shame…

  • First of all, they are showing no respect for the other speakers. Think of the poor guys that have their speaking slot at the end of the day – or even worse – near the closing of the event.
  • It’s also a nightmare for many organizers. They keep on holding up these 10’, 5’ and 2’ left signs, but some presenters don’t seem to notice them at all.
  • The average attention span of an audience is estimated to last 15-20 minutes. When running over time you’re risking to lose interest on your own content.
  • And, finally, they deprive their audience from lunch or from the opportunity to ask some questions at the end of their speaking slot.

Time_keeping

So, here are a few simple tips to keep up with time, and make sure your presentation doesn’t run over.

  • In case the organizers aren’t doing this yet, ask somebody in the audience to take up the role of timekeeper, and to hold up red, yellow, green card (or a 10’, 5’ and 2’ sign) to indicate how much time you have left for finishing your talk.
  • Don’t overload your presentation with visuals (count at least 2 to 3 minutes talking time per slide) and rehearse your speech till it fits into the allowed time slot.
  • If you feel you’re going to run over time, adapt your story and/or your pace, and consider skipping details and less meaningful slides.
  • Plan (and check) a few “milestones” during your presentation. It’s good to know when you are (or when you’re supposed to be) half way – so you don’t have to await the last 5 minutes for speeding up.
  • Always make sure you leave ample time for Q&A at the end. As a rule of thumb you should reserve around 20% of your time budget for questions and discussion. Tell the audience before you start presenting to save their questions for the end. This will prevent you from unwanted interruptions and allow you to plan your presentation properly.

More timekeeping tips and tricks can be found in these articles:

Change the conversation

Yesterday, a sales colleague of mine was complaining about price (and consequently margin) pressure from competition on a product maintenance deal. Although our company is an industry leader with a best in class products and services portfolio, some industry players tend to systematically undermine business by lowering their prices to an unrealistic level, resulting in customers expecting us to “drop our pants” as well.

But from the same chat I also learned that this sales team was almost exclusively talking to our customers’ purchasing and procurement departments. No wonder that most of their meetings were only dealing with terms & conditions, volume and pricing issues. So I gave my co-worker one single piece of advice: CHANGE THE CONVERSATION!

I told him the story of Harvey’s, a small commodity hardware store that manages to obtain a revenue per square meter almost four times higher than its large-scale competitors. An inspiring example that I already made reference to in a earlier blog post about “the perceived value of value”.

Nuts-Bolts

And though high-tech hardware, software and services are certainly a different sell than nuts and bolts, these are the 3 tips I gave him to change the conversation with his customers:

  • Change the audience: different parts of an organization may have different business objectives. As such it’s obvious that your customer’s purchasing and procurement departments will try to negotiate the lowest price for the products or services you are offering them. So, if you want to change the context from cost to value, then you’d better start talking with some other stakeholders, who might better appreciate your business proposal (in the case of the maintenance proposition: the operations and customer service people.)
  • Change the vocabulary: in everyday language, “cost”, “price”, “worth” and “value” are often interchangeable, but emotionally (as well as economically) they have completely different connotations. So carefully consider the words you use when presenting to and discussing with customers and business partners.
    Mind that not only words like cost and price may have a specific undertone, but also many business and technology terms have a specialized (and predetermined) meaning. Therefore, we decided to start a dialogue with our customers about providing an “Extended Life” for their infrastructure, and not simply discuss the delivery of “maintenance” services – emphasizing the fact that we are helping them to optimize their assets and save money, rather than being a burden on their budget.
  • Change the perimeter: price-wars are seldom good battles to fight, and you can better engage into a value than into a cost discussion. For the opportunity mentioned above, this meant turning a debate about the cost of outsourcing maintenance activities into an enumeration of the benefits of getting  the right services, people and practices on board.
    And, very often, one business opportunity may also hide another one. As such, product life-cycle (including maintenance) discussions are often linked to a strategic exercise about infrastructure evolution or business transformation. So don’t limit the conversation topic to this one single product or service you absolutely want to sell, and start addressing the big picture – you never know what pleasant surprises may come out…

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

Friends and foes

In last week’s post I talked about using a power quadrant  to assess the authority of your listeners vs. the decision power they effectively have.

Unfortunately, getting decisions made is not only about bringing the people with authority and power on the same page. Some of the members of your audience may have (often unspoken) reasons to support or to thwart you, or may even have the intention to hijack your presentation.

This is where crafting an influencer quadrant often turns out useful.

influencer_quadrant

It allows you to proactively identify potential advocates and opponents in the audience, and adapt your attitude, behavior and content accordingly.

  • Friends: in an ideal world (which unfortunately does not exist) the room in front of you is filled only with men and women that like or respect you, your products or your company. Give them the opportunity to express their opinion and contribute to a constructive conversation.
  • There may be adversaries present too. People who had a bad experience with your company or your products or have been charmed by a competitor. Always be respectful and try to convince them with arguments –hoping they will change their mind.
  • Having allies in the audience is even better than having friends. As they combine a positive stance with influencing or decision power, get them involved into the discussion and let them help to prevail upon the others.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes there is also this one Annoyer in the room whose intention is to spoil the meeting or hijack your presentation. Even if he is nothing but a pain in the… (fill in your favorite three or four-letter word): stay polite. Block him off when you can, but make sure that you don’t lose the support of the other people.

As a conclusion, it’s always good to think about which and why people in the room may be prejudiced, either in a positive or negative way. So make sure you know who are the friends and who are the foes, and deal with them appropriately.

Five lessons from B2C

It is often assumed that B2B and B2C are two different worlds. This is based upon the observation that people who buy goods for themselves are acting in a different way than people who purchase products or services for their company. Hence, marketing and sales people need a different skill mix.

This is (at least partly) true – but there’s also a lot that B2B storytellers can learn from their B2C peers…

  1. Segment your audience. There’s no one-size-fits-all presentation pitch that will suit all possible listeners. You won’t sell the same products to a 76 and a 16 year-old consumer. Neither can you charm an engineer and a company purchaser with exactly the same value proposition.
    Always make sure you know your target audience and its needs before you start preparing your story and your visuals.
  2. The one you address is not always the one who buys. There are many examples in B2C marketing, such as selling mobile minutes to teenagers (Dad pays…) or advertising the unique features of a car (Mom decides…).
    The most attentive listeners (or the most active question askers) in the room are often not always the ones who own the budget. Try to identify upfront who has the real decision power and draw a power-map of your audience.
     
  1. Decision making is often emotion-based. Another misconception is that business people behave rationally and pragmatic, and that –unlike consumers, who (sometimes) tend to make buying decisions based upon impulse, emotion, or even the love for a certain brand– they (always) go for the highest-tech or lowest-price proposition. Quoting Seth Godin’s blog: some of them “might be willing to look at the specs, but they really don’t understand them enough to care.
    A 2012 Upshot study shows the role and the value of emotion in B2B marketing. You can influence decision-making by creating an emotional connection with your audience. Use inspiring visuals, stories, anecdotes and real-life examples… it can make a difference.
  2. Value is in the eyes of the beholder. Two persons may have a completely different perception about the ‘value’ of a hamburger menu or a Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s not always the price/quality ratio that makes the difference.
    De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum (there’s no arguing about tastes and colors). Know and understand the WIIFM for your audience members and try to fit your value proposition to their expectations.
  1. The medium supports the message.  Consumer marketers use repetition and imagery to capture the public’s attention, create interest for their products and reinforce their brands.
    In your business presentations, apply pause-and-repeat techniques and frequently summarize your key points. And in this era of transmedia storytelling, don’t stick to static imagery: use sound bites, video clips and live demonstrations to add pizzazz to your message.

So, next time you present to a group of business people, take a step back and think of them as a collection of everyday consumers. You may get some surprisingly positive reactions…