Friday, December 9, 2011

Media Training to Strengthen Your Message


"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan. Roger Ailes, media consultant to four Republican presidents and today Chairman of Fox Television Stations Group, believes that each person is his own message, whatever medium he chooses.

As we watch Republican presidential candidates rise and fall through too many debates and personal issues, we are witness to the Ailes message playing out. In an earlier blog post I commented on Newt Gingrich's big, bright and enthusiastic oratorical style. It took a few debates, but his innate and practiced communication style has caught on; and as of this writing he has finally engaged a large sector of the Republican voters. Newt is surging in the polls.

Newt clearly loves speaking, and he's done a lot of it. And he has tremendous experience from which to draw. Politics is about communicating, and he was re-elected to Congress 10 times; in 1994 he became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. When he resigned from Congress in 1999, he didn't stop talking. He wrote and cowrote books, made speeches and became a television commentator.

If you're still with me, I think you understand where I'm going. Newt is comfortable in his own skin and appears to be comfortable talking wherever the opportunity appears. Whether at a state fair, on TV interview with a combative hard-news journalist, in a TV debate in a line up of other candidates, or in the sit-down, more intimate Lincoln-Douglas style debate with Herman Cain, Newt relishes speaking and expounding on his ideas. Experience and lots of practice has given him the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively in whatever medium he chooses.

Newt understands the media as probably no one else running for the Republican presidential nomination does. He's been on both sides of the camera, so there isn't anything mysterious or intimidating about studio lights and looking into a camera lens.

Because most of us have not been in the public eye on a daily basis, it's important to undergo training to become better strategic communicators in speaking to the press or with customers or clients. As with most things, 90% of success depends on preparation. Media training gives skills to think under pressure, gather facts to be prepared, and go on the offensive in a defensive situation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Five Things You Need to Do to Become an Effective Communicator


This week I stubbed my toe. Besides it being extremely painful, bruised and swollen, it was the first time in ages I had injured myself. And, to add insult to injury, I had no one to blame but myself. I carelessly dropped my boots in the middle of a well-worn path from my charging Blackberry to the bathroom. Knowing the route well, I didn't think to look at the floor. And so in retracing my steps, I tripped over the boots; to avoid falling, my right foot plowed full force into the leg of an antique walnut chair. The chair survived without a scratch, but I did not!

I have to admit that this random accident, which happened Tuesday at 5 a.m., could have been avoided if I done three things: turned on a light, stopped multi-tasking, and cleared all obstacles on the path. Accidents happen, but I offer my mental takeaways to you to help keep your next presentation from getting de-railed.

Here are five important things to make you a more effective communicator.


  1. Clear the path. Clear all physical and mental obstacles from your path. Focus on what you want to accomplish, since creating a clear roadmap should be your first and final objective.
  2. Be aware of nonverbal communication. Drill down on the first impression you give to an audience—or anyone, for that matter. And yes, it generally happens for good or bad within five to seven seconds. Non-verbal communication is powerful and signaled by messages you send with your eyes, posture, facial expression, and even the spring in your step. Get feedback and then capitalize on your best qualities.
  3. Adapt a conversational style. Analyze yourself. Do you tend to dominate and/or complain, and can you be a sympathetic listener? Work to be likeable. Likeability is a major part of success.
  4. Read outside your field. The more you can bring to your subject, the more interesting your presentation will be.
  5. Control your space. If you're comfortable in your space, everything else follows. Practice moving out from behind a podium and using gestures to emphasize your space and passion for your subject.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

An IPO in Your Future?


"Facebook Employees Go Nuts as Zuckerberg Tells Them the IPO Is Coming" was the lead story last week in the Tech section of The Huffington Post. And rumors are swirling that the S-1 filing is due as early as next month—that is, if Facebook selects a bank to underwrite the offering.

In the United States the Initial Public Offering (IPO)* market is holding, although many pulled back in Q3 due to cancellation, postponement or in some cases mergers and acquisitions. Today many of these companies are just waiting for better market conditions to get out on the road.

As of Nov. 23, Groupon (GRPN) was experiencing major volatility and the stock price was trading 15% below its initial public offering price of $20. As a result companies like Zynga and Yelp, which were hoping to squeeze through the IPO window, are now rethinking their market debuts.

If there is a possible IPO in your company's future and you're waiting for the IPO market turn-around, take advantage of this time to learn about the process for taking your company public.

How to Begin
Start by assembling an experienced team of investment bankers, attorneys and accountants. Then you'll write a prospectus. And finally, you'll take your roadshow to brokers and institutional investors in designated cities around the world.

Preparation Is Critical
Going public entails making one of the most important series of presentations in your company’s history—one that involves selling your company to a wary public for the first time. You must ensure that your key people are prepared to give a well thought-out, clearly focused, enthusiastic presentation from start to finish every time.

Most management teams are unprepared to tell and sell their company story. They are inexperienced at developing and delivering a succinct presentation outlining the company's investment potential, complete with a winning presentation that must be delivered in 20 to 30 minutes.

Drafting the Roadshow    
Creating text and visuals for a road show begins with a drafting session, and then the story is refined over the course of three to four weeks. The final story must be compelling and easily understood.

Using Effective Visuals  
You must support your company story with graphics that are visually clean, simple and easy-to-understand—which translates to a professionally produced presentation (Powerpoint or KeyNote) that can easily explain a complicated technology or multi-product company.

Delivering the Presentation
Can you synthesize and articulate the most important elements of your company's investment story?

Can you speak energetically and use eye contact?

Are you comfortable in a stand-up presentation?

Does anyone on your team have an accent that could create communication problems?

Do you have carefully crafted answers for that all-important Q&A session?

Go for It!

With coaching your team should deliver a relaxed, informative, crisp and persuasive presentation that will motivate potential investors to invest with you. And remember, a sharp presentation can boost the offering price!

Melissa designs and develops roadshows and coaches management teams that are raising equity in the private and public markets. 

* A company’s first sale of stock to the public. Securities offered in an IPO are often (but not always) those of young, small companies seeking outside equity capital and a public market for their stock.


Parts of this blog first appeared in August 2009 in Communicating Effectively, a column Melissa Monson wrote regularly for the Hong Kong Regulatory Forum online newsletter. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Professional Media Training Is No Longer an Option: It's a Necessity

You only have to witness all the backtracking, sidestepping and tap dancing going on in the presidential primary race to recognize a universal truth of our electronic age: a blunder in front of a video camera will go global in a matter of minutes.

With the rapid proliferation of "citizen journalism" and social media sites, on-camera mistakes will be seen and heard by millions – instantly, repeatedly and permanently – with practically no chance of a "do-over." How many times during the past few weeks have we been subjected to a replay of Herman Cain pausing to, in his words, "gather his thoughts" before commenting on Libya? Or Rick Perry fumbling through his brain freeze?

It's equally true in the corporate world. Consider just a few recent PR nightmares at companies like (BlackBerry maker) Research in Motion, Hewlett Packard or Netflix: serial strategic gaffes that drove customers to defect and market values to plummet. Many wonder how or even if these companies can recover from their very visible missteps.

Companies of any size can suddenly find themselves in the spotlight having to answer to customers, investors, the press or the public. Senior executives, particularly CEOs, are more likely than ever to face a camera at some point (if not frequently) during their tenure. And how they handle it can make or break careers and companies.

All of which brings me to another truth:

Professional media training is no longer a luxury or confined to only the largest companies. It's a job requirement for senior management in companies of all sizes and industries.

Through On-Camera Media Skills Training, I will prepare you to master interview situations, whether sit-down or spontaneous, through a simulated live experience in a broadcast studio.
 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reasons to Outride the Redcoats


Listen my Children and You Shall Hear………………

Well, this week was just filled with communication goodies/disasters. From the Herman Cain/Gloria Alridge press conference, to the University of Pennsylvania's football child sex scandal, to the Oakland mayor's response to an Occupy Wall Street protest turned violent, to Rick Perry's presidential debate brain freeze. The difficulty of making a consistently good presentation and articulating a consistent message were front and center in the media.

Perry's memory lapse will live on in YouTube in clips such as "Watch Rick Perry's Campaign End Before Your Eyes" and "Rick Perry's Big Oops." Newt Gingrich put a human face on the unfortunate incident. He supported Perry's forgetfulness with compassion and freely admitted that he feared a memory lapse whenever he was in front of an audience. Newt's candor was admirable and helped neutralize the press attack dog antics.

To salvage his candidacy, the morning after last week's presidential debate, Rick Perry pushed back on the Redcoats and blitzed the morning and afternoon TV talk shows (as well as late night's Letterman) to apologize and make fun of himself as not much of a debater. He may have actually done himself some good, as the impression that emerged was that of an extremely likeable guy with a good sense of comedic timing.

The press worked hard to kick Perry to the curb. But he got up, dusted himself off and came back slugging. I have a feeling that's not unfamiliar territory for Rick Perry, who grew up the son of two hardscrabble West Texas tenant farmers. Perry, no doubt, had a few slugfests on his journey to Texas A&M.

So what are we to make of this media chaos? Campaigning for the presidency is not a sprint; it's a marathon. It takes a plan and lots of practice—as I well know, having run a marathon a few months ago.

A well-defined plan should include a crisis management strategy and regular video training drills. Herman Cain was late—perhaps too late to embrace crisis handlers—but Rick Perry has had an army of consultants from probably day one. It shows in his quick response to what might have been a real game changer for him.

Much has been written about Rick Perry as a ten-year governor of Texas. His press and speaking skills were rusty, and he had to get on a fast track quickly. He has proved up to the challenge, so now it will be interesting to see if he can move up in the polls.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Three Strategies for a Better Crisis Action Plan

A crisis usually happens when you least expect it, which is all the more reason to have a crisis action plan in place and ready to go. An executive team must be well-trained to meet the challenge, demonstrate leadership and smoothly and confidently articulate a solution.

Images of the British Petroleum oil spill disaster are still around. When the accident occurred, BP was the third-largest energy company in the world. Too big to fail? Hardly, as apparently BP didn't have a crisis plan ready for rollout.

CEO Tony Hayward became the face of the company. Unfortunately, his response to the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon's oil rig was just one blunder after another. The press and the public found his self-serving and inappropriate remarks confrontational, petty and arrogant. Ultimately Tony Hayward lost his job, but in the interim he did a significant amount of damage to BP's reputation and goodwill worldwide!

British Petroleum learned belatedly important communication lessons from the disaster, and so can any organization. It is important to respond to and recover quickly from a crisis. Here are three strategies for creating a better crisis action plan.




  1. Respond quickly. Try to gather all the facts within four hours. The faster you can respond to the public, the better; lots of misinformation will already be circulating. Today, with so many ways to broadcast via social media, the message spreads quickly. You need to get it right the first time, as there won't be an opportunity for a re-do of the facts, and you can't pull it back.

  2. Identify and articulate the message. Acknowledge upfront the tragedy and be empathetic. If you don’t appear sympathetic, you will be seen as callus—and that will likely damage your company's reputation for a long time.

  3. Undertake media training. Train the management team so that all could step in to be the designated spokesperson to address the media. Training should be in a studio setting with camera and lights. Other components should include how to identify the company message for the media, "how-to's" for working with the press; techniques for not being misquoted; and videotaped mock interviews with playback critiqued.


Maybe you can't prevent a crisis, but careful planning and training will help you manage the message and deal effectively with adversarial events.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

5 Super Tips for Giving a Successful Media Interview

Let's start by acknowledging that most people do not look forward to a remote media interview. Staring into the lens of a camera can be disconcerting and very intimidating. Here are some tips to make the experience if not enjoyable, at least successful!
  1. Be brief. Know the amount of time you've been given. Being long-winded only succeeds in losing your audience and always dilutes the message. Wrapping too many words around your points is distracting, less powerful and the opposite of concise. Although President Obama has many strengths as a speaker, brevity isn't one of them! 
  2. Be Yourself:  An audience wants to feel connected to you, so be transparent and real.  Relax and try to warm up. Be helpful to reporters and they will be likely to call you again for your perspective on other issues.
  3. Be Prepared: Know your key messages and practice sticking to them. The media lives for sound bites, so make sure yours are easily digestible and memorable.
  4. Tell Stories: If you know the interview topic ahead of time, jot down four stories you can tell that relate to you and the topic. Ronald Reagan was a master storyteller, and you can be too!
  5. Anticipate and Identify Difficult Questions: You must answer questions without sounding defensive or nervous. It helps to write out your answers ahead of time. Practice turning negatives into positives. What is difficult for some people may not be for others. Sarah Palin in an interview with Katie Couric couldn't name a single newspaper that she regularly read, and the result was a huge negative hit to her vice presidential candidacy!





Sunday, October 23, 2011

Does Language Matter When Non-Verbal Communication Is Louder?

Much is written about non-verbal communication in the abstract, but the Republican Presidential Debates are a showcase for the visual power of facial expression and gestures (body language) that accompany words.

According to newspaper reports, there has been bad blood between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney for years. But the extent of the animosity became apparent and was on full display during an exchange between the two men on Oct. 18 at the Western Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas.

I suspect that Rick Perry’s accusation that Romney hired an illegal worker to do yard work was designed to throw Romney off his carefully choreographed debate game. Surprisingly, what started out as a technique to put Romney on the defensive also succeeded in getting Rick Perry visibly upset. The combined negative body language was instructive and often painful to watch.

In the YouTube video “Perry and Romney Get Personal at Debate,” the non-verbal communication between the two cancels out whatever words are being spoken. Their interchange rapidly deteriorated into a face-off when both men turned inward and glared directly at each other. (Try testing the impact of their non-verbal communication by viewing the video with the sound off!)

As the rhetoric escalated, Romney – obviously very frustrated at not being able to speak –reached over to Perry and put his left hand on Perry’s shoulder. Did Romney make the gesture in an attempt to control, shut down or dominate the situation? Whatever his reason, the touching was inappropriate and an inexcusable violation of Perry’s personal space. As I watched, I wondered if the entire episode would end in a slugging match with one of them being decked.

So what was gained from a confrontation in which both men demonstrated a style of communication which was decidedly not presidential? Although Rick Perry came off as a bit of an impatient bully, he gambled and won on this one. Admittedly not strong on debating skills, Perry pushed Mitt Romney out of his comfort zone; and in doing so, he showed his own strength as someone who stood his ground and would not be silenced. In contrast, Romney sputtered, raised his voice and darted his eyes wildly as he searched frantically to secure help from the moderator, Anderson Cooper.

Observing how our presidential candidates communicate non-verbally is important for voters. Romney is a practiced and skilled debater who has methodically disciplined himself to respond to petty issues and occasional confrontations with clear answers and a cool demeanor. These learned skills have made him a generally effective communicator.

But it is less controlled and generally unscripted forums like the Las Vegas debate that allow voters to observe those aspiring to win the party nomination. Language matters, but watching non-verbal communication is extremely important in vetting candidates.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

4 Super Tips to Connect with an Audience


1. Avoid Using Jargon or Industry Lingo

Whether you are speaking or writing, don't use acronyms. If you do, you are likely to lose half your audience momentarily as their brains depart in search of the meaning. Some acronyms like LOL and ASAP are so familiar that we all know them, but others are newer or more industry-specific, so the mention of POTUS or CMOS is immediately clear and understandable to some but not to others.

Steve Jobs steered clear of jargon and was a master at using everyday language and speaking in a conversational style. He knew his audience wanted two things from him: to be clear and simple in rhetoric and product!

2. Use Eye Contact and Facial Expression to Establish Rapport

One of the reasons Gov. Chris Christie has been successful in his legal and political career is that his eye contact reinforces his rhetoric. Watch when he speaks and note that his eye contact, facial expression and rhetoric are in sync so there is absolutely no confusion about his intent or message. Generally we respond favorably to direct, unfiltered straight talk.

In contrast was Rick Perry’s debate performance in Hanover, New Hampshire, last week. He looked weak and uncomfortable during most of the debate. How do we know? His eyes, often called the "windows of the soul," conveyed his tentativeness and insecurity. His entire physical presence seemed to convey feelings that he would have preferred to be anywhere other than at the debate table at Dartmouth College.

3. Work and Rework Your Core Message

"You must simplify. You must make the complex simple, then you must make it work." ~ I.M. Pei, Master Architect

"This is a very complicated world, it's a very noisy world. And we're not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us." ~ Steve Jobs to Apple employees, 1997

In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers lead with Principle 1: Simplicity as essential to stripping an idea to its core (i.e., the Golden Rule found in all world religions).

You must strip your message to the core and then speak to it.

4. Meet and Connect with Your Audience before Your Presentation.

This is not always possible, but I've found it's a great way to reduce your nervousness and get connected with who's in the audience and perhaps hear what they're looking for. Having met some audience members in advance, your comfort level will rise and you will see that the room is no longer filled with strangers. You can begin with friendly, familiar faces in the audience. By circulating before you speak, you have set the stage for a more satisfying experience for you and the audience.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

5 Super Tips to Minimize Presentation Jitters

1. Cut Down on Coffee, other Caffeinated Drinks and Chocolate
You already have a natural high; you don't need an additional adrenaline rush. Too much caffeine can contribute to a jumbled thought process, and caffeine is known to dry the vocal cords. Additionally, caffeine has a lasting effect. One cup at 8:00 a.m. will continue to deliver a jolt for at least three hours – and maybe more!

2. See Your Presentation Space
Whenever possible, look at the room in which you will be presenting. Check out the projection and audio systems, where you will stand to present, and where the audience will be sitting. Take a minute to absorb the setting. Imagine yourself delivering the speech, and your comfort level will carry over to your presentation. The old "I've been here before feeling" will sustain you.


3. Simplify: Divide Your Presentation into Sections
Memorization will take you only so far, so also practice visualization to add to your comfort factor. If you divide your presentation into a minimum of three sections, you should be able to SEE the beginning (Introduction), middle (Body) and end (Close).

When Chief Justice John Roberts was an advocate before the court, he was known for dividing up his argument into about eight sections and then practiced reciting them in random order to account for the justices' questions. According to his friend Richard Lazarus, a law professor at Georgetown University, John Roberts "always looks relaxed and spontaneous, but it's all based on an extraordinary amount of work and preparation."

4. Know Your Audience!
You have undoubtedly been asked to speak because you are an authority on your subject. It is a good bet that no one in the audience knows as much about the subject as you do, so begin your preparation by asking yourself what they want to hear: their knowledge, needs and interests. If you go in knowing you have the right material, it will go a long way toward eliminating your anxieties about delivering the speech.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice
You can't deliver a good presentation without practice. Creating a presentation is a first step, but the really hard part is the stand-up delivery. You must practice standing on your feet and speaking your words out loud. In this mode you can hear your words; calculate actual delivery time; focus on pitch, tone and pauses; and adjust, as necessary, for a smooth, fearless delivery.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who Is Your M.I.C?


The answer to that question is not always easy, and the pursuit of it can be extremely costly. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal from Sept. 30, when BlackBerry, also known as Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM), came out with the Playbook last April, the company had not reached agreement on its consumer market and didn’t even have a marketing message. Needless to say, RIM’s tablet has not sold well.

BlackBerry, once coveted by every young Investment Banker, used to have 48% of the U.S. smartphone market; today it has only 11.6%. RIM is dealing with poor earnings, a declining stock price and apparently continued internal confusion on a clear customer marketing plan.

Herman Cain, once considered an oddity in the Republican presidential race, is now third in the latest Fox News poll. Why the surge in name recognition and confidence by the American voters? The answer lies in Herman Cain’s background: American businessman, politician, and chairman of Godfather’s Pizza. This is a man who knows a bit about marketing. The consistent marketing of his 9-9-9 plan, his blueprint for reforming the tax code, is resonating with Republicans and Independents. New thinking and controversial yes – but easy to understand, and voters like it.

Herman Cain understands that the race is not between two governors but about what the customers/voters want to hear. Add to that Chris Wallace, who after interviewing Herman Cain said he found Herm a delightful interviewee and extremely likeable! Herman knows his market (media pundits) and his customers (the US electorate), and he is marketing successfully to both.

Identifying your M.I.C, or your Most Important Customer, is essential for success whether you're speaking or writing. Start by learning to listen and really hearing what your customer is saying and wants. Effective marketing is a process that begins with listening. Successful communication is always a two-way street.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rehearsing Required!

Mark McKinnon, in his Sept. 24 column in The Daily Beast, expresses astonishment at Rick Perry's lack of preparation for not one but all three of the presidential debates. By way of contrast, McKinnon notes:

"In 1999, George W. Bush started practicing for debates six months ahead of time. Dick Cheney was maniacal in his debate preparation, and it showed. Even rehearsing at the same time the debate would be held and at a similar room temperature."

Rick Perry's weak presentation is baffling, and we're left wondering why no one from his campaign has stepped forward to explain his poor performance. Perhaps there isn't enough at stake for Perry, or he has gotten away with answering in generalities for so long that he doesn't consider serious debate drill necessary?

But running for President of the United States is on a different landscape than debating and defeating Kay Bailey Hutchison to be re-elected for a third term as Governor of Texas.

In my work I have trained many CEOs who exhibit the same personality characteristics as Perry. They are highly successful at running a company and very articulate, which is usually the result of lots of public speaking. Unfortunately, they often fall short on specifics.

When I coach a company's management team, usually the CEO and CFO engaged in the process of taking their company public (IPO). I spend half the training time on Question & Answer preparation. I always impress upon them that they can give a great presentation and then destroy it by being ill-prepared for what is often a grueling question and answer session. Potential investors, who have done their due diligence, will ask the team questions – and they had better be prepared to give a convincing and articulate answer.

I start by asking the management team to list every question that could be asked about the company, and that includes what I call the Achilles heel questions: the ones you don't want asked but know they will be. With the questions at hand, we begin to craft answers that give the facts and usually bridge to giving additional information that wasn't asked for but gives positive information about the company. Most people naively believe they're good at answering questions. Perhaps good, but not great – and the more you work with an answer, the more focused and convincing it will become.

Rehearsing can be tedious but is absolutely necessary, as the team should never get hit with a question it didn't expect to have to answer. It's unfortunate but true that even the most experienced presenter can rarely bluff his way out of an answer if he doesn't have the facts. And without the facts, facial expression, tone of voice or lack of eye contact will all contribute to a shaky delivery.

Unlike Rick Perry (who has had three chances on the American stage), you will probably only have one chance to win a potential investor!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thought of Muscularity?

At the close of the Republican debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, David Gergen, CNN political analyst and adviser to four U.S. presidents, stepped up to the camera and announced, "Rick Perry has brought much-needed muscularity to the race." Immediately Gergen got my attention, as I had been watching Rick Perry closely in his maiden debate. Having just finished making notes on Perry's delivery and how he communicated non-verbally, Gergen's mention of "muscularity" stopped me in my tracks.

The word muscularity I have read – "a remarkable muscularity of style" – but, I am sure, never used or written. Yet Gergen chose the right word to describe Rick Perry's style: "suggests great forcefulness, especially at the expense of subtlety."* From the minute Rick Perry was on stage, he was a crackling ball of energy. I followed him as he strode swiftly to his assigned podium, leapt onto it and positioned his legs and cowboy boots in a wide stance before settling into the front of the lectern.

Once in position he faced the audience, set up his invisible antenna and flashed just the hint of an engaging little boy smile. The effect was the lectern pretty much disappeared.

The likeability factor for this guy is high! His charisma is solid, and other contenders have difficulty knocking him off his game. When challenged, he doesn't back down. Although he had come from an intensive week of monitoring ravaging fires in Texas, he didn't appear to be bringing any exhaustion with him and actually seemed to be relishing the start of the debate! This quality Guy Kawasaki calls "The Reality of Beguiling" in his book Reality Check. Kawasaki discusses at length the psychology of influencing people by Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: Science and Practice.

It has been estimated that at least two-thirds of what we communicate doesn't come from the words we speak but rather from how we hold our body, the way we dress, our voice and the quality of our eye contact with the audience - all commonly referred to as body language.

Will Rick Perry hold on? It all depends on the content of his verbal message – the other one-third completes a formidable package!


*Thefreedictionary.com

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Writing-Speaking Connection


When I first began working with a young lawyer on her opening statement, I observed a strong correlation between her speaking and writing. When she spoke, she used too many words. She weaved and bobbed her way around getting to the point and as a result never made a clear statement. A closer examination of her writing showed the same messiness. In my experience, comparing how written and oral expression match up is the easiest way for a client to quickly see the problem and embrace an easy remedy.

Editing is problematic, so by way of explanation I usually give my speech on the grade school teacher who whips (grades) her way through a stack of papers with red pen in hand. All too often the paper is returned to the student with a grade of 75 or lower, the written thoughts crumpled beneath red ink. Even worse, with edits made, the grade stands!

Shame on them for using a red sledge hammer and turning untold millions away from viewing writing as a discipline—an art and craft to be nurtured. Editing is crucial to making words work, and the process should be understood and welcomed as an exercise worth doing.

Why is editing important in creating a persuasive opening statement? The jury has the extremely difficult task of hearing and remembering the plot as it unfolds. The opening statement can be brief, but it must be laid out logically and be easy to follow (The normal attention span ranges between 5 and 20 seconds.), understand and remember. It should be clear and persuasive, and it should encompass what the attorney believes he can prove via testimony and evidence.

In these crucial first minutes you are speaking in order to gain the jury’s confidence and establish your likeability factor. The latter should not be taken lightly, as it may have been a significant aspect in the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial.

Begin by writing out what you want to say as well as what you want the jury to understand and remember. Now go back and edit your words. Are they simple, easy to hear and memorable? If so, it's time for the first step: getting on your feet and beginning to practice. How you look, move and use gestures are also very important, but more about that later when we discuss non-verbal communication and invisible punctuation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Do You Do?


Over the years I've sat through many presentations/pitches by entrepreneurs seeking Angel or VC funding. Usually two minutes into their story I want to throw up my hands and shout, "Stop! Look around you. You have lost your audience. We have no idea what you're talking about or what you do. And you've not articulated or shown us by an illustration/slide what problem you're solving. So we're not with you; we're "behind" you. Our brains, which tend to wander anyway, are scrambling to catch up; but frankly, that becomes just a little too much work and we tune you out!"

I can usually accurately predict what's coming next. When the presentation is over and, out of courtesy to the entrepreneur, we move on to the allotted time for Q&A. There aren't many questions, which is always a sign of trouble. Not knowing what you do, we don't volunteer to ask since no one wants to appear dense, stupid or waste anymore precious meeting time.

A word about Q&A, should it happen: smart, experienced investors ask all kinds of questions. I guarantee some of them are going to be what I call the Achilles Heel questions: those you don't want asked but know they probably will. NEVER give a presentation without spending time preparing for Q&A. You must anticipate those questions and have well thought-out answers at the ready. And, equally important, your answer must be delivered with solid facts (never lie), confidence and conviction.

When I consult with an entrepreneur and start working on the story, the first questions I ask are what do you do, what business are you in, and why should I care?

You should always begin by telling your audience what your company does and follow that with how big the market is expected to be. If I can get that, I may warm to your story, continue to listen, and begin to see the possibilities as an investment worth a further look.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How You Communicate Matters!


Is Rick Perry for real? Yes, and that realness is his appeal. His communication style is personal and his rhetoric compelling for many Americans. He's saying what many are thinking, and those thinkers are finding their voice through him. Like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Rick Perry is brutally honest, candid, combative and not afraid to speak his mind or offend with his confrontational style. Rick Perry is bold, brash and confident that the larger voter population will find him as engaging as the Texas voters who helped him defeat the mild-mannered Kay Bailey Hutchison and win a third term as governor of Texas. I didn’t see any of the debates, but I suspect he overshadowed her and out-shouted her. Rick Perry, like Governor Chris Christie, likes to be in front!

A Twitter musing suggested that if Rick Perry and George Bush had been in the same family, W would have become known as the smart one. Comparing them because they're both Texans and about the same age is foolish. For eight years George Bush struggled to speak eloquently, while Rick Perry seems to do it effortlessly.

A better comparison on style is probably between Obama and Perry. Maureen Dowd in her NYT column today wrote with a keen observation of the two that was downright hilarious. Yesterday Obama spent the day in Peosta, Iowa, discussing “helping farms manage manure in creative ways, while Rick Perry barreled past on his own bus, breaking creative new ground in volatility.

“As Obama did dressage, Perry galloped through Iowa like an unbroken stallion in danger of cracking a leg”.

There are stirrings on all sides of the aisle for honest, direct communication. Rick Perry is a fifth-generation Texan who grew up in a place so small it didn’t have a zip code. He's passionate about anything American. His enthusiasm and speaking style, whether or not you like his politics, is real!

What is your communication style? It pays to observe others and then to get professional feedback to assure success in your next presentation.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

You Are the Message!


On Aug. 11, which also happened to be my birthday, I scheduled my work and play around the 6 p.m. telecast of the Iowa debate. Being a news and political junkie, I was not about to engage in birthday frivolity until I had observed the delivery styles of the eight current presidential candidates. I wanted to see how they came off verbally and non-verbally.

As scheduled, seven blue suitors and tiny Michele Bachmann in grey assembled in Stephens Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University to debate and defend their records in the highly competitive Republican race. And on schedule, each took his or her assigned place behind a lectern.

For almost two hours the candidates sparred back and forth, but they and their answers were generally tight and confined to the cramped air space surrounding them. All, that is, with the exception of the only admittedly pudgy candidate: Newt Gingrich. He was bigger than his space, seemed to know it, and cleverly took advantage of it. Contrary to many of the candidates who often appeared to be simply sparring with each other, Newt deftly broke out of his defined space with open expansive gestures, a booming voice, sweeping eye contact and brilliant rhetoric. He embraced the attendees and his TV viewers and engaged all with his humorous criticism of the formation of the super committee on debt reduction, stating that it was, “as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime.” The auditorium audience loved his candor and roared with approval!

Today, Aug. 13, Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll. But that doesn't change the fact that Gingrich was incredibly comfortable moving beyond the confines of the lectern to engage the audience. His carriage and body language gave him an edge so he could communicate more effectively with the audience while making him appear at ease and confident.