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!


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.