Not only is this one of my favorite lines from a movie, it aptly describes a number of situations that severely limit people from reaching their goals. While failure to communicate can adversely impact our relationships with family, friends, coworkers and it can also spell doom for entrepreneurs and company leaders.
Over the past few years I have had the privilege to mentor or observe the actions of a number of extremely bright individuals attempting to inspire others to take action, buy into their vision, obtain sponsors, recruit or raise funds. A subset of this group has fascinated me; while they may have a great idea or a unique perspective or way of seeing things, they are challenged by expressing it clearly and effectively.
It’s hard to put an exact finger on why this subset struggles with expressing something about which they are so passionate. Is it nerves? Lack of training? Is it a language barrier? Lack of preparation? Underestimation of what’s at stake? Shyness? Unfamiliarity of presentation? Never told a camp fire story? Lack of reading? Missed out on bedtime stories? Missed out on class presentations? Not in their genetic make-up? You get the point, and it’s hard to pinpoint to make it addressable.
At a startup camp last year, I was coaching a young entrepreneur who was struggling with how to explain a good idea. I was shocked to learn that he’d been in debate for years and believed that expressing his thoughts was one of his strong suits. Yikes!
I have seen startups who are generating revenue and have a decent business model who botch a pitch so badly that they lose the confidence of everyone in the room. I have also seen a number of extremely bright and capable people struggle with landing jobs or investors due to a heavy accent which exacerbates poor communication, especially if the person speaks too quickly. I’ve witnessed this firsthand with a family friend who has consistently taken jobs beneath her ability due to the aforementioned issues. One notable investor has pointed specifically to thick accents and failures in communication as spelling doom for startups in their investment thesis.
There are definitely exceptions to this rule, and some people may be willing to invest the time and effort to overcome it. But based on my observations the many will not. So what can be done?
Here are 7 suggestions all of us can use regardless of whether we are pitching or presenting:
- Nothing beats practice. Record yourself and watch/listen. Ask friends, mentors and outsiders to listen to your pitch. Make sure you ask for open feedback. Tell them, SHOOT ME STRAIGHT AND BE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH HOW I PERFORMED. Ask, WHERE CAN I IMPROVE? Then make needed adjustments.
- Always prepare your material as you would a meal—core staples with a little spice to keep the dish interesting.
- Don’t read your presentation from PowerPoint slides. Avoid endless reading of bullets and limit the usage. People who really know their stuff shouldn’t be too tied to any notes.
- Be sure to explain unfamiliar terms and potential uses for your product. Over-familiarity with your industry can be a detriment when pitching to others who may fail to understand why what you have is even needed.
- Nothing conveys conviction like emotion as citing facts and statistics are not enough. Put some fire in your presentation or put the presentation in the fire.
- Turn your presentation into a story. Stories are easier to recount and more interesting to your audience especially when they tie in tightly with how your product or solution solves a major problem.
- Role play with advisors so you can come up with real world objections, questions or interruptions that might throw you off. You will be better prepared to handle them. Nothing is as uncomfortable as pure silence, an incoherent response or failure to even acknowledge what was said.