This week was a milestone, as I celebrated six months of consulting with First Thirty. I’ve worked with a collection of passionate founders and exciting growth companies, and seen a few repeating themes. It has shown me that building a successful business relies about one third on your winning technology, and about two thirds on your powers of communication.
Reflecting on a couple of recent experiences, here are a few thoughts that might help you to get your message across, quickly and successfully.
Who is your audience?
- Narrow them down – you may not be able to find them individually or personally, but you can look for typical characteristics to create a synthetic picture. Think about the industry they work in, their role and seniority. With help from LinkedIn and other resources, you can refine things, and possibly even identify them.
- Find a known equivalent – do you know someone who looks and thinks like your target? This may come in very useful later on.
- Imagine speaking to them directly – sit down and write specifically for them. What would you say to them? How would you introduce yourself? Use the power of visualisation as you try to explain your idea – would they understand it first time?
- Not all audiences are the same – as you will find if you are trying to pitch the same deck to multiple investors. A bit of research or prior knowledge can throw up different positions or objectives that you can flex toward for a better outcome in each case.
Find their comfort zone
- Terminology – find the keywords, acronyms and phrases that are used by the target community, and that they are comfortable with, maybe with a bit of help from Google.
- Translation – with this knowledge, adapt your ideas and expressions into terms that they are more likely to recognise.
What do they need?
- Motivations – getting your audience to understand is one thing, but getting them to respond in the way you want is a much bigger step. Your customer may be interested in saving money, making more money, reducing risk, having a better experience, saving the planet, or any number of other outcomes, so you need to be aware of these priorities.
- Focus on them – above all you must answer their burning questions. Sadly, I see too much ‘look how great my technology is’, that falls flat when the audience can’t keep up, and are likely to care more about their own angles rather than how clever the presenter is.
Practice and review
- Try it out loud – there’s real value in running through your delivery, whether it is written or spoken.
- Leave it, and read it cold – put the document to one side and go back to it again sometime later, and with a fresh mind to see how it flows. I find PowerPoint slides are a particular black hole in this respect.
- Find an editor – no matter how well you can convince yourself, someone else’s reading will cast it in a whole new light. This, for me, has been the biggest single lesson learned in my own work.
- Fail in private – it’s far less painful and damaging. For a recent workshop, I had one slide that I must have tried a dozen times to deliver smoothly, but kept tripping over the sequence of the sophisticated diagram. Eventually I gave up and replaced it with something much simpler that worked well in delivery.
Simple is best
This is the guiding principle, and it will work well for you more times than not. A simple message is also robust and flexible. You can adapt some details to suit each purpose, without harming the core message.