Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

My Big Challenge for 2009

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

I have been thinking about my goals and aspirations for 2009 for the last couple of days. I have been setting goals for various aspects of my life. When I reached the category of personal goals, I began thinking on similar parallels to my goal of starting this blog in 2008. I believe starting this blog was one of the most rewarding goals that I have set to date. It has come to a point that I am motivated on a daily basis to write something and if I don’t, it feels as if I have forgotten something during the course of the day, in short I miss it! While thinking about this I began debating the idea of possibly writing a book in 2009. It would be a book about entrepreneurship and detail the major joys, hurdles and learning experiences I have had on my journey so far. The primary objective would be to assist others out there who are wanting to start a business or have started a business recently. After thinking about it in depth, I know that such a book would have been of great help to me when I was starting up a couple of years ago. I have thus decided to set myself the goal of completing the e-book version by Dec 31st 2009.

I realize there are many “How-to” books on starting a business as well as entrepreneurship in the marketplace today. My only gripe with most of them has been that they are very technical in nature and instead of always inspiring someone to take the leap, they often lead to self doubt. The objective of my book would be to provide advice on some of the biggest lessons I have learnt during my entrepreneurial journey. That would include setting visions, finding the right partners, the importance of marketing, how to manage cash flows and other very expensive lessons that I have learned over time. After reading this book I hope the reader will be able to see entrepreneurship from a 30,000 ft level as well as some of the intricacies that need to be addressed during the first year of starting up.

I would really appreciate feedback from readers of this blog about whether this is a book that would be of interest to you and what you would want to learn about, and see included in such a book. Your feedback will be critical in assisting me to choose the right focal point of the book. I look forward to hearing from you either through email at blog (at) usmansheikh.net or in the comment section below.

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5 Steps to Better Presentations

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” Dale Carnegie

Presentations are a critical communication medium which entrepreneurs need to be adept at. Good presentation techniques make it easier to get your point across to your team, investors and customers. However, to be able to present like Steve Jobs, requires a lot of hard work, creativity and passion. Whenever I have seen a great presentation, it has the same five components. These components make the presentation experience engaging, stimulating and interesting. When any one of these key components is missing, the presentation unravels itself. These five components are:

1. Theme: We have all been to presentations where confusion surrounds the first 15 minutes, and everyone is trying to understand what the presenter is attempting to establish. With the aid of a theme the presenter is able to communicate the core essence of what is being presented. A theme serves as an anchor to keep the audience focused on the single most important message in your presentation. To read more about how to develop a theme for your presentation please click here.

2. Navigation: The outline is supposed to break the story into manageable parts, so that the audience does not get lost. Research has shown that focusing on a maximum of 3 main points in your presentation, is an optimal number as far as recall and attention spans are concerned. It is important that when we begin talking about a key point we introduce it, talk about it, and have a conclusion for it before we move on to the next point. To read more about developing a good outline for your presentation please click here.

3. Call to Action: This component requires the presenter to clearly state the action the audience needs to take after the presentation. This could be many things, ranging from closing a deal, securing funding, or convincing the team to go with a particular marketing strategy. Without this component we have wasted the audience’s time and they will leave the presentation frustrated and confused. Every presentation must have a specific call to action to fulfill its core purpose. To read more about developing a call to action for your presentation please click here.

4. Design: The creativity part of the presentation is one of the most challenging aspects when done correctly. It is about reducing the presentation content into simple messages, and with the help of visual aids communicated to your target audience optimally. We need to be wary of using clipart, complicated tables & charts, bullet points and distracting templates. Every element of your presentation from the colors, font and images must communicate a particular message to your audience. To read more design tips for your presentation please click here.

5. Rehearsal: Being prepared is the difference between a good and a great presentation. There should be an equal amount of effort put into the delivery of your presentation as well as to the production of the presentation. Memorize your material, get feedback from whoever will listen, and record yourself giving the presentation to gauge areas you need to focus on. There is a statistic which says that every minute of a presentation requires an hour of presentation. This goes to show how much effort needs to be placed on rehearsals to give a great presentation. To read more rehearsal techniques please click here.

You will notice that I have not mentioned passion as one of the components. The reason I leave it out is because it is a given. The above mentioned components help take your average presentation to a great one. Without passion however, your presentations will be well below average. Whatever we do in life, whether we are an entrepreneur, lawyer, doctor or an investment banker, we have to ensure that we are passionate about what we are doing. I wish you the best of luck in all your future presentations.

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Are you Prepared to Present?

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” Wayne Burgraf 

A killer theme has been selected, a consistent story, a great punch-line and a mind blowing design. All hyped up, we step up to the podium to deliver our presentation, and everything falls apart. We start by getting the words wrong, our train of thought goes astray, we begin talking about unrelated topics and soon, we have completely lost the audience’s attention and respect. Sound familiar? Well it does to me. I have had my fair share of presentations which did not go as planned. The reason: I never planned how I wanted them to go in the first place. One gets so caught up in getting the right picture, the right statistics and the right design, that we tend to forget the important aspect of getting the delivery of the actual presentation right. This is a lesson you have to learn the hard way to truly understand it’s magnitude. 

One of the first presentations I remembering rehearsing for, day and night, was my first VC pitch. I was the lead presenter and my team and I spent around 5 days perfecting the delivery of the pitch. It was the first time I realized how difficult it was to do something which appears to be relatively easy. Each time I watch one of Steve Jobs keynote addresses it just blows me away. Here is a guy who stands in front of thousands of individuals and holds their attention for 90 minutes without breaking a sweat. So is there a special secret which helps some speakers present better than others? No…..it is simply about being well prepared. Outlined below are some steps which can help you to be better prepared for your next presentation:

1. Who is your audience?: If you are pitching to a VC, you will have to pay attention to aspects like financials, target market and assumptions. Be prepared with answers to difficult questions in advance. On the other hand, if you are pitching to a customer,  stress different factors and communicate in point form to help them make a decision faster. Understand who your audience is, and what they expect of you in advance.

2. Material: I recommend memorizing your material if possible. This has helped me pitch more confidently and that confidence is surely communicated to the audience. Instead of memorizing word for word, use central themes and key words for each segment. 

3. Dry Runs: I record myself while rehearsing important presentations. Through this I can identify pitch, those parts of the presentation I have trouble with, any hand gestures I use, and whether I am able to stay within the designated time which has been allocated for the presentation. The last point is vital when pitching your startup at demos where one is given only 2-5 minutes to communicate your idea.

4. Tools: I recommend advance testing of your presentation at the actual site if possible. For some odd reason, the projector and notebook always seems to have a problem right before a presentation. I also recommend using a remote device to help navigate your presentation yourself. 

5. Passion: Without this component one might as well not give the presentation. Passion for your idea, product or service is communicated from the moment you begin your presentation. During rehearsals get feedback from your peers or anyone who is assessing your delivery on how you rank on confidence, enthusiasm and passion. 

Being prepared is the difference between a good and a great presentation. There should be an equal amount of effort put into the delivery of your presentation as well as to the production of the presentation. When you see a presenter like Al Gore giving the “Inconvenient Truth” presentation, you cannot help but notice how effortlessly he delivers and more importantly, communicates with his audience. This is a result of giving the same presentation hundreds of times and refining it to perfection. When you are making your next presentation to your team, customer or investors make sure you come prepared.

Sample Presentation:

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Presentation Design

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus

Text, animation, clipart graphics, charts, tables and bullet points need to be kept to a bare minimum in any presentation. Everything placed on your slide must have a purpose and communicate it’s message to the audience. This is easier said than done. Find below ‘before and after’ pictures from Apollo Ideas Inc, notice how well they communicate what I have just mentioned.

Copyright Apollo Ideas Inc

In all the ‘before’ pictures, we see there is too much text which is badly laid out, complicated tables & charts, and distracting backgrounds and colors. The ‘after’ slides have removed the clutter and presented simple, clear and concise slides which communicate their messages through pictures rather than words. To make a successful transition from the left slide to the right one, we need to put a lot more effort into each slide. In the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, they outline six principles essential to describing a good presentation. They are simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. When developing your presentation, benchmark your presentation against these principles, to see whether the message you are attempting to communicate, will do so or not.

A summary of some key points for good presentation design:

1. Avoid: Clip art, complicated charts & tables, excessive use of text and bullet points.

2. Colors: Select colors carefully, and make sure they communicate the message you want the audience to feel. 

3. Typography: Keep your text consistent throughout the course of the presentation. Choose a font type which communicates your message effectively.

4. Images: Use high quality stock images whenever possible. The correct picture can communicate more than an entire slide worth of text, as shown in the example above.

Creating a well designed presentation which satisfies all the key criterions is a challenging task. With time and experience one will get more adept at choosing the correct elements for particular types of presentation. Until then, we need to keep practicing and getting as much feedback as possible. 

Sample Presentation:

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Call to Action

“Ask yourself, ”If I had only sixty seconds on the stage, what would I absolutely have to say to get my message across.” Jeff Dewar 

A couple of years ago I struggled with my customer presentations. The content was great, I spent a lot of time on the theme and design, yet, I was unable to close the sale. If you have been in this spot, you know how frustrating it can be, specially when it happens repeatedly. I took a presentation to my mentors for feedback, to see if they could spot where I was going wrong. I did a demo presentation, I remember the response, it was “so what?”. Wow. The feedback I got was, I was not being aggressive enough in asking for the sale with my presentation. The end of the presentation was not packing in sufficient build up, to convince the prospect to make a decision about whether or not they would like to sign up for the service. I was going straight to the Q & A section after I spoke about pricing, and I lost customers during that transition.

After that day, I make sure that before I make a presentation, I visualize the desired outcome. This could be many things, ranging from closing a deal, securing funding, or convincing the team to go with a particular marketing strategy. The key is that there must be a call to action, otherwise it is a waste of time for you and the audience. Once I started incorporating this into my presentations, the results were truly astonishing. I started closing more sales and the audience was more involved and pro-active. Initially I thought the audience may find this direct approach too frank or abrasive, however the results were quite the contrary. The audience actually appreciated the upfront attitude, understood the main objective and more importantly, the chances of getting a definitive reply increased sharply.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when devising your call to action:

1. Subtle Buildup: The last thing your customer wants to see is a slide out of nowhere, asking them to purchase the product/service. Make sure your story is consistent, it should outline the product/service, show its benefits, how it would aid a specific customer and any other data to support your pitch for why they should purchase from you.

2. Specific: There should be no vague statements relating to what you want to achieve at the end of the presentation. Be absolutely clear about what you would like them to do. If necessary, provide them with all necessary details if they have questions relating to the transaction.

3. Closing Tools: If the presentation is geared towards closing the deal with the customer right after the presentation, make sure you have all the necessary items to ensure the sale goes through. This could be contract agreements, a form on your website or even a mobile signing device. Be prepared with all the necessary tools required to ensure a successful outcome.

This has been an invaluable lesson for me and has greatly increased the effectiveness of my presentations. The next time you are giving a presentation, make sure you have a clear call to action which is supported by the rest of the presentation. Remember, if we do not ask for the sale, we are rarely going to be able to close it.

Sample Presentation:

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Navigating your Audience

“The audience only pays attention as long as you know where you are going.” Philip Crosby 

Steve Jobs usually begins his keynote addresses, by giving his audience a rough outline for his presentation. For example he says, “Today, I am going to be talking about 3 things”. Usually these are three different products or services which he will talk about. What this statement does is, it formulates a path in the mind of the audience about what to expect from the presentation. Much of the time however, we will not be giving keynote addresses, and our presentations will be more intricate, and have a lot of material which we want, and need to cover. However, this should not be an excuse to create huge presentation outlines, and you should not start your presentation with headings such as: About Us, Problems, Solutions, Benefits, Price. The audience usually has this framework in mind already. 

As a presenter, we have to look at each presentation we give from both the macro and micro level. The prior post talked about the macro level, where we established the theme and story to be followed. The outline is supposed to break the story up into manageable parts, so that the audience does not get lost. Research has shown, that focusing on a maximum of 3 main points in your presentation, is an optimal number as far as recall and attention spans are concerned. It is important that when we begin talking about a key point we introduce it, talk about it, and have a conclusion for it before we move on to the next point. Often I notice presentations which talk about product features on one slide and shift to the pricing structure in the next. It is important to make the transition smoothly, to reiterate the point and close the section before moving on to the next.

Without a sequential structure in place we tend to lose audience attention very quickly. Hence, when creating your presentation sequence, remember to keep these key criterions in mind:

1. Sequential: Does your presentation flow smoothly from one section to the next?

2. Opening & Closing: Are each of the sections of your presentation introduced, and concluded clearly?

3. Length: Have you managed to restrict the content to 3 main points?

Developing an interesting presentation which flows well, requires creativity and hard work. The next time you are creating a presentation, do your best to understand the target audience, and decide the best way to communicate your message in a simple, clear and concise manner.

Sample Presentation:

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What is the theme of your presentation?

“A theme is a memory aid, it helps you through the presentation just as it also provides the thread of continuity for your audience.” Dave Carey 

We have all been to presentations where confusion surrounds the first 15 minutes, trying to understand what the presenter is attempting to establish. For example, an entrepreneur goes to pitch to an investor, and spends the first 20 minutes talking about his and his team’s credentials. The investors, who expected to hear a business proposal, are frustrated and confused. In this example, the presenter failed to set a theme for the presentation, and lost the audience’s attention. In another example, an entrepreneur enters a room, and sets the stage by telling the investors “today we will show you a revolutionary product which is going to change the way you read a book”. With a single sentence, the investor knows in essence, what is going to be talked about and what the main objective is.

Once a theme is developed, we need to support it with a story. I believe when both these components are brought together in a logical and sequential manner, great presentations are created. In the second example above, when the presenter sets the theme but follows it through only with a product demo and all its features and functionalities, it fall’s short of the expectations which were created. To support your theme, one needs to weave a sequential story to help bring the investors/customers from where they are, to where you want them to be. The presentation needs to flow naturally to help them understand your concept, how it will change the way to read, what the benefits are, and why they should invest in this opportunity. For a more detailed explanation of the art of story telling please view the video by Ira Glass below.

Master presenters like Steve Jobs begins presentations with statements such as “There is something in the air today”, “Today, we are going to change the way the world views a phone”. His keynote addresses are often launch pads for new product releases and enhancements, and he uses themes to set the tone and expectations right from the word Go. Whenever we have to prepare a presentation, take a step back before you open up powerpoint, and ask yourself, what is the one message I want to communicate to my audience? What is the most effective way of communicating this message? Once we have the answers to these questions, it will be easier to figure out the optimal way of delivering the message. One word of advice, irrespective of how much effort is put into theme and story development, if there is no passion or enthusiasm from the presenter, all is lost. It is your job to get your audience interested, and the only way to do that, is to be interesting yourself. 

Related Video:

Sample Presentation: The sound is not synced correctly, however this is a great presentation.

 

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Not Another Presentation

“No one ever complains about a speech being too short!” Ira Hayes 

Presentations are a critical communication medium entrepreneurs need to be adept at. Good presentation techniques make it easier to get your point across to your team, investors and customers. However, to be able to present like Steve Jobs, requires a lot of hard work, creativity and passion. Without these three components, not only will your presentations suffer, lack of these qualities impact the overall quality of life. We have all been at presentations where we have seriously wanted to shoot the presenter, unfortunately sometimes this may have been us. I have a personal example when I was presenting the constitution of our entrepreneurship society to a new chapter we were inaugurating in China. I am pretty sure that within 5 minutes I had everyone in the room asleep. Looking back at that experience, I blamed the material, however, it really was my fault for not putting the material across in a manner that would have engaged the audience more. 

As entrepreneurs most of the time our presentations will revolve around pitching to investors, introducing a new product/service to a customer, or giving a quarterly sales report to the rest of our team. Most of these presentations have huge amounts of data that needs to be presented in graph forms, charts and numbers. What often happens is we tend to get lost in the detail and forget the overall message we want to leave the audience with. Other times, we just read off the slide, word for word, and that can be a most painful experience for the audience. The worst case  scenario is when the presenter is visibly unenthusiastic about what he/she is presenting. Unfortunately, many of us fall into these common pitfalls and that can have a detrimental impact on our ability to convince a team, get funding or close a sale. 

Over the course of the coming week I will talk about some key elements your presentation should comprise of. These should provide your presentations with that extra level of oomph which should excite, motivate or inspire your audience, whichever of these is your objective. However, to begin the process, we first have to break away from traditional “rules” we follow regarding how a presentation is supposed to be structured. We have to begin thinking creatively, with two objectives in mind, these are, what is the audience expecting of us and, what message do we want to leave them with. I hope this series will be of some help, I wish you all the very best in your future presentations.

Sample Presentation:


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