Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

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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5 Tests of Commitment Levels

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or out. There’s no such thing as a life in-between.” Pat Riley

The quote above epitomizes the true essence of commitment . There are no middle roads, if you cannot commit to certain goals or tasks, you are better off saying no. Over the last week we have talked about five levels through which levels of commitment can be tested. The list below summarizes all five levels and can be a quick reference list before making a commitment .

1. Core Values: The first level for any commitment is the need to check it for direct alignment with your core values. These are a set of values inherent and embedded into individual systems. They are the result of life experiences, culture, environment and spiritual belief systems. If we make commitments which deviate  from these core values, it will result in a disconnect, making it difficult to achieve set goals. To read more about core values and commitment please click here.

2. Goals: All of us have certain goals and targets we  want to achieve in life. These goals need to be based on core values. When we commit to a certain SMART goal, it is vital to think it through meticulously. It is only once you go into details that a commitment level is required and you can then gauge if it is something you aspire to. If the commitment is in line with core values and is something you want to work towards, you are ready for the next level. To read more about goals and commitment please click here.

3. Time: Committing to a goal requires an appropriate demarcation of time. Committing to a goal without the necessary allocation of time will result in half hearted attempts which are not productive. This is not recommended and one needs to be careful about being able to take out enough time to achieve particular tasks. Once time is allocated to a particular commitment we are ready for the next level. To read more about time and commitment please click here.

4. Support: Once we have committed to a certain goal, we need to ensure continuous support to it through the good and bad. One will most definitely encounter setbacks, this may lead to doubts about your level of commitment to the goal. Therefore, breaking commitment into manageable components is recommended, this will allow you to focus with greater accuracy as also support critical functions more appropriately. If you are committed to supporting your commitments you are ready for the last level. To read more about supporting your level of commitments please click here.

5. Improving: The last stage involves testing efforts to constantly improve on the level of commitments made. It is essential to continue to develop and enhance the processes we use to reach certain goals. This creates momentum and helps maintain levels of enthusiasm. It also provides motivation to acheive excellence in whatever you commit to doing. To read more about improving levels of commitment please click here.

These five levels provide a framework to test how committed you really are in achieving a set of goals. They force you to look deeper into situations to ensure that you are truly committed. Making a commitment is a serious matter and one which should not be taken lightly, specially in a startup venture where the team needs to pull its weight together to achieve goals. Individuals who do not honor what they commit to, cause hurdles that need to be dealt with immediately, so as to ensure that high levels of enthusiasm and motivation are maintained in the team.

The next time you need to make commitment, remember to test yourself for how committed you really are!

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Improving Commitment Levels

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” Eddie Robinson

Once a stage is reached where we actively support and work towards commitments, the next and final stage is improving the processes. This stage involves the commitment to continuously strive for excellence in all we commit to. We have to continue to find ways through which to improve on the processes currently in place. This will make the journey not only more exciting but also keep it from reaching a mundane and stagnant state .

The danger of a current set of processes stagnating is directly proportional to levels of complacency. This results in dramatic decrease in levels of motivation and drive to push harder. For example, with my current blog I am reaching a stage where I feel the need for change in layout design and functionalities.  I have hence begun working on these aspects to bring in a change. This continuous commitment to improve what we are working on not only makes our work more interesting but keeps the momentum levels high and ensures optimal levels of work.

The same logic applies to working on new startup ventures. There is a need to identify segments which are not working to potential and to ensure that improvements are put into place to rectify trouble spots. Without inculcating a culture which promotes continuous improvements to processes, naturally results in rigid organizational approaches where change becomes a challenge. This ultimately results in organizations being unable to realize their true potential. 

Hence every organization committed to achieving goals and growing its business, needs to inculcate improvement of current processes as a cornerstone of their strategy. This will provide them the ability to not only honor their commitment, but also enhance the capability to reach their true potential and unleash the power of their teams. 

 

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Supporting Commitment

“When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word succeed, you find that it simply means to follow through.” F W Nichol

It is only once we have our commitments chalked out and demarcated time to ensure they are completed, that the actual process begins. At the beginning it can be intimidating to figure out how to begin this journey. At this point it is essential that you focus on encapsulating the commitment into manageable components and identify which parts are the most critical. This is vitally important if you are part of a team which has joint commitment to reach certain targets or goals. If you are leading this team, you need to identify the important components and then lead by example.

When you start working on these critical components you will gradually begin to see movement towards desired goals. Progress in the correct direction, provides a great boost to overall productivity of a team and motivates moving forward. This level of momentum helps achieve fantastic results. For example, when I started this blog on the 1st of January 08 I made a commitment with myself to write daily for the entire year regarding entrepreneurship and life. At the beginning I was working on getting my footing correct and identifying the direction I wanted this blog to take. I settled into a weekly routine and readership has been increasing. This increase has provided me the encouragement to continue writing and give it my best.

Along the way you will most definitely face a fair share of trouble and doubts. There will be times when you will not get the results you expect and will question yourself on moving forward. At other times you will experience great hardship in the form of losing a big deal, a vital team member or negative feedback. All of these will test your commitment and  the strenght to keep moving forward. If you have made a commitment, it becomes your responsibility to stand up and defend what you are wanting to achieve.

This applies to all kinds of commitments, business, career or relationships. If you are not committed in supporting it through the good and the bad, keeping your level of commitment constant will become an increasingly difficult challenge. When you make a commitment, ensure that you will be there to support and defend it no matter the hurdles on the way.

 You are now ready to move to the last level.

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