In 2007, Forbes Magazine published a list of the 9 most commonly aroused fears. Included on the list were spiders, snakes and bats (oh my!), confined spaces, heights, and public transportation. Surprisingly, there is something else that most people fear more than death: public speaking. Apparently, many out there are afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of large groups, especially in a business setting. Who knew?
Well, don your backpack and grab that Batman lunchbox, ‘cause we’re going to speech school!
In any public speaking setting, it is important to accurately identify your audience. Some may say ‘target’ audience, but there is a definite difference between the ‘target’ audience that you’re trying to reach and the physical audience that is actually listening to you. While this may seem like a no-brainer, improper interpretation of your audience’s viewpoint will lead to one or both of the Two B’s: Boos and Blank Stares. Especially when presenting to investors, you have to place yourself in their shoes and attempt to determine what they are looking to get out of your presentation. Let’s run with the ‘investor example’.
When evaluating a new startup or investment opportunity, investors are simply wondering if the product being offered for review is compelling enough to warrant a funds transfer. That said, the whole process should be looked at less like a shakedown for cash, and more like the presentation of a valuable idea to those who have the ability to make it a reality. If you’ve created something that truly is of value, you’re doing your audience a favor by asking them to invest. Keeping this in mind, here are some tips to help you knock your next presentation out of the park.
Q: What is my business model? A: Investor Kryptonite. Fact of life: Business models are not made of concrete. They change, and change often. For this reason alone, refrain from making the meat of your presentation the same cut as your business plan. Potential investors could care less about how you speculate you will be making money in the coming years. Instead, narrow down one problem you are actively and successfully working to solve, and base your presentation around that. The boardroom will look at you like a much smarter person when you show them the steps taken to solve important industry issues. Besides being a waste of precious presentation minutes, business plans are nothing more than assumptions; if you have a particularly shoddy one investors will walk away thinking of you as “the company with the terrible business plan” rather than “the guys who are solving important problems”.
Those kids and their PowerPoint… Another surefire way to sabotage an investor presentation is to drop the ball when it comes to slideshows. This is most likely due to an ill-founded viewpoint of the actual role held by PowerPoint presentations. To set the record straight, the slideshow is a supplement to your presentation; it is not your entire presentation. Rule Number One: DO NOT Recite your slides. Rule Number Two: 20 words per slide, no more. Since Homo sapiens speak in sentence form, the easiest way to follow Rule Number One is to craft your slides to contain bullet points of no more than, you guessed it, 20 words per slide. This way, you can maintain eye contact with the audience while the slideshow advances behind you, augmenting your sentences with hyphenated detail. A minimal amount of pictures is a safe bet as well, reducing the clutter and amount of distractions. The audience is supposed to be reading you not the wall, after all.
Vite, vite! Lui l'arrêt! “Quick, quick! Make it stop!” Experts on the subject say you should aim to finish within 20 minutes, but will be interrupted so often that most of the time a presentation will stretch to 40 minutes. Regardless, most will agree that investors will judge your performance/business within the first 30-60 seconds, and if you don’t perform in that time frame, no mas cash. It is also considered best practice to progress rapidly to a product demonstration. Demos explain better than words, which is especially helpful in solicitation situations where people who are bad at explaining are presenting to people who are bad at understanding. Incidentally, this describes most investor presentation scenarios.
Fundraising is selling, not storytelling. Truer words were never spoken. When presenting, you must effectively sell not only your idea, but yourself and your management team. At this point, real estate agents have an advantage due to their independence. Investors want to know if you have the ability within the ranks of your personnel to put their monies to good use, so in this way it is easier on the presenter if they are only selling themselves. In the case of a team, touch on each member’s experience and how this relates to your team’s collective ability to ‘execute’. While it is certainly more productive to have only one member of the team actually speak during the presentation, if somebody happens to be highly specialized in a specific area a one- to two-minute interjection might be in order.
In order to effectively sell yourself, you must project mass amounts of confidence and poise. Nobody likes to give money to an apologetic ‘sob’ who doesn’t know his product well enough to stand tall and present with confidence. In order to be confident (and in turn project confidence) one must be familiar with every intricacy of their product or idea. If you happen to be presenting an opportunity rather than a startup, perhaps a condominium development still in its pre-development stage or something of that nature, take some time to anticipate and prepare answers for any questions you think will be raised. Do a bit of research on zoning regulations and estimated development costs, as these will have an effect on the way the buildings will be constructed and will enable you to offer the most complete and custom tailored quote to potential investors. Make projections of the time it will take until the property will be placed back on the market, or on the specific amount of money they will have to invest until they realize a worthwhile return.
Beyond the actual content you present, of equal importance are the techniques you employ when speaking to a group of people. Since public speaking is an unavoidable part of life, and since most people are more afraid of speaking than they are of death, I thought I might share some tips on the art of speech itself. Every presenter, nervous or otherwise, should, upon taking the stage, locate the red-glowing ‘EXIT’ sign that will be inevitably perched somewhere near the rear of the room. When times get tough, the EXIT sign can be your greatest friend. You will maintain a sort of eye contact with the audience, but without actually looking them in the eye. The EXIT sign will also serve as a non-distracting anchor point, so when you happen to be making a particularly complex point or you are simply having trouble remembering your content, fix your peepers on the red letters and let your thoughts flow uninhibited. This little trick can help prevent that embarrassing situation where you forget what to say next and the audience’s expectant collective face is doing nothing but providing you with a healthy case of speaker’s-block. Speaking of the audience, make sure you keep some form of eye contact at all times, however painful it may be, and always aim to speak to the back row. You will unconsciously speak in a louder tone, ensuring that no one is straining to hear your words. Also, it is important to speak slowly and enunciate every word, or the people in front of you will be dropping like flies. The acting community has a saying when reciting lines: “If you feel you are speaking too slowly, you are at the correct pace.”
Always remember that your main goal is not to educate investors on every minute aspect of your idea, but instead to simply sell yourself, convincing them that you are worth talking too again. If your product, startup, or empty lot is worth your time, then is it not also worth the time of the potential investors? That said, go into the meeting with the mindset that you are doing them a favor by presenting. You’re not looking for money, you’re looking to progress your business. Explicitly highlight how the other side of the table will benefit from a partnership. Create a sense of urgency by plotting a timeline for an increase of value, rather than plotting out all the reasons you need the money (e.g. Rent, Payroll, New Software, etc…). And remember, you are there to sell, not to story-tell.