Pitching Tips

January 20, 2016

Interesting post on Linkedin by Creel Price on common pitching flaws. It starts (after having heard a series of pitches):

But unfortunately there were a few too many over engineered slide-decks and pitches that left me confused and with little understanding of what the business actually did long after waving them goodbye on the sidewalk. The reality is, there were countless flaws in the majority of pitches I listened to, which shouldn’t be surprising given how little support and training currently exists in the market for entrepreneurs.

The article is directed at angel investors and similar but the basic principles are widely applicable and apply in many situations.

The key points he highlights are:

FLAW #1: Not Being Succinct: try summarising everything into just one sentence. That’s often very hard, although that in itself may indicate that there’s an underlying problem or maybe you’re just not thinking about it in the best way (for others to understand).

FLAW #2: Not Speaking With Confidence: he suggests a conversational approach rather than canned powerpoint. Interestingly “Sure rehearse but then rehearse it so it doesn’t sound rehearsed.”. Everyone carefully practises presentations but maybe we should do the same for important conversations as well?

There has to be room for spontaneity and movement of course but it’s probably true that lots of the likely questions can be imagined beforehand. The interesting part of conversations are when something new occurs and changes you, not the formalities.

FLAW #3: Not Speaking Frankly: use simple clear language and avoid (often meaningless) jargon. The aim is communication in a short space of time rather than a superficial form of trying to impress someone.

FLAW #4: Not Being Authentic: this is actually a tricky one. Someone is buying into you (authentic, passionate, likeable) rather than an idea, business model or whatever. You can relatively easily change/modify the latter but not so easily yourself or your style. On the other hand, if things don’t work out then it may be more a case of incompatible chemistries rather than anything else.

FLAW #5: Not Having An Ask: in a wider context, this is also an interesting one. Lots of colleagues tell me what they’re doing, their trials and tribulations but very few ask me to do something specific for them. Why not? This links strongly to the previous points.

I’m reviewing a startup business plan at the moment and I’m going to rethink the situation using the points above, it should be a useful test.


A Smarter Search

January 16, 2016

When I worked for a large organisation, several extensive information repositories were available to track down useful articles, reports, people etc. This could also be combined with looking externally via Google or similar. A common complaint was that it was time consuming tracking down exactly what was needed i.e. too many irrelevant search terms cropped up. I remember a colleague mentioning at the time that most people didn’t know the full power of ‘search’ and if they did their life would become a lot easier.

A recent article in the Guardian jolted my memory on this and it gives a handy list of ten such methods for Google (see the article for details).

Instead of an ‘immediate’ search, think a bit and then try using:

1. Exact Phrase (use quote marks) eg “Joe Bloggs”
2. Exclude terms eg “Joe Bloggs” -jeans
3. Either OR eg alex hern OR hernandez
4. Synonym search eg plumbing ~university
5. Search within a site eg site:theguardian.com selfie stick
6. The power of the asterisk eg where there’s a * there’s a way
7. Searching between two values eg british prime minsiter 1920.. 1950
8. Search for a word in the body, title or URL of a page eg intitle:review
9. Search for related sites eg related:theguardian.com
10. Combine them eg site:theguardian.com smartphone review ~budget

I’ve just tried this on a topic I’m interested in and it’s given a couple of useful new results. You can also make use of Google Advanced Search, which gives additional options. The latter is probably not used as much as it could be.

The article comments:

As Google and other search engines improve their understanding of the way people naturally type or say search queries, these power tools will likely become less and less useful – at least that’s the goal that search engines are working towards – but that’s certainly not the case at the moment.


Procrastinating Day By Day

December 10, 2015

From Lifehacker:

It’s easy to procrastinate doing something when you know you have a whole year to get it done, but a recent study suggests that telling yourself you have only 365 days instead, can get you into gear. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science and led by Neil A. Lewis Jr. and Daphna Oyserman, suggests that people feel like events and deadlines are closer when they think of them in smaller units. For example, when participants were asked when they would start saving for their retirement—30 years out or 10,950 days out—participants with the days scenario planned to start saving four times sooner than the those told to think in terms of years.

Relevant to my planned resolutions for 2016!


The Slow Tech Movement

March 27, 2015

There’s an interesting post on MakeUseOf about blending technology with lifestyle to better effect. As part of this they give ten suggestions for slowing things down and improving the general quality of life. It’s a really helpful list, for interest I’ve reproduced it below and also added some personal comments and my own scores (out of 5):

1. Don’t check your work email after 5:00 pm, or whenever you workday ends (freelancers, this includes you).

Me: 2/5. I have a very good friend who did this religiously for quite a few years (6 pm actually, I was incredibly impressed). However she got promoted to a very senior position and now looks all the time, including holidays!

2. Specify one day a week that will be screen free, at least between the hours of 8:00 am and 9:00 pm or so (the screen on the back of your camera could be an exception).

Me: 0/5. I’ve often thought about the time I spend looking at one or another screens, it’s a lot. A day a week sounds extreme to me (at least to start with), a half day might possibly be manageable?

3. Delete social media apps from your phone, and make an effort to be social with people you don’t know during the times you’d usually check your feeds.

Me: 4/5. I have my mobile pretty much under control. In addition, I find it easy and enjoyable to interact with new people.

4. Take time every day to go for a walk to get some fresh air and look at the world around you. You might be surprised at what you see when you take your eyes off of your phone and your mind off your to-do list!

Me: 2/5. I’m lucky enough to live right next to a quite wonderful nature reserve – I have no reason not to take a quick daily wander except laziness and a lack of discipline. The odd thing is, as soon as I’m out of the house and in the fresh air, it seems the totally right place to be, and I wonder what was holding me back!

5. Practice mindful browsing.

Me: 3/5. This is definitely a good one and I’ve recently started this. Instead of getting sucked into an effectively infinite sea of fascinating facts, info and opinions, take a breath and think why you’re doing this. Sometimes it’s through genuine interest and is really worthwhile, sometimes it’s straightforward procrastination. It’s helpful to be honest with yourself and figure out which one it is. Bear in mind Point 4!

6. Read a book for entertainment — not the latest about Agile programming or entrepreneurship, but a novel or non-fiction book about something that you enjoy or are curious about.

Me 4/5. I read quite a lot of fiction but usually in bed. I’ve often thought of reading instead of watching the TV but have found this quite hard, maybe it’s the total silence or something. Most likely it’s just habit. Being a member of a book club helps!

7. Use a Pomodoro timer to remind yourself to take breaks throughout the day and take your eyes off of your computer, tablet, and phone.

Me 2/5. I actually do this, but erratically. I’m trying to get into the habit of doing something physical in the break e.g. have a look at the garden (I work at home mostly), do a bit of (much needed) tidying up etc. I’ve found there’s a big difference between taking a break whilst sitting down and getting up and moving around (even for short periods).

8. Turn off push notifications for email and social media, and only check them when you intend to spend time reading and responding to things.

Me 3/5. I’m not too bad at this. This may be a reaction to when I worked full time, and was deluged with emails, calls etc and vowed not to get into this position again. Life’s too short and all that…

9. Craft an information diet that works for you.

Me 3/5. I’m actually working on this anyway. Basically, I need to discard as much as possible and slowly and selectively build up and then repeat this, say annually. I have over 150 news feeds, more than 200 apps…they easily build up over the years and they all take a bit of your attention – it’s quite seductive.

10. Declare all social situations (parties, bars, dinners, and so on) to be phone-free, with exceptions only for emergencies.

Me 5/5. I’m very good at this, as when I’m in a social situation I want to be totally and not partially involved in it. I never answer the phone or even look at emails. If you’re on the receiving end, it’s also pretty annoying. It’s like someone saying ‘Hold on, there might be something more interesting than talking to you at the moment, let me check it out…’ or, more cynically, ‘You may not think I’m that interesting, but I’m actually in demand!’.


The Stopping-Off Point

November 22, 2014

I’m quite keen on reading posts on productivity, even though I rarely come across anything startlingly new. The principles seem timeless, it’s their disciplined implementation that’s hard, or at least very challenging.

One such post, recently seen in the The Chronicle of Higher Education lists ‘The Habits of Highly Productive Writers’. One point did however grab me:

“They leave off at a point where it will be easy to start again. Some writers quit a session in the middle of a sentence; it’s always easier to continue than to begin. If you know where you’re headed the next time you sit down, you’ll get there faster. There’s an activation-energy cost to get things brewing. Lower it however you can.”

I realised that when I write I usually split items into tasks and aim to finish them off, one after another. Consequently I start each one from scratch, which usually means there is an obligatory period of procrastination or prevarication before I get into the flow (especially when tasks span days).

Bearing the above advice in mind, once I’ve finished a task (say, reviewed and published a blog post), I’ll now try sketching out the main aspects of the next one or two so that when I approach them I’m not starting cold i.e. I’ll be changing my stopping-off point. Alternatively I might even go so far as to write the first few sentences.

It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes overall a better process. The approach is not limited to just writing of course, it can apply to nearly any task.

On the same day as reading the above article, I read a couple of related ones (although very different in slant) but which also discuss overcoming barriers to writing and publishing (or most things actually).

One, by James Clear, discusses the clash between Goals and Systems. It’s a good read and here’s an extract:

“As an example, I just added up the total word count for the articles I’ve written this year. (You can see them all here.) In the last 12 months, I’ve written over 115,000 words. The typical book is about 50,000 to 60,000 words, so I have written enough to fill two books this year.

All of this is such a surprise because I never set a goal for my writing. I didn’t measure my progress in relation to some benchmark. I never set a word count goal for any particular article. I never said, “I want to write two books this year.”

What I did focus on was writing one article every Monday and Thursday. And after sticking to that schedule for 11 months, the result was 115,000 words. I focused on my system and the process of doing the work. In the end, I enjoyed the same (or perhaps better) results.

Let’s talk about three more reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals.”

The other, which sounded a bit too detailed for me personally, but which had some good points to think about was the software product Vitamin-R (Mac only, but there should be lots of Windows alternatives). This emphasises the habit of time-slicing and monitoring tasks, something I’ve often found quite effective in the past.

You can read about the philosophy behind the product (which is the important part anyway) in the User Manual, which is a free download. You can then try to adapt it to any system you use, or else you can trial or buy the software directly if you prefer (a recent review of it is here).

See also: Start The Day With An Unfinished Sentence.


Teaching To Learn

November 9, 2014

how-we-learn-slideshow-1-728

In this context it’s also invaluable to remember that:

“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” – Albert Einstein

Doing the latter is actually not common or easy as people often take lots of things for granted eg jargon. This is related to the so-called ‘curse of knowledge‘.

See also a previous post on the role of collaborative conversation in education.

Topic first spotted on the blog of Nick Milton.

Picture credit here.


Saying No Effectively

October 30, 2014

Parse_NOb

I’ve written a number of times (see below) on the importance of saying ’no’ to certain business situations even if they sound quite enticing. It’s obviously easier written about than actually done so it was interesting to read how some very successful people handle this.

On his blog, Dan Martell, a Canadian entrepreneur, gives some principles:

I do have some “non-negotiables” for my replies:

  • I never lie
  • I always respond (as long as it doesn’t look like mass spam)
  • I always give a yes or a no

together with some sample responses, including:

Take a meeting

Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, scheduling a meeting is tough, lets start with an email. How can I help?

Attend an event

Thanks for the opportunity, but I’m already committed that day. Appreciate the invite.

Read a long email

Thanks for reaching out, but unfortunately I won’t be able to process your full email. How can I help?

Involvement in a new project

Thanks for thinking of me, but unfortunately I’m over committed with Clarity (his company) + a growing family. I’m going to have to pass this time.

I keep a fairly detailed journal on what I do every day (initially I was curious where all my time was going…). However, in spite of blogging about it, I’ve realised that I don’t particularly write about things that I decide not to do or to follow up.

This is a bit more than having vague ideas and noting them down for further thought but rather definite decisions that are made (some will, with hindsight, be mistakes of course!).

In the examples above, it’s illuminating that whilst the answer is ‘no’ a hand is held out to do something smaller and more manageable (‘how can I help?’).

The skill then becomes to keep involvement at this practical level and for this not to be misinterpreted as the first step in agreeing something more time-consuming.

Related:

Saying No To New Ideas

The Power Of Yes And No Journals (I obviously didn’t decide to implement this on a regular basis!)

Never Say No Immediately


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