Theresa B. from Pittsburgh, PA writes:
“My mind is a jumble of ideas, and when I have a great one I want my exec team to get to work on it ASAP. ( I probably have ADHD or something like that.) They roll their eyes, sit back and make me feel like a child. There have been times when my ideas cost us,I’ll credit them with that. But other times the company lost out because my team wouldn’t take me seriously. Here’s the kicker: when they come to me with an idea, it’s almost a done deal. I’m just supposed to sign off every time! So frustrating. What can I do to get them to listen to my ideas with an open mind?”
It is hard to curb your enthusiasm when you can see a promising idea so clearly in your mind. You’re struck by the potential and the long term gains. However great the idea, it’s absolutely essential that you and your partners stand back 30,000 feet and examine the proposition carefully. Your brain, Theresa, the visionary’s brain, is a mystery to those with a more linear way of thinking. As Dr. Ned Hallowell says, “You’ve got a race car brain with bicycle brakes.” (It’s good they are not like you, can you imagine the chaos with an exec team made up of nothing but visionaries?)
To get heard, you need to step into their world and ask yourself a series of questions before you present your idea. I suggest you have 5 or so basic questions answered before you present a new idea to your exec team. Get these 5 questions from your partners. What kind of facts do they need to consider your idea? They may be something like: What resources do we already have to make this happen? What resources do we need? What will it cost? Does this idea support our brand or confuse our customers? Is anyone else doing this? Chances are, your partners address these kind of questions before they ask you to sign off on their projects. That’s the difference.
You may save yourself a lot of embarrassment and frustration if you take a step back and consider these questions first. Keep them handy so when a idea strikes you’ll ensure a captive audience.
Having trouble being heard, respected or appreciated for your contribution? Perhaps it’s your presentation that needs work. Let me help. Contact me at [email protected]
Bill H., a founder of a nutrition startup, asks, “How can I get more comfortable speaking in front of groups, investors mostly? I have my top sales guy do all the talking, but apparently it’s starting to look odd that I don’t “share the stage” with him at these presentations. If I lost him, I’d be in big trouble. What to do?”
This is a common concern for many founders wanting to project strong leadership. I define public speaking as any kind of speaking you do with the public: phone calls, 1:1 or small group conversations. Chances are you could not have gotten this far if you had trouble on the phone or in small group conversation. Keep in mind — listeners really care about the substance of what you have to offer, not how slick a presenter you are. They want to make money, period. It’s true that investors like to work with confident and energetic people, but that is secondary to their main interest.
To take action, I suggest you identify where your discomfort in public speaking breaks down and work to refine that level. This is where a communication coach comes in handy. Are you generally anxious, unprepared, unsure of your content, a poor listener, vocally weak or disfluent, etc. at the small group conversation level? If so, getting some guidance managing those aspects would be a good starting point. Then, consider polishing up one segment of the larger group presentation that you are most comfortable with. This way you can start “sharing the stage” with your sales guy in a small way. With practice and an understanding of what your audience really cares about, you’ll be able to take over more of the presentation in time.
Need more help with public speaking or presentation skills? I’m happy to help you. Contact me at [email protected]
Even though you may be surrounded by people in your start-up, you as the founder may feel a bit lonely. Here’s an apt metaphor for a founder’s situation. Think of you, the founder, at the neck of an hourglass; you have the board of directors above you and your team below you. However you tilt the hourglass, the only perspective you get is the “insider” perspective. But, despite all this top down and bottom up discussion, you still may have doubts and questions about next steps and you want to make the right decisions.
Founders need to ask for help from “outsiders” − mentors, experts, customers and potential customers. Instead of playing the “I’ve got all the answers!” charade, muster up your courage and reach out to key people for feedback and advice. Your investors have greater confidence in a founder who is unafraid and open to seeking clarity and advice from knowledgeable outsiders.
Here’s a way to request a meeting. Email your outsider expert (subject: “Request your advice” or “Referred by Jim Z”) or leave a voice mail message with a simple request: Hello Ms. X, I am the CEO of Y business and I learned (from Jim Z) that you have much experience in this area. I would very much appreciate your opinion regarding a major initiative I’m looking to implement. Would you have 30 minutes to talk with me by phone or over a cup of coffee in the next couple weeks? If that is possible, please let me know what days and times work best for you.
( if email) Best regards,
your name (include your credentials and website address)
If you get a positive response, agree to a time and place and thank them.To keep good mentors, prepare your questions and possible solutions before the meeting. Be on time. Encourage your outsiders to be critical and direct; you want to know what you may be missing. Don’t try to sell them anything, nor ask them to do any work for you. Do not expect them to meet with you on a regular basis either. Be ready to wrap up the discussion at or before the 30 minute mark. If they want to extend the conversation, let them know you appreciate the extra time. If you found their advice helpful, and if they appeared to enjoy the conversation, you might ask if they wouldn’t mind talking again sometime after you have implemented their advice. Whether they agree or remain cool to your request, immediately after the encounter, show your appreciation with a modest gift card or a thank you note.
Don’t be shy, “get the answer to the test” as I like to say. If you need help with difficult conversations, ask me at [email protected]
Are you an employee of a start-up itching to play more of a leadership role in your company as an intrapreneur? If you are a founder, you can bet that there are a some employees deep in the trenches with an entrepreneurial mindset; they want to develop, manage and lead smaller, revenue-producing projects within the company. Do you make it easy for them to share their ideas? I received this query from a frustrated employee that said it all:
How can I share my ideas for making my company better? I work in the customer service end of things, and I have ideas for speeding up orders and retaining customers. When I have suggested ideas to my bosses in the past, they seemed to agree with me, but nothing ever came of it. How can I get heard?
A Frustrated Intrapreneur
Here are 5 steps that will make it easier for your idea to be heard by the right people:
1) Check with your boss or HR to see if your company has a process or a proposal format for getting ideas to the decision maker. Just throwing out half-baked ideas is a good way for others not to take you seriously, or for your ideas to go nowhere.
2) Does your idea fit with the company’s mission and values? Is there a need for your idea? Have you any data or documented customer feedback regarding the problem you want to solve?
3) Can you explain your idea in a couple different ways (Power Point, graphics, a flow chart, etc) that are concise, simple and easily understood? Perhaps you haven’t been heard before because you speak in generalities, digress or talk beyond the average boss’s attention span of 15 seconds (or less)? If so, see my earlier blog for “Getting to the Point.”
4) What are the costs associated with the development and execution of your idea? How would your idea positively affect the bottom line? Or, if your idea had been implemented earlier, how would it have saved time and money, retained customers, decreased stress, etc?
5) How would your idea affect others in the company? Can you get the buy-in from those who would implement it?
If you address all these points and present them with a good dose of passion, don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to the boardroom!
If you are an intrapreneur wanting more tips for “getting heard,”
contact me at [email protected]
Let me share some thoughts inspired by a recent Shark Tank episode…
A contestant demonstrated a very unique product that piqued the Shark’s interest. When asked about his background, he listed numerous talents, brainy feats and escapades that led to the development of his new product. Instead of his colorful past being a plus in the Shark’s eyes however, his history raised a red flag. One Shark called him “too disorganized” so she was “out.” (For those of you new to Shark Tank, “out” means not interested in the deal.) The contestant appeared perplexed and somewhat taken aback by her comment. What might have saved him? A statement or two, immediately following his list of exploits, conveying a passionate and enduring commitment to the success of the current product might have kept him in the running.
Perhaps “disorganized” was not the best word choice. To most people “disorganized” means a cluttered desk or misplacing your keys. The Shark may have chosen that word to represent a few less obvious concerns related to disorganization that can doom a startup. Founders, it’s important to know the less obvious ways that you can appear “disorganized” in the eyes of investors:
- As much as creativity is an asset to an entrepreneur, having many simultaneous and disparate activities going on are liabilities. It suggests you have difficulty focusing in on one thing that requires deliberate, consistent and sustaining dedication like a startup. Problem: An Investor will see herself doing all the work or exerting too much effort directing and monitoring you than it’s worth.
- Indirect and lengthy answers to simple questions suggest a disorganized mind. Or, perhaps you introduce ideas into the conversation that are unrelated to the main point. Problem: An investor may sense the need to constantly corral your attention to the topic or task at hand. Exhaustive repetition, interruption and re-direction is too great of an energy expenditure for a busy Shark.
- Do you engage in too much levity when there should be seriousness? Problem: You may be a nice guy or gal and fun to be around, but when it comes to spending other people’s money and getting things done, joking around is a waste of time.
- Is your presentation delivered in a logical sequence? Problem: Potential backers do not want to work harder than you to figure out your plan from start to finish.
The bottom line: Examine your sales pitch and presentation. Make the changes necessary to avoid being perceived as “disorganized.”
Do you need an expert set of eyes and ears to identify the red flags that could discourage customers and investors from wanting to work with you? Contact me for Core Four Coaching [email protected]