Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pitch Book Platitudes

Many businesses use pitch books.  Wall Street is awash in them.  They seem to be a cultural necessity at prospect meetings – a power-pointed MRI of the work that went into our presentation.  Teams of sleep-deprived analysts assemble countless charts, graphs, models and drop-down bulleted lists of critical information. The books are bound in living color with details  galore.  The prospective client gets all the information they need to make a decision – about the firm, the team, the product or the deal.  It all looks great.
Just one problem.  They’re not buying the book – they’re buying us.

Most pitch books I see start with qualifying the firm and the team.  That forces even the best among us into dull exposition from the outset.  Despite years of experience and reputation, we start off using our “reporter” voice, even though they are waiting to hear our “leader” voice.
Two things to try...

First, give your prospect a verbal movie trailer of your main message before you get into the exposition part.  If you don’t, you might wade through 10+ pages of exposition before they ever hear a hint of a punch line.  A strong opening statement with context, framing and intention helps them know where you're headed and why.
Second, start by questioning and listening.  Where’s the rule book that says we have to start a prospect meeting by telling?  Simple questions like “what’s on your mind?” or “where would you like to start?” or my favorite “how can we be most helpful?”  People push back on me with the old dog and pony show doctrine – my prospect expects to see a presentation.  Oh yeah.  Who said?  Did you ask the prospect?  Maybe they’d rather listen to nails dragged across a chalkboard than sit through another 27 slide data dump.

I know I’m pitching the bleeding obvious here and there are times when team dog and pony shows are inevitable in the business world.  I get it.  I’m just saying that if you think your firm, team and ideas are at all unique, why approach the task of relating that uniqueness to a prospect in the same pedestrian way all of your competitors do?  Break out of pitch book prison.  Go back to your well-honed skills in conversation and connection.
The book’s not the star – you are!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Build Your Brand

Brand matters.  Not just for Jay-Z or J-Lo or JK Rowling.  Us too! 

Many senior managers get frustrated when a direct report shows a forceful presence and point of view in their office and then blends into the woodwork among their colleagues in meetings. They rarely see them take a stand or add a leadership perspective to what they bring to senior-level meetings.  

This problem cuts across gender, geography and level, all the way up.  Careers can plateau or even regress for lack of a strong leader presence in public.  It pays to keep in mind that senior level meetings in private conference rooms qualify as "in public".
Senior managers get reluctant to put their direct report forward for the next level because their colleagues have not been won over yet. Those people can’t see the direct report in question wearing their boss’s shoes; or making their boss’s decisions; or projecting their boss’s presence.  If you’re that direct report, a few practical suggestions to remove this potential career roadblock. 

First, ask your boss to articulate specifically what’s missing:
o   “You always let Charlie take over the meeting”
o   “You take too long to cut to the chase”
o   “You go a whole meeting without saying anything impactful”
o   “You’re the smartest person in the room, but don't show it"

Second, script a few “points of view” before the next big meeting:

o   Make them short and sweet
o   Tell them to your smartphone for practice
o   Test drive the ideas with colleagues pre-meeting
o   Develop assertive tactics to counter objections
o   Make expressing these points of view your “exit visa” 

Third, avoid your “reporter” voice – use your “leader” voice:

o   Don’t dump problems on the table – point to solutions
o   Don’t bail at the first objection – play your hand out
o   Express ways to operationalize your ideas using the team
o   Lead the room to action – own your ideas

Senior level business meetings can be a Darwinian proving ground for all kinds of leadership species.  You are being seen as well as heard.  Your boss is watching you and watching how others watch you.  Project a strong presence.  Compete for air time, real estate and attention. 

It doesn’t mean being a loudmouth or a show off. It means getting your leader voice and presence heard and seen.  If not, someone else can get a great opportunity meant for you.  If all the people hear and see from you in a meeting is a well-paid reporter, you are failing to compete as a leader.
Tough meetings are an acid test of presence under pressure. Make sure you understand and project what your boss wants to see and hear from you. Project that in public and they will gain even more reasons to foster your candidacy for the next level. 

Give them the weapons they need to win people over on your behalf.  Senior sponsors can be very effective if they believe in who they’re sponsoring – and everyone else does too.  Think of it as "air cover" for advancement.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Build Decks?

If you're building a deck to enjoy your back yard this summer, go for it!  If you're building a slide deck for your next meeting, hold on a minute. Do you really need one?

Do senior executives walk around their companies with slide decks in their hands?  No.  Yet, middle managers in those companies might feel naked if they called an internal meeting without a deck.

In my experience, slide decks are overrated.  People fall into the trap of getting through the slides (in the right order) rather than simply telling their business story and connecting with the people around the table.  The slides are mere reference and illustration for what you are saying.  The slides aren't the star - you are!

So next time, ask yourself if you really need a slide deck.  If the answer is yes, ask yourself 4 questions before you build one.

What are we doing?
Why are we doing it?
How are we doing it?
What will come of it?

At least the resulting slide deck will flow like a story, rather than a rote recitation of facts, which even for middle managers is way below their pay grade and their capabilities. Better yet, declare a deck-free month in your company and see how people like it or a check-your-deck-at-the-door policy so people have to talk and connect in meetings rather than trudge through tedious material.

Why not?  Who's opposed?  The Save A Slide Deck Society.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Brains on Board

As an external coach for my clients, I’m still a big believer in using your “brains on board” to help employees develop in their careers.  Your own line leaders are de facto coaches every single day.  It’s among the best ways to help employees learn and grow on the job.
Leaders can get paralyzed by the lead-by-example construct.  We live in a lead aloud world.  We can "follow" major and minor celebrity gurus on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  They push their personal brands as influencers and some of us listen – by the hundreds of thousands.  Do we have to wait for external gurus to strut their stuff in cyberspace?  Why not use internal leaders to share their hard-earned wisdom across the company on internal social media?

Below see Ken Chennault tell the Wall Street Journal how he likes to run meetings.  It's 2:12 of sound advice.  Advice like this abounds in your companies. Why not give your leaders a platform?

Ken Chennault Video

Friday, September 6, 2013

Obama’s Syrian Sale

Barack Obama has a poor background to be a crisp communicator – lawyer, professor and senator.  Long scholarly arguments filled with nuance.  In his press conference today from the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, his background was on full display. His answers were overly long.  He was too nice to the reporters.  He answered hypotheticals.  He went off on tangents. He sold us something by telling us what it is not. 
We all know the President can give a great prepared speech.  Yet on next Tuesday, he should abandon his perfect platform speech and make a simple straightforward pitch to the American people. 

A few suggestions:
·         Dump the “I/My” language for “We/Our”
·         Use shorter declarative sentences
·         Don’t explain your opponent’s views
·         Tell us what it is – not what it isn’t
·         Set a historical context for this action
·         Punch words with passion and conviction
·         Tell us why it’s worth it for us

He should make his talk 10 minutes.  Lincoln needed less at Gettysburg.  After weeks of debate and bluster from all sides, he should need no longer to crystallize his message. 

His words should be forged in steel, not swathed in subtlety.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Build Your Presence

Can you be a horrible human being and have presence?  Sure.  Hitler, Caligula, Sadaam.  Pick your poison.  They all had "bad" presence of one kind or another.  Serial killers have presence. You can be a miserable SOB and have presence.  Bernie Madoff still has presence in prison.

You can drive yourself nuts reading about it all - executive presence, leadership presence and plain old professional presence. I'll keep it simple.  After coaching 3000 men and women on Wall Street from CEOs to college grads, here's what I've observed from those who have what I call "good" presence. 

They tend to:

  • act like they belong wherever they are
  • are fully engaged in whatever they're doing
  • ask thoughtful questions and genuinely listen
  • lead with respect, consideration and kindness
  • guard their reputation by acting with integrity
  • connect with people on a human level everywhere
  • display unflagging passion, commitment and energy
  • try to add value to every situation they participate in
  • speak clear messages by talking with people, not at them
In my experience, people with good presence are also authentic everywhere. They display their real self in the boardroom, the backyard, the bistro, the ballet or the ballgame.  What you see is what you get.  That consistency of personality helps others trust what they see from them.

Finally, presence is developed from the inside out.  A nice suit may only get you in the door.  A presence based on values and substance can get you a seat at the table.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Give Yourself Permission

At times in business, we can project a professional version of ourselves to the world, rather than our real selves - like secret agents using a cover identity.  Rather than risk being who we really are; we play it safe as someone else.

In my experience, this is the single greatest barrier to us being good communicators.  We present as professionals and forget how to talk as people.

When I ask a client to repeat something in practice, as their real self, they get much better.  At times, "night and day" better.

They drop their corporate facade.  They break "speaker scar tissue" that's built up over the years and they start taking a few chances - on themselves.  They stop "presenting" and start "talking" again.

Give yourself permission to be the real you at work.  You'll be a more relaxed communicator; people will connect with you again; and you'll make more of an impact on the world around you.