Having "presence" and a personal brand are must-have attributes in our noisy me-too world of neck-and-neck competition. Alas, it's often not enough to clinch the deal or make the sale.
Even with a proven track record and a well-established reputation, an entrepreneur has precious little time to convince anyone -- not just the skeptics -- that they and their ideas are the real deal.
Here are three strategies that have served thousands of entrepreneurs and corporate managers in selling their ideas and proposals to even the most critical audiences. Combine them and boost your chances for funding, no matter how high the stakes.
Offer real value right away. With adult attention spans maxing out anywhere from eight seconds to 20 minutes, presentations that fail to capture interest immediately and sustain it through the critical parts have a slim chance of winning converts.
Say you're the flip-flop wearing nerd with a comic-con T-shirt and a haircut that says "past-due," and you really have no business addressing more civilized audiences, except that you're a genius and you have something to offer that would change lives for the better. Your look may give you some "Silicon-Valley street cred," but that's going to expire like yesterday's milk unless some really good stuff comes out of your mouth from the start.
More than anything else, influential decision-makers want to know how you think, whether your ideas make sense, whether you should be trusted, whether you have the confidence to pull it all off, what the numbers really mean to them and the company, and most importantly, what the business outcome is if your proposals are accepted and turned into projects. They have a lot of questions on their minds and the quicker you answer them, the more they'll like you, dirty fingernails and all.
Don't flinch in the hot seat. Don't expect the audience to wait for the formal Q&A to start. In preparing thousands of entrepreneurs and corporate managers for high-stakes presentations, I've rarely seen an audience of decision makers wait for a cue when a red flag pops in their mind. The way you conduct yourself when the tough questions come flying from all directions can determine the outcome of your pitch, for better or worse.
Therefore, know your material from all sides. Know what holes they'll poke before they raise their hand. Ask yourself the tough questions -- and come up with answers -- before they do. Have the research in your back pocket. Be measured and calm when the pressure is on. Losing your cool when emotions run high will lose you points in the final tally. Keep your answers short and to the point. Offer to provide more data if needed and follow up immediately.
Tell stories that communicate values. Stories accomplish what numbers and stats can't. They create a human connection and give others a glimpse into your values and beliefs. Tony Hsieh of Zappos told the story of an employee who, on her own, sent flowers to a customer who'd just lost her husband. "You can't put that into an employee handbook," he said. Rather than telling people who you are, tell them a story that demonstrates what's important to you on a deep level and capture not just their minds, but their hearts in the process.
To find these stories, reflect on the many common bonds that connect us as humans. We've all learned lessons, turned around a bad situation, found inspiration in others successes and joined in collaboration toward a worthy goal. The powerful messages gleaned from these stories are what make a business pitch real and the pitcher trustworthy to an audience.
Executive presence is most of all about authenticity, credibility and the human connection. And those are as often dressed in a hoodie as in a pinstriped suit.