Getting Your Message Right

By James Palmer

After preparing for and a sitting through a quite a few rather intense presentations recently I thought I would share a few notes on the importance of communicating your message.

One talk I saw was given by start-up seeking seed finance. As a talk it had initial promise as the presenter began to engage the audience confidently with a witty anecdote; though the actual presentation was terrible – disjoined, messy, and overly complicated. I managed to avoid groaning, but instead used this as an opportunity to be able to put myself in the mind-frame of an investor, who may have to sit through presentations like this on a weekly basis.

In countless articles, one of the key facets that most experts agree is essential to the success of any start up is strong communication. Unfortunately, few go into the required detail on how to communicate, expecting a fully formed business mind to take this as gospel truth.

Bedding in the concept of strong communication is useful, as for many starting up will, perhaps, be more pressingly concerned with getting financial help or technical expertise. They might see communication as a “soft skill” or something that can be compensated for by confidence. However, improving communication can be the part of the path to finance, is a necessity when searching for technical partners, and even more importantly is a route to learning from others while a business is in a critical stage of development.

In the case of the presenter I mentioned earlier though he appeared on the surface to be a good, confident communicator, the message he gave was overly complicated even for a sophisticated audience... how he would have been able to explain this concept to the man on the street I have no idea. Too many features were mentioned in sparse detail, too many ways in which his product might be able to change the world, if a number of factors fell into place - when all I wanted was one clear workable example that I might be able to take away with me.

One of the first lessons I learnt on helping to co-found start-ups was the absolute need for clarity when discussing the proposition with a potential client, collaborator or investor.

In essence: if you want people to share your vision, they will have to understand what it is that you want them to believe in.

Sounds simple ? Try envisioning explaining social networking to an investor 15 years ago when the internet was in its infancy - the majority of the people who you talked to might be utterly mystified. If you are a new startup you may think your idea is simple, but you may need to impress this on whoever you talk to. People feel comfortable with things that they are already familiar with, so do not be afraid of comparing your product to something else, even if you think your product is far superior.

Aiming for clarity may not be enough - I have certainly been in meetings where, within seconds of their response, you will know that the client or investor has not even the faintest notion of what you have pitched, presented or demoed. How do you deal with this? If the all singing end-to end presentation you have prepared isn't work, try to begin your story again in simpler terms.

This is a strong tactic, if done well and without patronising the client; when you can see on their face that they have had the eureka moment, the moment where they satisfy themselves to know they get it.

This approach will need some graft, some preparation of a Plan B, but also an understanding that your pitch and product is not, and can never be, entirely perfect. Good, functioning businesses exist because of a process of continual improvement that can only be facilitated by communicating with and learning from others.

Bear in mind that when your business is operating, you will need to be used to communicating not just interested individuals or small groups with but also with the rather vaguer notion of your consumers – and this is potentially not an easily reached, homogeneous group – so use this early stage in your business opportunity to get your message right. Businesspeople will expect you to make a few mistakes before you get to an operational stage; they and consumers might not be so forgiving when your business is fully developed.

image: © Garry Knight