On Executives and Elevators – Perfecting the ‘Pitch’

If you’re an executive, you probably already know the value of a powerful ‘elevator pitch’; that thirty second dazzling display of verbal brilliance designed to deftly sum up your position, your product, your qualifications or your company.

You also know just how tough it is to master the art of explaining your “unique selling proposition” in the time it takes an elevator to travel the length of a tall building. You know your business, product, service or issue well, but where do you begin in explaining it to someone else? What do you highlight? What do you leave out?

Whether you’re seeking votes, customers, a job, a partnership, or simply understanding, you have to know what to say and how to say it when faced with the opportunity to meet a key decision-maker. Perfecting your elevator pitch helps you explain yourself clearly and to best effect, giving you an edge in all executive communication.

How then to develop a powerful elevator pitch? Here are some brief tips to help you develop your pitch or perfect the one you use:

  1. Know who’s catching
    Your pitch is far more likely to be accurate if you know your target. Everything you say has to be aimed at your listener and center on what you, your service or product can do for them. Make sure your entire pitch is about them. Don’t waste time highlighting your awards, your record or other markers of your success, unless you know how those relate to what your listener needs to hear. Leave out supportive data, long stories, detailed examples and anything that isn’t about ‘the bottom line.’
  2. Stay away from platitudes
    Every business says it’s “customer-focused” and “results oriented.” Every would-be hire calls themselves “reliable” and an “out of the box” thinker. Every department believes they’re unique, and every cause believes it’s “just.” Ever hear of a startup that didn’t believe it had found a “winning strategy”? Find the uniqueness of what you’re offering and be able to explain why your audience should care. This is not your mission statement. It’s your core delivery.
  3. Preparation is the key to confidence
    Don’t ever “wing it.” A first impression only happens once. Respect your audience enough to prepare well, including arming yourself with succinct answers to the toughest questions that might follow your pitch. Be flexible enough to be guided by your listener. If he or she interrupts with questions, make sure you answer them.
  4. Solve a problem
    Don’t just offer capabilities, opinions or a suite of services. You’ve got to focus on the problem you solve; the solution you offer to this specific audience. If your audience has to ask “How does this help me?” or “Why should I care?” you’re in trouble.
  5. Let the passion show
    Facts actually DON’T speak for themselves. They can move heads, but it takes emotion to move hearts. Let your listener hear the commitment in your voice and your words. Let them see your involvement with direct eye contact and confident body language. An elevator pitch is not a dry recitation of facts delivered neutrally. If you want to move someone to take action, you have to show them you care.
  6. Call for action
    Give your listener something to do with the information they’ve just received. Make clear what you want to have happen and the suggestions or alternatives you are proposing. Talk about next steps, and make sure the action you want them to take is clearly understood.

Aileen Pincus is a former reporter,U.S. Senate executive staffer, and public relations executive, who now provides crisis and media training, as well as presentation and speech training, as president of her own communications firm in Maryland.

Presentation Skills: The How To’s of an Effective Welcome Speech

They’re short and not generally substantive. That’s why welcoming speeches don’t tend to get the respect they deserve in the realm of speech making. Seen as what they are though: an important first chance to make a good public impression, and it becomes clear why this deceptively simple task should never be overlooked.

Welcome speeches by definition should be more about the audience than the host. The aim is put invited guests at ease, get the proceedings off to a good start, and to set expectations for what is to come. As important as these goals are, welcome speeches are also opportunities to give the right impression–of the hosts and the individual speaker specifically.

Rush through these opening remarks, and you risk leaving the impression the event isn’t taken all that seriously, or isn’t well organized. Spend too long at the welcoming remarks, and your audience may have cause for concern about whether their time is going to be well spent.

Here are some tips and techniques executives can use for an effective welcome:

  1. Be a good host.

    As you compose your remarks, picture yourself hosting a group at your own home. Strive to strike the same tone of good-natured familiarity and ease. By all means, single out special guests, but be sure to include remarks that include everyone as well. Don’t make the list of individual recognition too long or detailed, or you may risk offending those not singled out for recognition.

  2. Keep it short.

    Welcome speeches are opening remarks that set a tone, not substantive speeches of any duration. Keep them just long enough to welcome attendees, recognize a few special guests, share your goals for the event and thank everyone for participating. Don’t get into any substantive details of the proceedings.

  3. Do introduce yourself.

    Even if you are reasonably certain most in the room know your name and position, do take a moment to give yourself an introduction. This is your opportunity to personalize your welcome and to show your sincere pleasure your guests are there.

  4. Practice good delivery techniques.

    Do make sure the audience will be able to hear you from any vantage point. Maintain eye contact as much as possible with your guests during these brief remarks. If possible, practice your remarks at the site of the actual event so that you know where you’ll be standing, whether you’ll be wearing a microphone, and how you’ll sound. Avoid reading your remarks if possible, so you can be sure and sound genuinely welcoming and prepared.

  5. Use humor wisely.

    It’s hard to recover from a joke that isn’t received well, so if you’re not comfortable using humor generally in public forums, this isn’t a good place to start. Never open with a joke at someone else’s expense. It’s a good idea to vet your remarks with someone else before taking the stage.

Welcome remarks are an excellent opportunity to showcase your confidence and your goodwill toward your guests. Do spend time preparing as you would any other public speech and make sure that first impression is a powerfully effective one.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Investor Presentations Basic Training

Few appearances will test your ability to communicate well more than the investor presentation. Doing your homework, settling on strategy, developing messages, honing a pitch and delivering it well, will take time and a lot of practice. However, the judgment of your performance will be swift. Your audience will decide within the opening minute of your pitch, whether they want to hear more.

With so much at stake, there is simply no room for error on the basics. Investors won’t be sold on a good idea poorly presented. However powerful your product or idea, your presentation must be targeted to this very specific audience to be successful. Keep these basics in mind when preparing for your investor presentation:

  • Where’s the beef? It’s simply not enough to explain your product or idea. Investors want to know whether that product or idea presents a worthwhile market opportunity for them. You must show you understand this potential and have done your homework well enough to be able to describe it from their point of view.
  • Know the lay of the land: Know what others are doing in your field and how your idea or product stacks up to the competition. Who are your competitors, and what makes your product unique in comparison to them?
  • Short and succinct: Investors will not invest in something they cannot understand or explain easily to others. No matter how complex or sophisticated your idea is, you simply have to be able to talk about it in a way that anyone, even those outside your field, can understand.
  • Confidence is catching: Enthusiasm and confidence are essential in convincing investors of the need and worth of your idea. Hone and practice your pitch as much as possible to nail this one.
  • Present like a pro: Keep your pitch short and powerful with a clear flow and a logical progression. Don’t forget to close the deal with a call to action and a clear “ask” about what you’ll need financially to make this investment a success for all.

Remember to let your passion and your confidence shine through. Invest in your presentation and your investors are more likely to invest in you.

Aileen Pincus is founder of The Pincus Group, providing communications training worldwide.

Public Speaking For Executives Embracing the Challenge

If you’re climbing the ladder of success, you’re going to need the right equipment.

If you’re an executive looking to influence others, gain attention for your ideas or assume a leadership role, sooner or later, you’re going to have to embrace the challenge of public speaking. You might have the best ideas, own a terrific track record of achievement and be recognized for your abilities, but if you can’t communicate well, you’re limiting what you can achieve and how effective you can be.

Anyone who has ever listened to an effective public speaker can have little doubt about the power this one skill carries. Even if we don’t work with the person day to day or know much about him or her, we can be mightily impressed with their ideas, knowledge or passion. Most readily, this can be done by listening to a person speak in public. We can come to understand a point of view and be motivated to follow a call to action. Executives with the ability get up and hold the attention of others through the power of the spoken word find themselves rewarded and their abilities acknowledged.

Yet for all its power, many executives dread the thought of speaking in public, even to a room with friendly colleagues. Often, it’s because they fear they aren’t good at it or will be judged lacking. Executives who don’t embrace the challenge to speak in public, however, are missing out on the single greatest opportunity of their professional careers. What other skill can enhance reputations, prove leadership abilities, and cast you in the spotlight, all in the matter of minutes?

Here then are some brief tips to help those reluctant executives get started on embracing the challenge:

1. Start Small.
Look for public speaking opportunities that are lower risk for you; small groups of your peers, for instance. Volunteer whenever possible to deliver findings or present data. Simply volunteering for the job will set you apart from most and help get you accustomed to the process.

2. Assume Good Intentions.
Assume those you’re speaking or presenting to want to hear what you have to say. Remember to structure your presentation from the audience’s point of view and you will keep their attention and good will.

3. Preparation is the key to confidence.
Don’t ever “wing it.” Respect your audience enough to prepare well. Knowing your material is vital to a successful speech or presentation.

4. Prepare by mimicking the real thing as closely as possible.
You’re going to deliver a speech orally, so why wouldn’t you practice that way? That means you can’t simply read your material to yourself-you have to say it, as you would. Try on different phrasing, different words or intonations. If you’re going to be standing behind a podium, find one to practice with. If you’re going to be using a microphone, gets some practice using one. Speaking in a conference room? Try and find a similar one to practice in. Take some of the fear out of public speaking by getting to know the physical surroundings you’ll be speaking in.

5. Get some honest feedback.
If you can’t get professional help, ask someone to watch your practice delivery. Videotape your performance and play it back for someone whose opinion you respect. Ask specific questions and listen to the answers. Are you maintaining enough eye contact? Does your voice sound natural? Do you sound and look like you believe what you’re saying?

6. Show no fear.
Your audience more than likely has absolutely no idea you’re nervous. Be aware of signaling your nervousness through distractions such as fidgeting or lack of eye contact. Be comfortable with the silence by deliberately building in pauses after you’ve talked about key points and by avoiding “fillers” such as “ums” and “ahs.”

7. Remember to breathe.
When we are fearful, our bodies react accordingly. To consciously counteract that physical fear impulse, take several long, deep breaths, letting the air out slowly. Don’t be upset if you realize you are nervous. You want to channel that nervous energy, not get rid of it.

Remember, this is an opportunity to share your expertise. Seize that opportunity and let your confidence in your information carry you through. Soon enough, your performance itself will mirror the confidence you feel in your subject and you’ll find yourself reaping the rewards of being a powerfully effective public speaker.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Public Speaking For Female Executives

Public Speaking and Communicating With Power Getting Past The “Venus” Myth For Female Executives

Family therapist John Gray was hardly the first to insist communication problems are gender-based. While it reinforced old stereotypes, Gray’s pop-psychology tome of the early 90’s did give female executives something new to ponder. If “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” as his runaway bestseller claimed, what did that mean specifically for the Venetian executive? After all, her professional success on any planet still was likely to rest firmly in the hands of Martians.

For many women trying to climb the corporate ladder, the meaning was clear: when it comes to corporate success, communicating like a man is essential. In the decade since attention focused on gender communication differences, a whole marketplace of communication training sprang up focused on helping women fix their communication skills. Seminars were quickly added to business and professional rosters, to help women find their “executive voice.” Female specific executive communications coaching established itself alongside “assertiveness training” and “negotiating for women.”

I find only one thing wrong with the concept. It’s bunk.

As an executive trainer, and as a professional woman, the continued demand for women’s communications coaching means more focus on firms like mine. So why do I instead find the fixation on women’s communication skills frustrating? To quote Groucho, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?”

Despite the cacophony about gender-based communication differences, I’ve found a very different and much healthier reality in my own practice. In the professional sphere at least, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the communication problems of the sexes.

I find nothing gender-specific about confidence or clarity—two of the essentials for powerful public communication. Nor do I find any correlation between gender and the ability to maintain good eye contact or to speak thoughtfully using simple language to evoke complex ideas. Certainly it would be difficult to correlate gender to the ability to speak with conviction and passion—all hallmarks of powerful and persuasive communication.

I’ve trained countless executives of both genders. What I see is an array of common communication problems. Highly successful executives of both sexes often have trouble knowing how to deliver a speech: how to move, where to stand, how strongly to project their voices, how to communicate powerfully, yet succinctly, and how to stay in control. I’d go so far as to call public speaking the single most hated job requirement of senior executives of either sex, ranking in dreaded competition alongside speaking to reporters, presenting to the board, and testifying to Congress. Inevitably when coaching executives in media training or public speaking, clients of both sexes will routinely complain they have no “natural” talent for any of it. My response is always the same. Nature and talent aren’t what’s called for I tell them—this is about hard work and preparation.

For both men and women, effective communication is first and foremost about confidence. It’s about the clarity of the vision; not the sex of the visionary. It’s about the power of the message, not the gender of the messenger.

The notion of a communication disadvantage for women probably stems from widely heralded academic works analyzing interpersonal communication, such as Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand.” As several studies, including a 2004 study at Purdue have suggested, gender differences even in interpersonal communication tend to be small, but have become wildly exaggerated in popular culture. Thus the rush to “fix what’s wrong” with women’s executive communications, with no real evidence that communication failures in the executive suite are gender based.

Many executives buy into the notion that corporate communication skills are intuitive. That’s what makes it easy, especially for women, to believe others (men) do it better. In reality, the kind of communication skills that allow executives to successfully interact with reporters, deliver powerful presentations and riveting speeches are learned skills that many executives of both sexes struggle to master

The truth is women aren’t a special class of disabled communicators. The good news is that anyone can learn to be a powerful and effective public communicator. The better news is the same planet we all inhabit is one on which good communication skills are yours for the taking.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com