Elevating Your Elevator Pitch

If you’re in business, you already know an elevator pitch is essential to your success. Being able to communicate what you have to offer (your unique selling proposition) is one of the first things organizations from start-ups to established global entities know is essential to success.

That doesn’t mean delivering an effective pitch is easy. Knowing what to leave out, of all the things you could tout about your organization, is always the difficult part. Furthermore, the work doesn’t stop there. Not only do you need to develop that pitch, you’ll need to periodically review it as your organization grows and changes to make sure it’s still working for you.

And what about the all-important delivery? It’s not enough to get the content right. You’ll also have to make sure everyone who potentially deals with your target audience, and certainly the senior executives and representatives of your organization, communicate your pitch effectively.

Keep these essential points in mind:

  • IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO’S CATCHING (“THEM”):  A common mistake in elevator pitches is to tout what your organization does best. That approach asks too much of your audience. It assumes your audience not only stays interested (often through org charts and client lists), but will then do the work needed to figure out the synergy between what you do and what they need. Instead, do the work for them. Due diligence is all about figuring out what the need is for any particular client and then crafting your pitch exactly where it’s likely to be the most effective; how your expertise can help them meet their goals, solve problems and stay out front of their competitors.
  • VARY YOUR PITCH: If you understand that “It’s All About Them,” then you know you can’t use the exact same pitch with every potential client. Yes, it’s easier to have top executives work out a pitch that everyone will then work off of in speaking to potential clients and other audiences. The problem is pitches are never effective if they’re only crafted top down. You’re going to have to allow your people, who are likely after all to be closest to those potential clients and their concerns, some latitude. Yes, you want your teams on the same page and familiar with key messaging for your organization, but remember to allow them to find their individual best pitch for individual clients. Don’t ask your executives to memorize a script. Ask them to internalize and absorb a set of values and messages about what sets your organization apart. Remember, this isn’t acting. You want your executives to be able to speak with passion and authority about what they truly believe.
  • PITCH PERFECT TAKES PRACTICE: Whether you choose a professional coach or tackle honing your performance on your own, there is simply no substitute for practice. Countless organizations complain there is no time to hone the pitch. If you don’t, it means you’re practicing that pitch in front of the client and no organization should be doing that. Practice also doesn’t mean simply emailing written materials around to the team either. It means being in the same room and hearing the pitch the way your target audience will, orally. No matter how tight the deadline, how busy the team, oral practice simply has to be part of your preparation routine.
  • DEVELOP SOME BENCH STRENGTH: Every organization wants to rely on its best come game day. However, this is a skill that takes some cultivating. Begin cultivating your next tier of talent by giving them some role in these oral pitches. They’ll need ongoing practice and ongoing feedback to bring their skills up to where they need to be.  Executives shouldn’t be waiting until they have “the title” before learning how to speak for the company with both internal and external target audiences.
  • IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER: One of the recognized great political orators of our modern day, Bill Clinton, famously had coaching before every major political speech throughout both terms in office. Recognized industry presentation greats like the late Steve Jobs famously practiced presentations as full productions, complete with story-boarding and onstage rehearsals. No one gets good and stays good at these oral skills without ongoing, frank and pointed feedback.

It’s hard to think of another skill that has as much potential to impact success as oral presentation skills. Devote the time you need to honing and developing them for yourself and for your organization.

 

 

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Best Briefings: How To Deliver A Briefing Your Boss Will Thank You For

Briefing, noun brief·ing \ˈbrē-fiŋ\: an act or instance of giving precise instructions or essential information.

As usual, Webster’s definition is a useful starting point for helping us focus on the goal here. A briefing should communicate only the essence of what your target audience needs to know. As the briefer, you presumably know quite a bit more. To understand where your knowledge and your audience’s need to know intersect, begin by asking yourself about your purpose. Why does your audience need this information? How will they use it? What do they already know or assume about what they’re going to hear? Briefings are a no-frills form of communication that seems deceptively simple, but one that even senior executives can struggle with. Follow some basic rules to deliver the kind of briefing your boss will thank you for:

EVEN INFORMATIONAL BRIEFINGS HAVE TO BE PERSUASIVE
If your audience is to believe you know what you’re talking about, regardless of your title or position, you’re going to have to persuade them of that in your briefing. Your audience will have to hear and see through your presentation that you’ve selected the right information for them to consider. In other words, the recitation of raw data, no matter how profound or complex or enlightening, isn’t going to make your case for you. Numbers actually don’t speak for themselves (and neither do ideas). You’re there to provide perspective on the information. Even when presenting raw numbers, you’ll need to help your audience make sense of their meaning (are they more than expected, less? What are they comparable to?) Help your audience understand your information, not just hear it.

BRIEFINGS MUST BE BRIEF
Remember your audience, any audience, does not want to know all you know and could possibly say on the subject. That’s true for any executive presentation. Briefings particularly however are a mode of communication that carry the assumption of being short and succinct. Let your audience guide you in the q and a portion (if there is one) into any further detail they require. (Even there, the answers need to be direct and brief, with an option for more explanation in a different venue if need be.)

TEAM BRIEFINGS ARE ABOUT THE TEAM
If you’re preparing for a team briefing, first decide every member’s distinct role in delivering the information. You want the information to highlight both individual contributions and knowledge, as well as display your team strategy and a sense of cohesion. You can accomplish this by looking for places to back each other up with references to what’s come before and what the audience is about to hear presented from others, at the same time avoiding repetition. Make sure your briefing team participates in oral rehearsals and doesn’t just share written information. You want to experience the briefing the way your audience will, orally, so you can make adjustments to benefit them.

REMEMBER THIS IS ORAL COMMUNICATION
If you’re presenting your briefing using PowerPoint or handouts, remember those are visual AIDS, not the whole of the briefing itself. Make sure whatever materials you have are visually powerful and not mere words for your audience to read. Whatever aids you use shouldn’t take center stage or overpower you–the job of the briefer is all important here. Remember too that oral communication demands you be understood the first time. As FDR famously said, “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.

Pincus Group VP, Timothy Kenny Releases New Book

New Nonfiction Book By Timothy Kenny, Vice President of International Training for The Pincus Group

For Immediate Release:

In Far Country, Stories from Abroad and Other Places,  veteran USA Today journalist Timothy Kenny takes readers to places where there are “Dark Nights and Feral Dogs,” where Serb snipers shoot at reporters along a road called Sniper Alley and where a “Month in a Far Country” in the Caucasus is a teacher’s delight.

Kenny’s collection of creative nonfiction stories brings alive the places he has lived and the people he has known as a foreign news editor, Fulbright scholar and University of Connecticut journalism professor.

Far Country “is memoir,” Kenny notes in the book’s introduction, “an account of events that I witnessed and remembered. My intention was a simple one: to tell readers something about the ways in which unusual places are indeed, different, and why that is so.”

Trish Harris, editor of the Pea River Journal, says that in Far Country “the connecting thread is not the obvious adventure but human relationships. Each essay is a story we fall into, story after story connected through relationship and observation, from darkness to the next darkness. Kenny’s essays are not just reports from the front but a fascinating set of hard-won observations on any front, any complex of situations that any of us might encounter.”

The author, who was born and raised in Detroit, also writes stories “closer to home,” as he notes in the collection. In “The Fall of Detroit,” Kenny describes a city that has slipped from grace, and recounts his stunned and unbelieving reaction after years away. In “On Turning Sixty-Six and Six in Umbria,” he writes about the joys of raising a daughter who is sixty years younger than he is.

A reporter since 1972, Kenny began traveling abroad in November 1989, when the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the world’s political order and opened the door to a life spent observing other cultures and other lives in forty-five countries, as well as his own. He is currently of Vice President of International Training for The Pincus Group, which specializes in media and presentation skills training for executives.

Far Country is 152 pages long and includes photos. It is published by the independent Midwest publisher Bottom Dog Press, as part of its Harmony Memoir Series. Far Country is available at bookstores and online. The author will hold a series of talks and book signings at libraries and bookstores this summer and fall.

Review copies are available upon request. For interviews, contact Timothy Kenny at: Timothy.Kenny2011@gmail.com. Bottom Dog Press editor Larry Smith may be reached at Lsmithdog@aol.com.

Books by The Pincus Group Trainers:

 

Writing That Works By David Griffiths

Poor writing is an obstacle to productivity, a hindrance to customer and client relations, and an impediment to effective management. Good writing is an opportunity to be creative and crystallize thinking while portraying a consistently professional image.

Why should a well-run organization care about writing training? Because meaningful communication — whether in reports, memos or the ubiquitous emails that make writers out of all of us — is the key to good management. To get the message across internally, it must be concise, unambiguous and logically structured. Overly long, badly organized writing can create confusion.

And without clear management expectations of what constitutes effective writing, you leave yourself vulnerable to erosions in productivity and morale. Nothing can slow the pace of decision making like the seemingly endless “rewrite cycle,” as one management layer above another finds fault with a document that would have been clearly written in the first place had there been writing guidelines, with leadership insistence on a concise message.

The penalties for inattention to the quality of writing can be just as severe when it comes to external communications with clients, customers and other constituents. Letters or emails that look rushed and shows signs of shoddy — or nonexistent — editing can leave a harmful impression of the writer, his or her superiors and even the whole organization. In fact, errors — grammatical and spelling blunders, run-on and fragmented sentences, misleading punctuation, redundant content, passive verbs, sloppy organization — can all lead the reader to ask: What else is wrong with this? Can I trust what the writer is trying to tell me?

So what constitutes Writing That Works?

  • Usa a writing process that starts with a free-wheeling exploratory phase and ends with a concise product that demonstrates a disciplined approach to business and/or government communications.
  • Knowing your audience is an absolute necessity. Writing that looks and sounds professional must edify with straightforward English, not try to impress with “insidey” and often (albeit unintentional) pompous language. Respect the reader.
  • Writing is thinking. The writing process forces you to analyze and be creative, and maybe even surprise yourself at how much you know. Good writers exercise their minds.
  • Revise and edit. No matter how well crafted, your message can be garbled and you can project a negative image of you and your organization if you don’t cast a critical eye on your own work. Effective writers must learn how to edit and revise. It’s all about “quality control.”

A recent Business Week magazine poll showed that 41 percent of employees who are dissatisfied with training efforts offered by their employer plan to leave the company within 12 months, compared to 12 percent who are satisfied with the training.

It’s not too late. Effective business writing can give employees a greater sense of cohesion. What business couldn’t benefit from more confident communicators who shun jargon and bureaucratic padding.

David Griffiths with the Pincus Group is a professional with over 30 years of experience in writing, editing and communications coaching. He can be reached at info@thepincusgroup.com.

Want To Be A Better Writer? Don’t Go It Alone By David Griffiths

“Everyone needs an editor.” Ernest Hemingway

Papa Hemingway, one of the great prose stylists of the last century, was dead on. Human nature is such that we find it difficult to be rigorously honest about our own work. We may be able to spot the occasional misspelling or misplaced comma, but we won’t catch them all without help. The fact is that it’s a rare writer who can look at his or her own work with an objective and critical eye.

Why is editing — and more extensive revising, where needed — so important? Because sloppy or nonexistent editing leaves the reader asking: “If he uses spell-check as a crutch and doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ why should I take the rest of his writing seriously? Where’s the pride?”

Professional editors assume that the copy they’re working on is far from perfect. Viewing themselves as “first readers,” they start with a clear understanding of the audience for any particular piece of writing. Then they edit for message, organization, paragraph and sentence structure and length, consistency in internal construction, word usage, and errors in punctuation and spelling as well as typos.

Think of it as quality control.

The result should be writing where clarity and brevity are natural partners, the message is clear, and style doesn’t get in the way of content. As the novelist Somerset Maugham said, “The best style is the style you don’t notice.”