Presentation tips for entrepreneurs…and everyone else

This will not be a typical post from me. And no, I’m not a life coach, or any kind of coach.

Credits: whitehotcenter.com
Image credit: whitehotcenter.com

A couple of months back, I attended a pitch even at CCHUB and remarked how entrepreneurs needed to learn presentation skills. As of then, my thinking was that there are many resources out there that local ‘presenters’ could read up and self help. Well, I decided to write up a few tips of my own, when I witnessed a particularly horrible presentation from a guy with a decent product who really should have made a sale on the merit of the product, but lost the pitch on account of an presentation quality.

So here’s my made-for-the market presentation tips for entrepreneurs. How does one make a good presentation in these parts:

Invest in a very sharp suit.

Research shows that good looking people are more likely to be hired at interviews – we can advance that and say sharp looking people get more attention. No, seriously, buy a suit. You have to look the part; look like you belong.

It may not ultimately win your pitch, but you are better off if your audience spends more time admiring the cut of your lapel than getting turned off because you look like you don’t belong with the money you’re pitching for. By the way, this is a $100 problem. If you can’t invest that much in your appearance, you client probably shouldn’t trust you with his money.

If you do invest in that suit, there no need to spoil it by not wearing the right belt – I’ve seen way too many people wear great suits and spoil the picture with a raggedy looking belt or tie. Please don’t. Rather than wear a silly tie, lose the tie completely. It’s in vogue anyway. Sensibly sharp colours are great for ladies, but I’m not sure my style guide is adequate for all genders, so I’ll let that slide.

Invest in non-cheesy ice breakers.

Most people who are coming into presentations where you’re asking for money, or trying to sell a product, come with a prefabricated NO. Your job usually is to turn that no into a yes. A great way to begin your presentation is to warm things up, in order to get your audience to relax. An on-the-spot joke is often a great idea, but of course that joke should be that, a joke. Any icebreaker which reflects negatively on your listener is an unnecessary yellow card. Self deprecating jokes work great if they’re actually funny. Better your audience laughs at you, than at the boss at the head of the table.

Pretty presentations work.

Remember that 100 slide presentation which showed your product idea in great detail, and would leave no doubt in the mind of the audience by the time you’re done? Well, it’s time to ditch it. Spend some time to compress your thoughts into a few slides – go heavy on bullet points, quick data and visual aids. Keep the colors pretty. (I’m a big fan of minimalist presentation slides, and would recommend that everyday.)

That truck load of text your audience really needed to see? Well, that’s why you’re standing out there. Talk. Present.

If it really bothers you, prepare two presentation decks – one for the presentation, and one to give to your audience after you are done.

Keep eye contact. 

Let’s assume you were trying to sell an idea or product. The most important people you would want to talk to are: i) the guy who signs the cheque, and ii) the guys who can influence to get the cheque signed. Identify these people quickly an drake sure you keep your eyes focused on them at least 60% the time. You are not presenting to a room full of people, you are presenting to a few people who need to get you where you want to go. Yes, you need hallelujah moments when you speak to the entire room, but keep your focus on the important people.

Build participation

Remember that marketing book that said the best way to sell is to keep your customer interested? The 1120 pages may have seemed like bullshitting, but they were right. Engage with your audience. Get them to become part of your pitch. Use local illustrations, draw parallels and explain in simple language which allows the audience to go beyond understanding you to seeing your perspective. Use questions and activities to build interaction and engagement.

If your customer, the boss, takes it upon himself to explain part of your product to one of his staff who seems ridiculously slow, or if one of the influencers (remember them?) volunteers to explain to the boss in office vernacular, you are on track.

Keep it sharp

No, a super long, fact laden, stat heavy presentation won’t leave everyone clear about what you have to sell. It’s a little worse than that long deck you were asked to trash. Keep your presentation short and to the point. If anything is going to keep you going for long, it should be your audience asking interesting questions.

Know your stuff

See what I did there? I kept the most important tip of them all for last. And yes, it is what it says. Know your stuff. If you get your sharp suit, break ice really nice, build a colourful deck and kept all the eye contact in the world, without knowing what you’re talking about, you probably should get your butt kicked out of there.

I admit, not every pitch will result in a sale, but if you make a really good pitch, you will definitely get noticed. No, I’m not going to count the number of times we’ve been offered more than our team asked for, or got job offers, on the back of good presentations. Kindly make your own suggestions in the comment section. Thank you.

The World Needs Her Autobots

autobot_transformers_1440x900An emerging trend I’ve noticed over the last year and half is that entrepreneurs and startup owners are sneering at people seeking paid employment. It’s rather ironic, this turn of events, considering that a few years back, parents and family usually sneered at kids who thought to start businesses, or threatened to disown children who turned down paid employment for the improbable ‘attraction’ of being a business owner.

Entrepreneurship fundamentally is embracing uncertainty, and the average entrepreneur may sneer at the endless routine  of paid employment. The average banker, for example, represents a human bot, doing the same thing over and over again, day after day, week on week, year on year! It is that endless routine that helped make my mind up about going into business – and I was one of the lucky ones who had a pretty interesting job.

Then there’s CCHUB. I remember once going to CCHub to find a developer – my thinking before then was that if there was a  place to find good developers, it would be the hub. Maybe I misunderstood what the hub stood for, or what the hub people thought about paid employment, but after my visit, I felt a little pity for the concept of paid employment and it’s adherents – the bots. The guys at the hub all seemed to mentally spit at the thought of working 9-5 (and more) jobs.

So what’s really wrong about having an autobot job, especially considering the most common flaws of startup entrepreneurs?

  • If we all became entrepreneurs, who will work for our companies?
  • The average entrepreneur often lacks true brick-and-mortar business skills, and needs to be guided or supported by trained managers – where would the managers come from if everyone became a startup owner.
  • Often, the glamorous stories of entrepreneurship conveniently skip those months where there’s no revenue, the zero account balances and the debts to family and friends. Because the market is very volatile, and support systems are lacking, the average entrepreneur needs a family structured in a way which has that support of a regular pay check, when one partner is running a startup.

One of the things I’m very sure about is that the fours years I spent in and out of paid employment help build a foundation for how I currently run my business. If I didn’t learn anything positive in my last job, I did learn how not to run a business, and how not to treat the people who work for me. My last job taught me management, at no cost to myself, and there was no way I would run a team where people are happy (most of the time) to work with me. There are clear differences in the way I run my team, and the way my close friends run theirs, and this is clearly down to our experiences in jobs we had or did not have.

I’m currently sitting here, typing out a blog, deliberately giving the silent treatment to a logistic staff I called up to talk to. I learned that from my former job – say 10 words, and let it sink in with silence, only broken by the sounds of a keyboard.

Steve Jobs was one of the greatest CEOs ever, but he was one of the worst managers who ever lived. It needed autobot managers to keep his team moving and working, because working with Steve made “working in a living hell” the kindergarten of horrible job experience. But he was smart – for the most part of his second coming at Apple, he hired great managers. The best CEOs are probably the ones who are smart enough to hire great staff and managers or who have had experience in autobot jobs.

Recently, I was reviewing the career of Sim Shagaya, founder of Konga.com and DealDey. He’s one of Nigeria’s leading start founders, and one of the few guys Nigeria’s smaller startup CEO would close up shop to go work for. He also has a very impressive CV, don’t let me tell you, check out his LinkedIn. We love SIM because we think he’s cool. But once in his life, the cool Sim was an autobot!

The world is defined by CEOs, but run by managers. A world without it’s autobot managers will be a world full of really angry or depressed people. This is because most startup CEOs are really shitty managers of people. Managing people is a skill that rarely comes naturally, and one of the best ways to gain management is through traditional employment.

It is great that we are beginning to build a startup culture in Nigeria, and young people are aspiring to start and grow businesses, with less protestations by their families. It is also important to note however, that not becoming an entrepreneur is also a very valid career path. I also think every entrepreneur should try working for someone else – the experience is invaluable.

Being an entrepreneur is cool. Very cool. Nothing beats that feeling of seeing something one started from nothing grow into something. That feeling is rather difficult to top. But nothing tops (negatively) that sinking feeling at the end of a month which had no revenue, knowing not where money is going to come from. Startup culture is often a swing between heady highs, and hopeless lows. In the midst of so much uncertainty, of emotional extremes, the world needs her autobots to keep things going smooth and calm like.

And hey, the Autobots, if you really think it through, are the good guys. Life could be much worse, in a world where we also have Decepticons.

Nigeria: The Technology Future, Education & The Lower 60%

I will begin by saying this post has a yet unwritten prequel. My earlier intention was to take on my understanding of ‘functional education’, before this, but I will get to writing that soon. For now, I’ll focus on building the tech economy for the future, and how the chief with a foot long chewing stick holds the future of the tech based economy in Nigeria.

I would also like to warn that this post is NOT about the top 5% – if you believe Lagos in the rest of Nigeria, you probably should not be reading this.

A few weeks ago, I visited CCHub for the first time to attend the pitching event for  #TechInEd, an event which focused on technology developed for use in education. I was really interested in the #TechInEd for two reasons:

  1. Recently, Apple had launched a project which would increase the use of iPads for education – I wanted to see what our own developers were thinking in that direction
  2. Every Sunday, I dress in my most ‘unfavourite’ pair of jeans to church, where I take care of 30 – 40 children – I wanted to see if the pitches would have anything that would interest the kindergarten teacher inside of me.

The TechInEd was revealing – there are serious thinkers out there, but I came away with this feeling that the startups out there are mostly thinking about the top 15%. Of course as the business man in me has nothing against developing for the top 15%, but the event being about education (and there exists this healthy bias on my part about education, especially education in the lowest 50%), I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that my ‘constituency’ seems to have been overlooked.

Many of the apps on display at #TechInEd seemed to be targeted at “lego, BMX and PS3” club, kids with regular access to computers, and the internet. While these may become viable, profitable businesses, my personal biases in the field of education app development mean that if an app makes money, but does not solve the problem of tech education, then it’s a failure. Much as there is an education deficit in Nigeria, that deficit has not place in the Lekki *Insert first world country name* School, where kids play PlayStation Portable during break periods. The deficit is live and breathing in the local primary school, scattered in everyone’s village around the country, and that’s where my every thought about technology education goes.

Now why am I so interested in technology education in the local schools and communities? (Please note, the cross from #TechInEd apps to technology education is intended – they’re intrinsically linked for me, you see?) Because over and over, I have heard people talk about growing technology in Nigeria, how the future is technology, and how this future would be driven by mobile apps deployed in education. The allusion that mobile apps are going to help us build capacity for a tech based economy of the future, I believe is a fallacy.

I have nothing against mobile apps, and truly believe they have a place in the future.

However, the lowest 50%, much as we want to believe, won’t get computer literate on mobile apps. Yes, information will be accessed on mobiles, but I still don’t see a future where my iPad replaces my PC as my coding station. If rural children will have to take over the tech future, then they have to have access to real computers. If we want to bring technology into education, for me, it’s the simple nuts and bolts act of teaching basic computer usage at the most rudimentary level. This thinking is one I’ve had for the last eight years.

To test my thinking, I did something crazy.

In 2008, I went with a few friends of mine into a local community to conduct what later turned out to be my first experiment in rural computer literacy. We had earlier met with the leadership of a local church to give us space and let us teach basic computing to local children in the community. These children were ones who previously have no experience with computers. The idea was simple, give opportunity to these children to experience the same knowledge that children in the fancy schools has access to.

We had one university graduate, an undergraduate, 3 secondary school students and a bright cousin of mine in primary 4 at the time, armed with two desktops computers, two laptops and a handful of accessories. Classes started in the open church auditorium. No fancy tables, just pews, dusty floors and a handful of very excited kids.

The challenges of the first two days was getting the fear of new technology out of these kinds, who were too afraid of ‘spoiling the computer’ to do more than stare at the equipment, but once that fear had been dispelled, wonderful things happened. These children, who mostly had only seen computers from a distance, were typing, drawing and generally kicking butt with Windows.

We had earlier explained how the computer works, and what a wonderful piece of work the CPU is, and a day later, every child wanted to see what the insider of the CPU looked like. So we dismantled the white box and pushed and pulled a few things, and the kids put them back, put the equipment back together under supervision, and put the PC back on.

The best part of the one month was when we introduced the best performing children to the Internet. It was the wow moment of wow moments. Email to them, was magic and an hour into training, my box was flooded. I got a few of my friends to write regularly to these kids, and the facts that they could sit in an internet cafe, write to someone in America, a real person, and the person wrote back in an email was unbelievable to them. Every once in a while, I still receive an email from one of those kids.

So then I realized, building a critical mass for a technology based economy is very simple. It’s simply dependent on if we can get a whole generation of kids prepped to provide a fertile ground for this to grow.

At this point, you may want to read this

A 15 year rural program, which ensures every kid in primary school can use a PC will build the base. Tree shaking tests can bring out the real gems who will go on to special scholarship trainings, but if every child, irrespective of where they come from  – ijebu ode, or Atan Onoyom, can use a computer, a whole new world opens up.

No, don’t flag off huge money guzzling programs. Semi-nomadic, community supported programs can work if the right consultation is done.The future is dependent on whether we can build a knowledge based economy, driven by functional education (there again, a reminder to write that prequel). We may need to use equipment share programmes, and nomadic teachers to compensate to teacher deficit, but it can be done.

Public education is broken, but technology can bridge that gap. Local governments, churches and local communities are strategic to achieving the target of a technology driven economy – yes, the illiterate chief with the foot long chewing stick if the future of technology.

Truth is the concept is possible. If we can export Yahoo Yahoo, getting worldwide infamous in the process, then a movement can build something positive to export to the world. If teenagers are learning Yahoo in cyber cafes, then we can channel that energy into building an economy which will allow even the poorest of us, if they have the right aptitude, get opportunities to do something really great.