The most common question I get from people interested in startups and entrepreneurship, is this:
I have an idea for a startup… what do I do now?
and while this post isn’t meant to provide a full answer to that question, it is meant to tell you something you should not do that may seem like a good idea.
The number one thing you shouldn’t do once you have an idea for a start-up is nothing. You’ll meet tons of people like this in life, who go around saying “Oh I have this great idea for a company, I just haven’t started on it yet.” They’re what you’d call “wantrepreneurs” who are also likely afraid to tell you what their idea is “because you might steal it” (tell everyone your idea, no one has enough time/energy to steal it and no one cares about it as much as you do).
The second worst thing you can do once you have an idea is only slightly better than doing nothing, and I call it getting stuck in the “Start-up Nonfiction Vortex.”
Getting trapped in it is easy. We’ve been brought up in a system (institutional education) that values collecting as much information as possible before applying it. That’s why you take four years of college covering a huge number of areas before entering the workforce, instead of entering and figuring it out as you go.
Since we’ve been raised to believe we need to collect tons of information before getting started, we become paralyzed in the face of starting a company, which leads to the belief that we need to do one of two things:
Get a four-year degree in business/entrepreneurship
Read a ton of books
Since spending four years “preparing” seems a lot more daunting than reading some books, it’s natural to choose the later. But in reality they’re both mistakes–the real solution is:
3. Get started
But more on that later.
The Start-Up Nonfiction Vortex
There are a ton of books out there about starting a business. A huge publishing/authoring business has been built around “wantrepreneurs” reading everything they can get their hands on instead of starting their business. And I have to admit I was one of them. I decided I wanted to start a company last May, and between May and September, I read 39 books all related to entrepreneurship and start-ups.
It might start by going to Amazon and searching for “start a business” or “be an entrepreneur.” Every book you read will lead to new insights into things you never knew before, and the reaction after each will be “whoa, I never knew about this, I better keep reading to make sure there’s nothing else I don’t know.” To quote a friend of mine, when you’re an entrepreneur it’s “like ignorance squared, because you don’t know what you don’t know” so the safest route feels like learning everything.
It’s a trap though. Without specific things to apply the knowledge to, it will largely be forgotten. We tend to remember random information very poorly when we haven’t applied it or used it in our daily lives, and if you’re reading books while waiting to start your business you’re likely not doing anything with it. This creates two problems:
If you’re taking notes, you don’t actually know what you should be taking notes on
You’re going to have to read it again later when it’s actually relevant
Escaping the Vortex
The first startup/entrepreneurial endeavor you try will probably fail. And don’t worry, that’s good news. It means you have nothing to fear, nothing to be ashamed of, and no reason not to start. If you’re an at least decently achieving student or worker then you’re probably unaccustomed to the idea of failure being okay, but in the start-up world it is because even when you fail, you still learned a lot.
That’s why you don’t need the non-fiction vortex. If you simply pick an idea, get some friends, and get started you’ll learn ten times as much in 1/10 the time you would have reading. Since we started our company three months ago, I’ve learned magnitudes more than I did in reading all of those books, and even for the books that did turn out to be useful, I didn’t realize at the time which parts were actually valuable and have had to go back and re-read them.
Does that mean you shouldn’t read at all? No, of course you should, but I think you could get away with just reading “The Startup Owner’s Manual.” Read it once for a high-level view on what you should think about, then go back and read through it as you apply it to your business. Draw on other books as you run into problems that you need solutions for.
But most importantly–get started. So many people miss out on great opportunities because they’re afraid to take that risk. Don’t fall into the trap of delaying it until you’re “ready” or spending all of your time reading to make it as safe as possible. Just stop reading and start doing. You don’t need to look before you leap.
Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.
You have to work hard to develop the right skills
If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.
1. Make your presentation short and sweet
With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.
JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.
2. Open up with a good ice breaker
At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:
Tugging on their heart strings
Dropping a bombastic statement
Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons
You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.
3. Keep things simple and to the point
Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.
4. Use a healthy dose of humor
Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.
It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.
5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting
Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.
6. Practice your delivery
Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.
7. Move around and use your hands
Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.
8. Engage the audience by making them relate
Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.
9. Use funny images in your slides
Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.
10. End on a more serious note
When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.