Barbara Seymour: Executive Speech CoachHave you ever listened to an investment pitch—and about a quarter of the way through—found yourself completely confused, lost, and questioning your own intelligence? That's exactly how I felt recently.
Barbara Seymour: Executive Speech CoachHave you ever listened to an investment pitch—and about a quarter of the way through—found yourself completely confused, lost, and questioning your own intelligence? That's exactly how I felt recently.A university in Southern California asked me to give speaker coaching feedback to nine presenters—a cross section of PhDs and MDs—that were all being considered for grant funding to position and move their product toward the marketplace. The coaching group I was a part of was comprised of highly specialized Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists; we all happily came together to share our knowledge with these budding entrepreneurial teams to help them simplify, tighten, and distill years of research into a 12 minute pitch. The first night, we listened to and critiqued all nine presenters. From a speaker coaching standpoint there were the typical storytelling challenges—no clear open, too much detail, and asking for investment dollars on the last slide. But about a third of the way through the evening, a speaker began delivering a presentation that was riddled with so much scientific technical jargon—and accompanied by the tiniest possible font on each slide—that my head began to hurt. Throughout the majority of his pitch, I had little to no idea what he was saying. As the minutes ticked past, so did my attention span. Halfway through I was so lost, I questioned my IQ and doubted my abilities as a coach. By the end of the presentation my confidence had eroded so much, that I was trying to find the words to inform the people who invited me to coach, that I was disastrously in over my head.Until, that is, the coach next to me leaned over and quietly confessed, "I have no idea what that guy just said ...and I have a PhD in Chemistry!"With her simple confession, I felt redeemed. I wasn't the only poor soul in the room who didn't get it; even investors with scientific experience were struggling to understand the speaker's point.What I came to learn by working with such a concentrated group of doctors and PhDs, was that more education and experience one possessed, the more likely (because of academic training) they felt compelled to highlight their knowledge. The trouble is—no matter how much education we have—when we feature how much we know in our highly specialized world, we're almost certain to leave most of the audience behind, making them feel like I did—excluded. Regardless of our industry, when we pitch to an audience of investors we've got to factor in that we're no longer talking to our peers, we're instead sharing our ideas with the world. And when we share ideas, we've got to be able to simplify our message. No... not dumb it down, but distill the idea in such a conversational way, that all listening can understand. This is your power as a presenter and entrepreneur; the ability to make your story so conversational that anyone can share it. Your strength is your ability to tap into what drives our common humanness—not information based on logic, but sharing ideas from a place of feeling. Emotions sell. Heartfelt stories sell. And the promise of how we might feel better sells.For instance, if you were going to buy a top of the line BMW, what would your reasoning be? Would it be based on gas mileage, cup holder placement, and reliability? Absolutely not! BMW offers the unspoken promise that you'll feel more powerful, elevate your social status, and increase your sex appeal. We don't buy products based on science, we purchase products based on how humans will emotionally benefit from that science. The trap is that dazzling the audience with how smart and clever you are alienates you from the very people you're trying to rally, because by making your intelligence the center of the conversation you immediately create separation, calling out those who have knowledge from those who don't. No matter your level of education, if you are unable to share with the audience how your product will improve their life—or the life of someone they love—what's the point? You don't have one—or a viable product either. Without human interaction, caring and connection, there is no market.To be a truly successful presenter, the only way to bridge the gap is by sharing stories that make each and every person in the audience feel smart, cared about, and included—there are no shortcuts, there is no other way.So entrepreneurs, the next time it's your turn to speak to the world my one simple wish for you is this—feel more and think less. Let your emotions act as the fuel to propel your ideas forward and allow your logic to steer the force of those emotions toward stories that create connection. Wherever the entrepreneurial open road takes you, remember to embrace each step with passion and heart—feel it, believe it, and I promise... the audience will too!
* * * * *As an Executive Speech & Presentation Skills Coach, Barbara has advised Fortune 500 executives, managers, and entrepreneurs on how to excel at the art of effective communication. In addition to being behind the scenes, Barbara has appeared on camera and shared her style expertise on many national and local television shows. She was a guest for a week on “Live with Regis & Kelly” making over five lucky candidates looking for work. Her list of appearances also includes Fox’s “Good Day Live,” ABC’s Soap Network “Soap Talk,” and Chicago’s celebrated “WGN Morning News.”