Spring Training: Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch

We get only one chance to make a good first impression and beyond the visual presentation that your clothing and accessories communicate, followed by how you greet those that you meet (with a pleasantly firm handshake, friendly eye contact and a warm smile), what you say means a great deal.

In business-related gatherings or meetings the direct communication of your elevator pitch must grab the attention of the listener, inspire confidence and entice him/her to want to hear more.  Your elevator pitch is a sales technique wrapped in a conversational tone that piques the interest or even curiosity of the prospects, referral sources, investors, or strategic partners that you meet and entices them to want to know more about you and what you do.  Your elevator pitch is Step 2 in the process of meeting and winning over a VIP (getting the meeting is Step 1).

An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is your official business introduction.  In it, you state what you do, for whom you do it and the outcomes and/or benefits that you provide to your clients, all in about 30 seconds.  As the story goes you step into the elevator, encounter someone who would like to know who you are and you roll out your spiel between floors.

A well-designed and delivered elevator pitch answers the (unspoken) question, “What can you do for me?” If good luck is on your side, you’ll have a business card handed to you, with a request to call that afternoon at 5:15 PM.  Your elevator pitch should address at least three of the following points:

  • The problem or need that you solve, i.e., the purpose or mission of your venture.
  • Identify your usual or ideal target clients (for-profit, not-for-profit, life sciences professionals, B2B, B2G, Fortune 1000, etc.).
  • Identify one or two of the primary results that your organization provides.
  • Name one or two of the primary benefits that your clients receive as a result of your services.

Depending on what you do, your (heavy-hitting) client list, the person or group that you’re addressing, or your mood, don’t shy away from getting a little bold about the value that you bring.  Even introverts can step up in their own quietly determined way.  If you have some credible (and demonstrable) metrics to attach to the outcomes and results that you produce, so much the better.  That is, if you can truthfully say, for example,  that 9 out of 10 of the marketing campaigns that you design for clients are routinely associated with a 15% increase in top line (gross) revenues within a 12 month period, then include that information in your elevator pitch.

Alternatively, you can keep your pitch very stripped-down and simple and state something like, “You know when this (problem or need) crops up? I fix it.”

Ideally, whoever you’re speaking with will want to hear more but if s/he doesn’t give much of a response, that means you are not speaking with a prospective client and it’s useful to know that up front.  Your elevator pitch will separate the wheat from the chaff and help you recognize who deserves your time and who does not.

If you’ve delivered a good elevator pitch that portrays you as a knowledgeable and trustworthy professional, you may get a client or you may get a referral.  You could also get an invitation to appear on a panel, speak at a business association meeting, or an inquiry about your teaching skills.  An effective elevator pitch is an integral component of the first impression that you make.  Be certain that what you say communicates your brand in the best possible way and it will open doors for you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Advertisements

When Freelancers and Employees Collaborate

External agile talent provided by Freelance consultants has a presence in a growing number of organizations in the country, from huge multinationals that hire dozens of external experts to solo consultancies, who may hire a Freelancer colleague to obtain  help with SEO, website design, or project subcontracting work.

Freelancers are brought in to ensure that a high-priority project will be successfully completed, on time and within budget. While it is the responsibility of the hiring manager to onboard the Freelancer and create the conditions for smart collaboration  and productivity, in fact, a good deal of that responsibility will be transferred to the Freelancer because s/he is temporary, an outsider, and is positioned to take the blame should things go wrong.

Therefore, it is highly recommended that Freelancers take the lead and do what is possible to establish a working relationship with in-house collaborators that is productive, pleasant and lays the groundwork for repeat business and referrals.

  1. Ask the hiring manager to onboard you, so that you will be able to “hit the ground running” and quickly get to work on producing the project deliverables.
  • Request an overview that explains why the project is important to the organization.
  • Have a contract for the project, signed by you and the hiring manager, that specifies your duties, in-house support that will be provided, the budget, project milestones, the deliverables and the deadline, your hourly rate or project fee and what you’ll charge for client requested change orders and additional services requested.
  • Request the names and titles of any in-house project collaborators.
  • Specify the details of the lines of reporting and authority, so that you and everyone else knows who you answer to, since the hiring manager may not be the internal project lead.
  • Determine where your work will be done—off-site, at the organization, or a combination. How many hours must you spend at the company office? Where will  your work space be located? Must you bring your own computer and phone?
  • Request an introduction and meeting with your in-house collaborator(s), so that you can understand the organization culture (“how things get done around here”) and understand what you can do, or request from the company, to make the experience pleasant and productive for all parties.

2. Anticipate employee anxiety around the presence of an external consultant and work to quell the discomfort. Show respect for your collaborator’s deep knowledge of the organization and the project. Solicit their opinions on how to efficiently get the work done and political situations that can help or hurt you. Copy your collaborator(s) on important emails. Uncomfortable subjects might include:

  • Why was a Freelance consultant hired to do the interesting, mission-critical project and not long-term, loyal employees?
  • How much money is s/he being paid—is it more than me?
  • Will the consultant’s expertise and opinion be more highly valued than mine?
  • Is a company lay-off on the horizon?

3. Communicate frequently with your in-house collaborator(s), to promote transparency, build trust and ensure maximum productivity.

  • Make use of email and write reports that keep collaborators and the hiring manager updated on your work.
  • If you hit a stumbling block, ask for help, in writing.
  • Suggest a weekly or bi-weekly conference call or meeting at the client’s office, to compare notes and confirm that milestones and expectations are being met.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Write an Effective Business Letter

All writing is about the intended reader (that is, the audience).  Whether it’s a book, song, movie, opera, website, marketing brochure, grant proposal, or fundraising letter, the one priority for the writer to keep in mind is that the intended recipient matters most.  Writing is a basic means of communication and we have many reasons to choose to express our thoughts or requests in writing, rather than verbally.  Usually, we write to make our thoughts official, to communicate with someone whom we do not know, or to communicate with a large number of people.

We write to express our point of view or to make a request.  We may write to persuade the reader to take a particular action based on information that is presented or to consider a new perspective and modify his/her opinion.  In other words, writing is selling. Writers will benefit from the following guidelines:

  1. Purpose: Why are you writing?
  2. Audience: Who is the reader (audience)?
  3. Outcomes: How can you persuade the reader to care about your subject or request?

The first question is actually about you, the writer.  What motivates you to write? Are you in search of funding for a project that you would like to advance and so you must write a business or grant proposal? Might your objective be to write a sales or marketing letter that will be sent to those who you feel are potential customers for your product or service? Are you producing content for a website or other promotional material that will communicate your expertise to potential customers and give them the confidence to contact you? You will be an effective writer only when you develop the self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge what you would like your written material to achieve, so that you will choose vocabulary that reflects your intent.

The second question ensures that you tailor your message and vocabulary to resonate with your intended reader or audience.  The successful writer will consider the point of view of the reader and craft a message that is likely be understood and accepted by that reader.  If it is a proposal that you will write, then you must address the interests of several stakeholders who will be able to speak favorably or unfavorably of your request.  Grant applications and business proposals always include financial information as well as operations and marketing information, for example, to satisfy those three important decision-making constituencies.

The final question addresses the perceived benefits that the reader or audience can expect to derive from what you have written.  Here, the writer must tightly focus on the readers’ priorities and preferences and consider the outcomes attached to the expression of the thoughts or creative expression, or the relative value of your request.  What will be in it for the reader if s/he buys your book, devotes time and money to attend a performance of your music, or approves your grant or proposal?

The writer is advised to utilize a communication style and vocabulary that are familiar and reassuring to the reader or audience,  as a way to build confidence, encourage acceptance and approval and result in mutual success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Listen and Learn

We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”   –Diogenes

We love the sound of our own voice,  so much so that we sometimes don’t know when to shut up.   Talking is lots of fun,  especially for the extroverts among us.  Silence can be uncomfortable.   But we all know that listening is an important communication skill.  When we allow others to express themselves and tell their story,  we demonstrate that we care about them and that we value the quality of the information that they are sharing.

The benefits of good listening skills are significant.  Everyone loves a good listener and one invariably learns a lot by listening,  including who is worth listening to!  People will open up and sometimes say the darndest things and all we have to do is be there and show that we are paying attention.  It is ironic that saying and  (mostly)  doing nothing is such a vital component of relationship-building.  Yet listening is the foundation of bonding;  silently,  one demonstrates empathy,  telegraphs that another human being matters and creates rapport.  Fortunately,  the art of listening can be learned.

Attention, please

When listening,  give the speaker your undivided attention.  Nothing else demonstrates the level of respect that you have for another than this one act.  Let the phone go to voicemail,  close the laptop lid.   Sharing your valuable time with another and focusing your attention on that individual is so validating.  It is also a defining element of charisma.  Charismatic people are known to make whomever they are listening to feel as if only the two of them are in the room.   Demonstrate your laser focus with eye contact,   smiling or showing concern,  nodding your head and declining to interrupt,  except to ask a question or two that ensures that you understand what is being said.

Risk acknowledgement

As noted above,  when people start talking,   you might be floored by what is revealed.   No matter how you feel about what has been said,   maintain your cool.   Show that you are worthy of the trust that has been extended to you by way of the revelation.   Appreciate and acknowledge the risk that was taken by the speaker when the decision was made to confide in you.

Take notes

Always take notes when in a business meeting.   When you write as someone talks,  you demonstrate that the subject of the conversation is important to you.  The note-taking process also allows you to ask questions to ensure that you understand what has been said.  Within 24 hours,  send an email in which you thank that individual for meeting with you and confirm the agreed-upon next steps.

Achieve understanding

Stephen Covey (1932-2012),  author of the timeless self-help classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  (1989),  noted that most people listen not to understand,  but to reply.  Be careful not to jump to conclusions or hear only what you want or expect to hear.  Perfect the art of listening and minimize miscommunication problems that can lead to costly mistakes or hurt feelings.

Listening is an art form that unfortunately,  is underrated.  Regardless,  the most compelling leaders,  the most successful sales professionals,  the most powerful negotiators,  the most charismatic people and those with whom we develop the most satisfying relationships are all active listeners.   Follow the advice of Diogenes and sharpen your listening skills by employing patience and self-discipline to your business and social conversations.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Pictures Spice Your Presentations

When it comes to Power Point presentations,  a good picture really is worth 1,000 words.  The importance of the images that accompany your presentation is not to be underestimated.  Images help tell your story by highlighting key concepts that complement your topic and helping to maintain audience attention.   Additionally,  a good structure is elemental to your presentation.  The architecture of the talk aids audience understanding and has the added benefit of leading you from point to point,  helping you remember what you want to say.

Construct your talk

Your presentation is shaped by what you must communicate and achieve.  You may be asked to inspire a group to support a particular cause and call to action.  When in a sales process,  your job is to persuade the prospective client of the value of your product or service.  Storytelling is appropriate in both scenarios.  Your story will help the audience connect to you and the goal you aim to achieve and portray you as authentic and trustworthy.  The story will fit within your presentation and both will have a beginning,  middle and end and will be easy to follow and concise.

Motivational talks fit easily into a Past – Present – Future  structure which is ideal for allowing the speaker to first provide the history of the situation,  then describe the current state of affairs and finally culminate with a rally of enthusiasm and support for the call to action that will bring about the preferred future  (outcome).  A Compare – Contrast  structure works well for sales presentations,  as it allows the speaker to communicate the advantages of the products or services as compared to competitors’.   A Cause – Effect  structure is useful in either scenario,  as it allows the speaker to describe the underlying logic of his/her position.

Speak,  do not read

Text-heavy slides cause audience members to instinctively read the text and tune out the speaker,  a detriment to the talk.  Master presenter Steve Jobs was famous for the one word slide.  It is a daring act.  I tried it once,  found it effective and I will do it again.  In order to make the tactic work,  rehearse the talk and rehearse some more,  until you know your material cold.  Too much text on the slides,  even bullet points,  draws attention away from you,  the star of the show.   Yet a few well-chosen words serve to focus audience attention and draw them into the subject.  Think large font and few words.Success Starts Here Freeway Style Desert Landscape

Quality images complement your talk

Images used in your presentation should complement your topic and be of good quality.  There are websites that have thousands of free images available for upload.  The free images used here are from MorgueFile  http://morguefile.com.  Attractive images help to maintain audience interest and illustrate relevant themes.

 

 

Charts and graphs

Charts,  graphs and diagrams are an excellent way to illustrate statistical and financial data and demonstrate trends that occur over a period of time.   A colorful bar graph,  pie chart or flow chart helps the audience grasp information that may otherwise seem too complex.  A visual interpretation can be very helpful and,  as noted above,  help to maintain audience interest as it facilitates comprehension.

8-03-2Start with an eye-opener

Grab audience attention when you open the presentation with an unexpected fact that speaks to their priorities,  values or concerns and advances your purpose.  The speaker must quickly lead the audience to focus on the topic because time is finite.   You may want to open your talk with a one-word slide  (it worked for me).  Build the rest of your presentation to answer and address that fact,  following your chosen structure.

People attending a Congress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End with an ask

At the conclusion of your presentation,  give a brief summary to tie together your main points and help the audience remember what is important.   Next,  make your call to action and ask the audience to do something.  In a motivational talk,  you may ask the audience to support a certain strategy or vote in a certain way.   In a sales presentation,  you will ask the prospective client to hire you or purchase your product or service and to do so now,  rather than later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for reading,

Kim

Eight Leadership Styles. Which One Is Yours?

When assuming a leadership role,   one does what is required in that position at the time.   There is no road-map because leaders must respond to events as they occur,   as they simultaneously champion projects developed by members of their team,   push through selected personal initiatives and follow through with worthy projects that started before their regime.   Most of all a leader must be versatile,   possessed of good judgment and more than a little lucky.

Nevertheless,  we all have our strengths.   Some of us are super strategists,  or change agents.  Others are great with process and operations,  we intuitively know how to get things done efficiently.  Still others are master communicators: deal-makers,  negotiators or coaches.

How does one rise to leadership,  take the reins and succeed when certain key projects call for talents outside of the natural skill set? Good judgment will encourage the leader to recognize what is beyond his/her expertise and delegate such tasks to better qualified team members.   Further,  the leader is advised to acknowledge team members who step up,  because recognition builds loyalty and the productive can-do spirit of a high-functioning team.

Leadership development specialist Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries,   author of “The Hedgehog Effect: The Secrets of Building High Performance Teams” (2011),   has identified eight leadership competency archetypes for us to ponder.   Do you recognize yourself in one?

The BUILDER approaches leadership as an entrepreneurial activity.  This leader longs to create a tangible legacy.

The CHANGE AGENT loves to ride in on a white horse and clean up a mess.   Re-engineering is the preferred activity.

The COACH derives great personal satisfaction from talent development and knows how to recognize the strengths of team members and get the best out them.

The COMMUNICATOR,  like former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan,  loves being on stage and knows how to influence people.

The INNOVATOR is able to sort through difficult problems and devise creative,  yet practical solutions.

The NEGOTIATOR is highly gifted at recognizing,  selling and bringing to the organization lucrative new business opportunities.

The PROCESSOR is an operations expert who will make the organization run like a well-oiled machine.  This leader will institute systems that support the organization’s objectives.

The STRATEGIST has the vision to recognize which goals and strategies the organization would be wise to pursue to ensure its future growth and sustainability.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading,

Kim

Perfect Pitch

“The goal of networking is not to gather sales leads,  but to start business relationships and that begins with a conversation and not a sales pitch”,  asserts presentation and communications coach and author of The Anti-Elevator Speech (2009),  Cliff Sutttle.  Whether you’re at the Rotary Club lunch,  the gym or your second cousin’s third wedding,  eventually someone will ask what you do for a living.  For Freelance consultants and business owners,  a well-crafted elevator pitch is your answer.

The original idea behind the elevator pitch was to have something to say about your business to a potential customer whom you met by chance.  Presumably,  the two of you would be in an elevator and you would have about one minute to tell your story.

An appropriate elevator pitch presents you and your business offering in a casual,  socially acceptable manner.  To use your elevator pitch as a sales pitch is always wrong.  Someone whom you’ve just met is not a candidate for a sales pitch.  Delivering a sales pitch when you should deliver an elevator pitch will soon make you a social pariah.

While it is true that a Freelance consultant or business owner must constantly seek out potential customers,  it is important to first,  verify that one is speaking to a potential customer and not to someone making polite conversation and two,  communicate in a manner that is not perceived as selling.  Focus instead on solving a need and building a relationship and formulate an elevator pitch with a style and substance to communicate that.

The right elevator pitch will open doors for you,  business or social.  Your elevator pitch is a verbal business card.  It introduces you and your business to those who inquire.  Follow these steps and create one that works for you:

!.  The Hook

Cliff Suttle recommends that you give a short,  accurate-yet-vague statement of the ultimate benefit of your product or service.  A financial planner might say that he/she helps clients sleep well at night.  A web designer might say that he/she makes sure that potential customers get answers to their questions about your business.   A marketing consultant might say he/she builds communication links between the business and its customers.   After the hook is given,  say no more.  If the questioner wants to know what you mean,  then there will be a follow-up question.

Sales and marketing guru Geoffrey James,  author of the soon-to-be-published book Business Without the Bulls**t,  recommends that in the hook,  position your firm in one sentence that describes who you are and the primary service you provide,  with a focus on benefits and outcomes.  One who facilitates business strategy meetings might say  “In a one-day session,  I get my clients to reach consensus on pursuing a half-dozen relevant and achievable business goals that are guaranteed to deliver measurable results.”  If the questioner asks how you do that,  then proceed to Step 2.

2.  Differentiate

Defend the claim you made in Step 1 and give two or three reasons that show how your services are superior to competitors’.  Years of experience, marquee clients,  a special proprietary system or patented methodology or scientific data published in credible journals are how you make your case.  Client testimonials on your website or LinkedIn page add credibility to your claim.

3.  Conversation

If your questioner continues to show interest,  he/she may just be nosy,  may be a competitor trying to get information on how you do business,  or may be a genuinely interested prospect or referral source.  You won’t solve the mystery until you get that person talking.  When you ask if your area of expertise happens to be a concern at his/her company,  or note that he/she sounds as if they’ve encountered this situation before and inquire as to how it is being handled now,  the answer will reveal true motives.

4.  Meeting

If it makes sense to continue the conversation,  then ask your questioner for an opportunity to meet and continue what has been started.  If your questioner turned prospect  suddenly seems hesitant,  then ask  what less than optimal previous experience gives him pause, or what you can provide to ease his/her mind.  If your newest prospect seems enthusiastic, then ask how to get on his/her calendar and the preferred mode of contact and time to reach out.  You’ll be on your way to building a profitable business relationship.

Thanks for writing,

Kim

Buff Up Your Business Writing Skills

Freelance consultants are called upon to do quite a bit of writing.  When we meet a professional contact we’d like to know better,  we send an email to schedule a time to meet and talk further.  We write proposals that help us obtain assignments.  We write press releases,  our bio,  our LinkedIn summary,  thank you letters and sometimes diplomatically written reminders for payment from slow-paying clients.  Some of us write articles,  blogs and newsletters,  too.

Nevertheless,  many of us are a little insecure about our writing ability.  Writing is an important skill.  Written communication helps one to advance and achieve business goals.  It reflects our expertise and our etiquette.  Good writing gets things done,  but it’s not necessary to emulate Pulitzer Prize winning novelists when called upon to express oneself in writing.  All you have to be is a good technician,  not a literary star.   Buff up your writing prowess by following a few easy-to-follow tips:

Purpose     Be very clear about what you must communicate.  A proposal must describe the services that you will provide and persuade the client of your ability to provide those services  (i.e., sell).  When your proposal is accepted,  you write a letter of agreement.  An email might document a meeting or conversation,  or provide follow-up info that was requested.  A press release gives pertinent info about an event or an announcement,  that is expressed in a way that will interest the target audience.

Bullet points     Help yourself complete and organize your message by jotting down the important talking points.  For example, the bullet points of a proposal will describe the services you will provide and benefits that will be derived.  Presenting information in bullet points makes for easy reading and retention.

Format     Once you have your information complete and logically organized,  you might decide to use your bullet points to form paragraphs,  or present the information primarily in bullets.  If you choose the latter,   you’ll want to write at least one opening and one closing paragraph,  so you’ll come across and friendly yet still professional.  Thank you letters,  however,  are generally written in paragraphs and not bullets,  because they are personal and call for a warm and friendly style,  even in business.  Long and ornate sentences are never necessary,  or even desirable.  Clear and simple sentences always work best in business communications.

Edit     Make a draft of what you must write and then begin to edit your work.  After an initial edit,   I like to let my writing rest for a while and then return to it.  Stepping away for even an hour helps me to eliminate wordiness,  provide clarity and continuity,  improve my word choices or add something important that I’ve forgotten.

The task of writing need not be intimidating.  We write when we have a purpose:  to say thank you,  request or recommend a certain action,  announce a decision,  submit a proposal.  Writing is all about being understood and getting results.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

How You Say What You Say

If you want to get your way,  then you must be persuasive.  To make friends is to persuade,  to receive help is to persuade,  to get a date is to persuade.  To sign a client is to persuade,  to negotiate is to persuade.  To sell any idea,  product or service is to persuade others of its relevance,  quality and value.

The ability to communicate ones’ needs,  thoughts and opinions is a cornerstone of a successful life.  It is vitally important to know what to say and how to say it as you expertly customize the message for its recipient.

I do not advocate manipulative behaviour,  however.  The idea is to get what you want in a way that creates a positive outcome,  with all parties feeling good about the exchange and no one feeling bullied,  resentful or exploited.  Persuasion is about how we frame and deliver our desires,  proposals or assertions and we must be respectful of others.

Tone of voice,  that is delivery,  is a big factor in persuasive communication.  Anger,  sarcasm and condescension are unlikely to facilitate persuasion.  Delivery that is perceived as hostile causes those on the receiving end to become defensive and mired in reacting to your style,  losing sight of your content in the process.  You’ll be treated as if you are wrong even if you are right  and you will lose.

To inspire you to pay attention to certain aspects of your communication style,  I offer here a few suggestions that will lead you to improve your powers of persuasion:

Avoid  “always”  and  “never”

Substitute  “often”  and  “rarely”  instead.  There are many people who will reject a reasonable assertion out of hand,  without taking its full measure,  when you frame and present opinions in dogmatic,  absolutist terms.

Lead with the positive

When disagreeing with another’s point of view,  it is natural for many of us to immediately,  perhaps vociferously,  take exception to that opinion or interpretation of fact.  Whenever possible,  promote persuasion by finding some common ground,  some point upon which parties can agree.  Soften your rejoinder and offer up a soupcon of validation,  maybe like this  “I know some people feel that way,  yet based on my knowledge and experience,  I’ve come to view the matter in this light…”  Call it smoothly handling an objection.

Don’t complain,  but do explain

Rather than criticize and complain that someone is wrong,  tell that person what behaviour or action is preferred or necessary and why that is so.  Reframe your complaint or criticism as a request,  delivered respectfully,  perhaps in this way  “When you arrive late to our meetings,  it makes others feel that our sharing of information is unimportant to you,  that you do not value the process.  Is the time frame inconvenient for you?  What can be done to get you here on time so that all parties can be present to address important agenda items?”

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim