A little while ago I had the good fortune to speak at the second Startup Weekend Warsaw, organised again by the team at Hard Gamma Ventures, and led by Startup Weekend’s own Jennifer Cabala. I had been asked to give a talk which would help the teams build presentations for the ultimate pitching session at the end of Sunday. The title of the talk was “Presentations are not just for presenting, or how to re-purpose your time.”
This is an edited text, to fit the blog format. As is usually the case, what works on stage doesn’t necessarily work on the screen. I have included only about a quarter of the slides, too – a page of text is not the same medium as a spoken presentation and they would be superfluous here.
We’re all scared of public speaking, it’s just the degree that varies. We are more afraid of that than we are of spiders, vampires – the sexy kind and the ordinary nasty kind. (Scary slides.) We’re more afraid of public speaking than we are of clowns and of asteroids, though we really should rather be afraid of those as the statistical likelihood of us being offed by one that doesn’t quite miss the Earth is apparently fairly significant and your odds in dying in a cosmic crash are about the same as those for death in an aeroplane crash.
The thing we are most afraid of, apparently, is death by fire. (Witch burning slide.) Given our troubled history that is not entirely illogical. Public speaking takes the second spot, which IS entirely illogical unless we should find ourselves talking in front of a group of those gentlemen (cannibals slide) with the subject of the presentation being whether or not we’re going to become today’s lunch. We’re afraid of public speaking because we don’t like being judged by others (judges slide) and because we fear that we will not have enough time to explains ourselves fully (No Stopping signs slide.) We’re afraid of public speaking because we think it’s some kind of a magical skill, mysteriously acquired by a fortunate chosen few. I’m here to tell you it is not. (Crossed out magician slide.)
Remembering two key things about public speaking will make it easier to start and not as scary to continue. One, it’s a good thing to start with a strong point, preferably several. (Explosions slide.) Two, if you think it’s all about you, you’re wrong. It’s only about you to the extent that of how you are able to make the point that is of most interest to investors. (Money slide.) And there you can only do that if you show them that your product saves them time, earns them money, offers them something wickedly fun to do, or indeed earns them money.
And there’s one thing that investors hate more than pretty much anything and that is bullshit. (“No bullshit” slide.) So I would not suggest that you talk about that “fifty billion dollar market of which you only need two percent to make a killing” because nobody will believe you. Concentrate instead on the thing most of interest to investors and that is demonstrating the existence of a Large Addressable Market (Big Crowd slide.) Because one of those, given enough brain power and effort on your part, will translate into nice big returns for all concerned.
So this is your opportunity to grab the bull by the horns. Here’s a dictionary definition of this term for those not familiar with it. Doesn’t it actually define the pirate spirit that needs to exist in a startup? I think it does. (Definition slide : taking advantage of an opportunity.)
So, you need to grab the bull by the horns and you don’t have a lot of time to do it. That’s OK because you’re actually participating in a very exciting activity, and that is the creation of new life. (Swimming sperm slide.) I had a far more interesting photo on this slide but I was told this was a family show so… Incidentally, if you think that the Biology of Business is purely a fanciful term, check out some things that have been written about it. And if you don’t know who Esther Dyson is, you should. (Biology of Business slide.)
So, you’re creating new life but of course you want to end up here. (Facebook network slide) As an aside, this is not exactly a new idea. The value of networks has been known for a very long time, as illustrated by this telephone cable company map from over a hundred years ago (map slide.) So, you’re busy creating new life, and are aiming at World Domination.
I would suggest you certainly mention the ultimate aim of the exercise, after all how will you know when you get there if you don’t know where you’re going, but for the purpose of this weekend, it would be a lot more useful to concentrate on the next couple of the many steps which you will need to take between now and then. (Steps between now and then slide.)
Given you’re standing there essentially naked in front of the jury (anybody remember the film Full Monty?) what can you do? Well, you do have two super weapons at your disposal: your charming personality (cute dog slide) and your awesome idea. (Light bulb slide.)
So here’s where the work on presentations really starts. It is worth mentioning that a presentation consists of two elements – the presenter, we’ll be working on that part tomorrow, and the presentation itself. Which, we have already established, should lead to some blindingly obvious conclusions about the money in the context of the Large Addressable Market. (Presenter and presentation slide.)
I’d like to suggest that creating the presentation is actually your opportunity to what? Focus! (Ford Focus slide.) You have three minutes, as we know. You may think this is a tiny amount of time but it is actually plenty. And what you need to think of as the spine of your presentation is the picture you paint in their minds, the story you tell them to illustrate what you’re all about.
Anybody remember the 80′s TV series The A Team? Now there’s a bunch of stories! I can’t use an original team shot here because of copyright reasons but you will recall there was Hannibal who liked cigars and loved it when the plan came together. (A Team mock up slide.) There was Face Man, the smooth talking suit-wearing sell-sand-to-the-Bedouins guy. There was Murdock, the geek. He built things. And then there was B.A who was very useful for a variety of jobs requiring effective focus, immediate attention and direct community engagement. Well, I’ve always thought that they constituted pretty much the ideal startup team. Hannibal was the strategy guy but he left the smooth talking to Face the marketing guy. Murdock built stuff that actually worked, against all odds, and Mr T, that is BA, there to move heavy things and generally scare off the competition. Every one of their missions was indeed a new startup.
You too have created teams and are now working on your projects and there might be a natural tendency to focus much of the presentation on the team and only some on the great idea. (Winning team and idea slide.) I would suggest that it should be the other way around. While the team is obviously important and you may have some really strong domain expertise which you should mention, it is the project itself that should be the centre of attention. Especially in the context of that Large Addressable Market.
This is how we normally work with ideas : idea – discuss – refine – use or discard (circular process slide.) I’d like to suggest that building in the discipline of thinking about how you might ultimately present those ideas really helps in evaluating of those ideas in the first place.
So, am I suggesting that you turn on PowerPoint and create a presentation about every idea, or that you start by going to the laptop and whacking out slides to present on Sunday night? Of course not. (Crossed out laptop slide.) This is your tool of choice. (Pencil slide.) I’d like to suggest you start with pencil and paper and create storyboards. If you’re even moderately familiar with the movie business you will have heard of storyboards. Film makers don’t begin making a movie by loading up and heading out on location, unless they’re Wim Wenders… (Storyboards slide.) The process begins a lot earlier, with discussion over storyboards. These are the details you would need if you drew one up. The information is remarkably similar to what you need when planning a presentation – what’s on the screen, how long for and what is said while the slide is up. Incidentally, it is really a useful idea to think of your presentation as a movie, with a beginning, a middle and a conclusion.
So, using pencil and paper, start putting down the main points of the project. Features, marketing ideas, business propositions and so on. As you go along you will add iterations of those and shift the points around. (Progressive rough storyboard slides.) Here are the tools you will need. (Scissors and tape slide.) In case you’re not familiar with those, they perform the commands Cmd-X and Cmd-V. They are your friends. Oh, and if you think this is some outmoded technology and it’s not worth considering, check out these useful features. You’ll be familiar with all of those:
asynchronous / concurrent
zero boot up time
At the end of this process you will end up with what looks like this (sheet of notes.) Perhaps like this (a lot of sheets of notes.) And if you follow the process to its logical conclusion, you will end up with the presentation basically planned out. (Sheet of notes with the final set of points highlighted slide.) And importantly this process will help you find the kernel of what the project is really about. (Peach slide.)
So, to the presentation itself. The first thing you must show is a demo. I can’t help you with this, of course, but it should address the problem you’re solving or desire you’re satisfying, and how, and have some kind of a prototype, click-through or a mockup of the working app.
The presentation should also present in simple terms the market, and convince the viewers that it is a large market. It is of course tempting to say that the market is “everybody” but that is of course neither very precise nor actually true, unless you’re selling air. Instead why not state that your market are, say, all male slobs over thirty in major urban conglomerations around the World. (Slob on deckchair against World map slide.)
Next point, market entry. How many people can you feasibly sell to at the beginning of the project. I would suggest you stay within what is possible and, say, target all the slobs in urban conglomerations closer to home. Here, by the way, is a really useful definition of what a ‘market’ actually is. (“A market is a group of people with common needs or wants who can reference each other when making their buying decisions.”) I think the quote comes from Steve Blank, or at least his book is where I think I’ve seen it.
Next talk about user scenarios. Who are the people who will use your product? When? How? (User scenarios slide.)
Remembering that you have three minutes, I would suggest you aim for two and a half and here are some ABCs of a good presentation:
Accuracy. Obviously you have to have your facts straight.
Brevity. If you can’t say it in three minutes, you will certainly not be able to say it in thirty.
Clarity. The purpose of the presentation is to communicate precisely what you are doing.
Design. I’m sure I don’t need to stress the importance of good design to his crowd, do I?
Excitement. If you’re not excited, neither will be your audience. And just in case that needs stressing, F’ken eh!
Gregariousness. There’s no need to be afraid of people.
Finally, honesty. Remember that no bullshit slide?
Here’s the secret sauce. Preparation. Mark Twain knew a thing or two about public speaking. He made most of his income from speaking not from books. Apparently. Preparation is crucial. You don’t have a lot of time for preparation here which is another reason I’m suggesting you start working on the presentation right now and not on Sunday afternoon. (Mark Twain quote: “It takes me about three weeks to come up with a good spontaneous speech.”)
The key points to remember when preparing for the presentation are who’s listening, what do they know already (i.e. what do you not need to tell them); what it is that you do want to tell them and what the purpose of it is; what the basic message of the presentation will be, how you are going to go about structuring this message, and what you want them to take away from it all. And remember, it’s not what you say, it’s… what they hear. So the three pillars of Clarity, Brevity and Enthusiasm need to be foremost in your mind.
A couple more points of detail. Have you discussed the question of who is the best person to present or just kind of gone along with a gut feel? The team leader may be the best person but not necessarily. Choose carefully. And branding, it’s never too early to start thinking about that, so choose typefaces and colours that make sense, and be wise in the selection of images you use.
OK. Here’s what NOT to do. Let me start with bullets. Bullets are for killing things. (Crossed out bullet slide.) This is what bullets look like when they’re boring. And this is what bullets look like when someone tries to make them “creative”. (Plain bullet points and coloured bullet points slides.) Now I really can’t read a thing. If the purpose of the presentation is not to communicate anything of use to anybody, then by all means, go ahead and use bullets.
Next, complex diagrams. (Complex diagram slide.) You may understand what that says but you’re the only one. And if you put it on this pretty green background it doesn’t actually make it any clearer or better looking. Technical renderings. (Joystick with complex legend of symbols slide.) Lovely but what do all those symbols mean? Remember, you have three minutes. Do you want to spend half of that explaining this? Or technical drawings. Even a professional would need a few seconds to understand this. (Electrical diagram slide.)
If you absolutely have to use a diagram, make it really, really simple. This is about communication, not showing off how clever you are. And rather than using that lovely rendering how about showing off what it can do? (Moving horizon sequence instead of a joystick slide.) Relate it to how people will use it. The Thing itself is not even remotely interesting to this audience. The Users are, and what they will do with the Thing.
One last practical thing. Create a new account on your laptop which you use only for your presentations so when you plug it in, the audience doesn’t have to be confronted with all your emails and sundry other work but instead go immediately tot he presentation itself.
Here are a few resources for you. Some months ago I did a semi-scientific survey of what people thought were the things presenters should avoid. The post is here and it contains a list of Presentation Sins which is not at all surprising. We all hate them. We would be well advised then not to commit them.
Last, don’t nick photos. Firstly because they’re not yours to use, secondly because it can come back to bite you on the arse and thirdly because Google Images is not the right way to find the right picture at the right time. Use illustrations which their owners have offered for people to use. Here are a few sites which offer copyright-free illustrations. This presentation was put together using illustrations from the MorgueFile and Wikimedia Commons.
So, start with your awesome idea, use paper and pencil to focus your thoughts and create storyboards of the presentation, then build the presentation itself. This is the right order of doing it. Now go do it, and keep the pirate spirit alive.
It was awesome to see the team at TicketAware take the idea and run with it. Here is a storyboard-in-progress:
And this is what the workshop looked like :)