I sit through a lot of presentations. It’s usually people wanting to raise money and/or persuade me of something. Many of these are not as effective as they could be so I’d like to offer a view on how to improve this.
1. Understand Personality Types – One of the benefits of working for a big company (Accenture) was that we had lots of speakers come in and train us in topics like leadership, creativity, presentations, strategy, etc. Most of them sucked. But there were some that broke through and made an impact on me. One of them was about better understanding personality types. Not in a Myers Briggs way – we did that, too (I’m ENTP) – but it a more practical way: How they respond in meetings.
We had a training session from somebody who put up the four-quadrant graph you see above. I think the author was Peter Urs but I’m not 100% sure. For starters obviously everybody doesn’t fit into a neat little model – but models are useful as a way of short-handing situations and trying to draw some inference from the information you have at hand.
The idea is that in a meeting you need to quickly suss out what type of individual you are presenting to. This has proved one of the most valuable lessons about meetings I have ever learned.
The first slice of determining the personality type is whether the person is an extrovert or an introvert, which broadly cuts along the lines of whether they’re a talker or a listener.
This is really important as extroverts (both Drivers and Expressives) like to have the answers presented to them up front rather than all of the deduction of how you got there. Ever had a meeting with a CEO who was really short with you, demanded the answer quickly and was fidgety while you spoke? Combine a “driver” with somebody who is over-programmed and that’s what you get. Next time hopefully you’ll be better prepared.
For extroverted people I recommend that entrepreneurs have an “executive summary” slide up front that cuts to the chase. Don’t dwell on this slide for ever. Drain in quickly. I recommend saying something like, “I’d like to quickly offer you the executive summary version and then we’ll obviously walk you through the details so you can better understand where we’re coming from.”
In my experience extroverts get really annoyed when you have long lead up times to a conclusion. If you go the “bottom up” route of walking them through every detail before telling them the answer they’ll be frustrated. They care about the pace of the meeting – even if they don’t acknowledge this to themselves. They want to have a debate with you but they want to know the conclusions you’ve reached first.
The reason I point this out is that many VCs and senior executives (read: decision makers) in companies are extroverts and the sooner you understand how to present to them the more effective you’ll be.
Let me use me as an example so you can get inside the head of somebody in this sphere of the chart. If I have an hour with you I want to maximise the time we have a discussion so I want to get through the slides quickly. REALLY quickly. Like many men on this of the quadrant I also have mild ADHD. This isn’t a joke – it’s real. Many people have similar symptoms. People with ADHD get distracted easily if you don’t hold their attention. So if you dawdle my brain moves elsewhere. I wish it didn’t. It does.
I’m also reasonably intelligent as most VCs you present to will be. So we pick the facts from you pretty quickly. When I “get it” I’m ready to move on. That’s the way I’m wired. If you belabor points it drives me nuts. I wish it weren’t the case, but I’m impatient. I get it, move on. I’ll usually tolerate this for 2-3 slides or 5-7 minutes. Then I’m jumping in.
I try the polite version first. I usually say something like, “I know this market reasonably well so feel free to pick up the pace and drop from 50k feet to 5k feet. This is harder when you’re presenting to a room full of people because often times people like me are reluctant to speak up and ruin the flow for others.
So my brain goes crazy. I do inner brain speak, “You’re going to slow. You already told us that. You’ve got 20 slides and we’re only on page 3. I barely know what you do and we’re going into the weeds. OK, I understand your market is big. Dude, I get it. We’re not stupid – you’re talking to us like second graders. Man, I got so much work to get done, this is killing me. Aaargh. Save me!,”
Then I verbalize this out loud with a filter, “This is great stuff. Can I make a small suggestion? Can we do a really quick run through your deck so that we save tons of time for a product demo & questions at the end?”
This fails at least 50% of the time. The presenter is in his own head. He knows the script he practiced and he’s not capable of an audible.
I really hate to see this happen. I’m self aware to know that some readers will be reading this and shaking their heads thinking I’m a jerk for thinking this stuff in my head. But the truth is – I PROMISE YOU – that many people on the extrovert side of the spectrum are thinking a variation of what is running through my head when they sit through long, painful meetings.
And because as a VC or as a CEO or senior exec you get presented to all the time we’re extra sensitive to it.
25% of VCs are expressives, like you. Most entrepreneurs are. We’re enthusiastic, we want to talk and to be heard, we want to debate, we care about you and we also care what you think about us. That’s why we try our best to be patient & polite. But if we don’t get the answer quickly enough we can’t sit on our hands. We need to SPEAK! That’s what expressives do.
If they’re a “driver” they’re probably even less polite about it. Drivers are “task oriented,” domineering and and low on the empathy scale. They quite literally don’t feel your emotions – they just want the friggin answer and they’re not shy about telling you that. I’d bet 50% of VCs are drivers. Know that.
Drivers can be bullies. They’ll ask you tough questions and ask you in a not pleasant manner. Know that the one things that bullies respect is somebody who stands up to them rather than cowers. Often they’re testing you without even knowing it. If a driver starts to call bullshit on your product or market it’s OK – actually, it’s expected – that you stick up for yourself.
First make sure you understand the criticism. Then politely say, “you may be right about that, but here’s why I see it a slightly different way ….” but you need to stand your ground (unless you realize on the fly that they may actually be right).
And then there’s the introverts. They form the other 25% of VCS and senior executives. I’m going to focus on the “analytics” because if a VC or senior leader is an introvert it is highly likely they’re an analytic rather than amiable. In my experience amiable people tend to be more “rank-and-file” employees rather than senior leaders.
Analytics want the opposite of expressives or drivers. They want to understand the process by which you reached a decision. They want to bottom-up build. They give away little and show little emotion. You’re thinking, “crap, I can’t read this guy! Does he like me? Is he digging this? No, he hates me. He’s not engaged. He’s giving me nothing. No feedback. No emotions.”
That’s because he’s an analytic. He’s in his own head. He doesn’t involve emotions in his decisions and he doesn’t feel the need to “bond with you” to figure out whether he likes you. He’s willing to let you talk and talk and talk. He might be thinking “this is really smart” or he might be thinking, “this guy’s a total wanker” but you may never know until later.
He hates the answer up front. He wants process. He wants deduction. He may want you to move fast or slow (I suspect fast) but he wants numbers, facts, figures, analysis, proof, dispassionate conclusions. He hates being “sold to” and “schmoozy types.”
2. Know The Audience in Advance – OK, so I’ve described three buckets of people but how on Earth do you know which type you’re going to get for a meeting? Well, if the meeting is important to you then you need to find out in advance. If it’s a VC the obvious starting point is to find CEO’s of portfolio companies of the person you’ll be meeting. You can also just generally ask entrepreneurs who have presented to the VC but who didn’t get funded (the majority of companies that actually present).
People who want successful outcomes prepare. Others wing it.
If it’s preparing for a sales, biz dev or other type of meeting it’s so easy these days using LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter to find out who knows that individual. If you care about the meeting then put some elbow grease into the planning.
You will have to adjust on the fly many times. You might have a group of people to whom you’re presenting and therefore it’s hard to balance the extrovert / introvert quotient. In this case I recommend the “executive summary” version but not going into a “deep dive” on the answer until you hit the detailed slides.
3. Know Your Time Parameters - Know how much time you have in advance. It’s totally acceptable to ask the assistant who set up the meeting (if there was one) whether that group tends to start meetings on time and whether they tend to end meetings on time. Ask the other entrepreneurs who have presented to that same person or group how it went for them.
The golden rule for VC is to be prepared to give yourself 20 minutes to present. Literally – DO NOT go over 20 minutes in your practice. In my experience in presenting to VCs (when I was an entrepreneur) at least 2/3rds of them start the meetings late and many end early. So a one-hour slot is going to get squeezed many times to 30 minutes or less. Have a half hour meeting scheduled? Fuggetaboutit. Plan for 20 minutes max.
Ask your meeting host before you start how much time he/she has. If they know they need to leave early it’s better to know up front. If they say they have 20 minutes and they’re still there 40 minutes later you know you’re doing OK.
4. Pace Yourself - By now I’ve made it clear. Assume ADHD. Move quickly. If they want you to slow down they’ll almost always tell you so. If you’re presenting to a VC you can show market data but show it quickly and don’t dwell on it. I promise they’ve seen the slide before – no matter what market you’re in (unless they’re relatively new to VC).
A perfect meeting gets through the deck quickly, demos a product and still has tons of time for discussion. Whether that comes in between slides or afterward will depend on the individual you’re presenting to and/or the group dynamics.
5. Make it a Dialog – You can have an impact on whether the presentation becomes one-way or a discussion. A discussion is always the best kind of meeting to have. The best way to control this is to have places in your deck where you break out and ask the other party a question about the topic. Solicit their input. If you try a few times and they don’t jump at the chance you can assume that they’re likely an analytic and you might need to establish better rapport before they’ll be willing to talk.
Expressives will bight your hand off to get the chance to speak. With introverts that will come only when you’ve proven your self with relevant facts & conclusions.
Also remember that a dialog is a two-way discussion even with an “expressive.” Meaning: You can’t let them do ALL the talking – though they might try. Don’t cut off their flow but do find a good pause in their flow to interject a point. If they’re expressives you’ll have to make your points quickly because they’ll want to talk again. But if they leave the meeting having done all the talking they’ll probably like you but not necessarily be ready to invest in your company or buy your product.
6. Control the Audience – If you’re in a group all of the dynamics change and if there are 5+ people you’re very likely to have multiple personality types. The responsibility rests with you to control the group dynamics. You need to know all the personalities before the meeting and you need to have a coach at the VC or customer that helps you control the meeting tempo from the insider (and don’t be afraid to politely ask for help from them doing this before the meeting – but only if you have established a good relationship with them first).
You need to respectfully park questions from “detail merchants” and “naysayers” and promise to follow up with them at the end or after the meeting. You need to write down key questions & actions as you park them.
I cover all of this in a much longer post on the topic of how to avoid going down a rathole when you present at big meeting.