Pitching & public speaking

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A few months ago, I was at a San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange event about pitching to potential investors. The event revolved around a panel discussion. One of the panelists, Diane West, really commanded my attention. She’s the President of 2Connect, a company that helps people improve their presentation skills. Diane talked about the importance of speaking for entrepreneurs, specifically when delivering pitch presentations.  She’s so right!

You can have the best company or the best idea ever, but if you’re not able to convince others of its greatness, you’re not going to get their attention or their money. A large part of Diane’s business is helping startup companies looking for investors with their slide decks. The words on the PowerPoint slides need to be compelling, but so does the person presenting the slides. Investors have limited time and resources – YOU as the presenter have to keep their attention. But how?

In addition to hitting all the necessary points in the PowerPoint presentation (problem to be solved, projected financials, estimated timeline, etc.), you have to make investors believe in you and your company. You do that by being confident and realistic in your message. People are attracted to confident people because confident people seem like they know what they’re talking about. And if you had millions of dollars, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable giving it to someone who seems knowledgeable? The confidence can’t border on arrogance, though. An audience can smell arrogance a mile away. One way to project arrogance is to disparage competitors during the pitch. Don’t do it! Let your idea or company stand on its own merits. Also make sure that your message is realistic. Are you asking for way more than is necessary? You’ll tune out the audience, taking you out of the running in a hurry.

You must also tell the right story to the right audience. Investors who typically invest in tech companies won’t likely be interested in a new toy idea. Research the investors’ current portfolio to find out if your idea would be a good fit. I worked in the medical device space. Organizations such as SDEE, DeviceAlliance and CONNECT are potential sources of investor information – at least in the San Diego area. I’m sure there are similar resources around the country.

When it comes to pitching, even if the last pitch didn’t go well, there’s always hope for the next one. Don’t stop trying. As long as you’re confident and realistic, and present to an appropriate audience, you have a great shot at succeeding.

I Have Responsibilities…

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

It took me a long time to build up the courage to reject corporate life and go out on my own.  I’m sure a lot of you who have ever thought about quitting your corporate jobs have one reason for another as to why you don’t go through with it. I sat down one day and wrote out every excuse I could think of. Some of them applied to me, others did not. My next few posts will address these excuses and reasons to overcome them.

Why I won’t leave a corporate job I don’t like

I have a mortgage. I have a significant other. I have kids. I have responsibilities. Wouldn’t it be irresponsible for me to quit the job that pays me every other week? My answer to that is: it’s irresponsible of you to stay if you’re not happy at your job.

If you’re happy in one aspect of your life and totally miserable in another, the miserable will inevitably bleed into the happy. I had a coworker who would come to work miserable every day. Do you think he was a pleasure to work with? Hardly. And when he left the office to go home as unhappy as when he came, was he a joy for his family to be around? I doubt it. His work life affected his home life, and vice versa. His life devolved into a continuous cycle of…meh! Your family deserves your best self. And you should want to give it to them. Why stay at a job that you don’t like just for a paycheck? Aren’t there other ways to earn money?

But, Neil, what about my responsibilities to my family? The mortgage won’t pay itself! Your responsibility is to be someone your family members want to be around. Which do you think your family prefers: your money or your happiness? If your family actually likes you, I hope the latter is the answer!

I’m not suggesting you leave your job tomorrow. Definitely develop an exit strategy. But you shouldn’t stay on at a job just because of the money. You can make money at other jobs. Even if you decide against working for yourself, you can always get another job elsewhere. You just have to believe that you deserve to be happy. I didn’t even have a family relying on me, and I was still wary of giving up direct deposit! But I eventually got over the fear of giving up the supposed job security at a company. In this day and age, there is no such thing as job security. A couple bad quarters and you can find yourself packing up your desk.

So don’t let your responsibility to bring in a paycheck stop you from leaving a toxic job. Your happiness at work matters, and it translates into all aspects of your life. And you can always find another job. Your responsibility is to be a happy and fully engaged family member and friend.

Next time, I’ll offer another excuse to overcome. Stay tuned!

Keep it simple!

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Have you ever read something that speaks directly to you? I read such a thing a few days ago. The title of the blog post was, “The Simple Secret to Getting more Word-of-Mouth Referrals,” written by Michael Katz. The secret? Say what you do…plainly! It seems so obvious, but I know from personal experience it’s not.

I was at a networking event, sitting at a table. A couple asked to join me. I said yes. A gentleman asked to join the table shortly afterwards. We said yes. When the woman in the couple asked the gentleman what he did for a living, the gentleman replied, “I work with athletes, specializing in <insert technical mumbo-jumbo none of us at the table understood>.” He prattled on for at least five minutes (it seemed that long, at least). The couple and I were just smiling and nodding as he spoke. The whole time, I’m thinking to myself, “Why couldn’t he just have said that he’s a personal trainer and leave it at that?

In his blog post, Michael Katz explains that people typically only care about finding a match. If you need a mason, you’re going to ask your friends and family if they know a mason. They’re going to wrack their brains to come up with someone. Perhaps your brother plays on a recreational basketball team with a mason. Does your brother know if the mason is good? Probably not. Your brother just knows that he’s a mason, and he’s going to give you the mason’s name. After that, it’s up to you to vet the mason. But the match is all your brother cares about.

This line in Katz’s article really stood out to me: “Here’s the bottom line. Being seen as an experienced, capable, impressive professional who can get the job done is important, no doubt about it. But none of that matters until someone throws your name into the ring as a possible contender. And that won’t happen (much) until what people think you do matches what people think they need. Keep it simple.”

It’s so true! If the gentleman at the table had just said he’s a personal trainer, it would’ve made a stronger impression in my mind. If I came across someone else at the networking event looking for a personal trainer, I could say I was sitting with one at my table. I would have recognized the match.

Explain what you do in a way that anyone can understand. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a speaker. They may then ask what I speak about, then I can go into more detail. If they meet someone who’s interested in hiring a speaker, they’ll have a much easier time remembering me because my explanation of what I did was simple enough to understand.

Michael Katz says, “Keep it simple.” I agree. Do you?

One visit. That’s it!

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I often read job search articles online. Not because I’m looking for a job, but because I’m fascinated with what people are willing to put up with during a job search. I’ve read about people returning to companies for third, fourth, even fifth round interviews. Why?

Interviewers typically want to meet during regular business hours.  For people who have jobs, it is difficult to get out of work to go interview. How are you supposed to explain to your boss that you need to leave work at 2 pm? If you need to go to multiple interviews, you have to come up with different excuses. Or just call in sick or go home sick multiple times. How sick can one person be? Plus, when you call in sick, you won’t get that sick day pay when you eventually quit.

When I was looking for a job while employed, I’d insist on meeting all the pertinent interviewers in one visit. I’d rather take one day off than call in sick or make excuses to leave work multiple times. I’d always schedule interviews for either Monday or Friday, so that my current employer would simply think that I wanted a long weekend. A company should be able to get a feel for your candidacy for a position in one visit. If it can’t, it may want to review its interviewing process!

Another thing – make sure to get an itinerary beforehand of the people who’ll interview you. Read their LinkedIn profiles. Learn something about them. People like to talk about themselves.

For those of you who are job searching, follow my example. It’ll save you time and headaches. If the interviewing company will not accommodate you, don’t interview there. That company obviously does not care about its employees (or prospective employees).

A sales job done poorly

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

Since I started working for myself, I’ve attended seminars and workshops on…just about everything! Email marketing, cold calling, negotiation – you name it. One of the most impactful seminars I attended was one on sales. Sales is truly a science, and I saw the science in action a few weeks ago.

I attended a workshop on building a six figure professional speaking business. The presenter was a guy who came recommended by a member of my professional speaking group. The presentation started off with a video of testimonials about the presenter. My spidey sense kicked in immediately. Why was this guy trying to sell me already? I didn’t know these people on the screen. I’ve never spoken to them. Why should I believe them? Throughout the workshop, the presenter kept telling us attendees how others commented on how authentic he was. Why couldn’t he just let his authenticity shine through?

One of our biggest motivators to buy is fear of missing out. How can a seller ramp this fear up? By placing a time limit on an offer and highlighting the scarcity of the product or service. “I only have 10 seats available.” “This seminar will surely sell out.” I never really thought about this selling tactic until the end of the professional speaking business workshop.

Almost on cue, after speaking for a couple of hours, the presenter offered the audience a “deal.” A 2-day intensive workshop guaranteeing us a six million dollar professional speaking business for the low price of $10,000. After announcing the price, the speaker asked the audience who’d be interested in attending the 2-day workshop. Crickets. Maybe a handful of people put their hand up. I guess when he saw that most of us weren’t biting, he offered us “sponsorships.” He’d cut the price in half to $5000, but only for six people. He had registration forms ready for the six people. Seven people raised their hand. What about the people who were willing to pay $10,000? Did they feel deceived? The presenter handed registration forms to six of the seven people who raised their hand. One of these people wanted more time to think about registering. The presenter said that there was no time, since there was someone who raised her hand and didn’t get a form. The hard sell in action!

I saw selling at work – and I didn’t like it. Not the way the presenter did it, anyway. I suspect that he always wanted $5000 for the 2 day course, but he wanted to see if people were willing to pay double. Surely there must be a better way to sell to people.

Why not try honesty? Don’t promise that your 2 day seminar will give someone a million dollar business. You can’t possibly know that. And don’t put fake time limits on offers. It’s disingenuous. I buy when I trust the seller. I didn’t trust this presenter one bit.

As a seller, it’s important to build trust with buyers. It may take weeks. It may take months. But isn’t that a better sale? Buyers won’t feel like they’re just getting used for their money; they’ll feel your authenticity. They’re more likely to refer you to others, since they feel like you care about their success. The presenter didn’t know me long enough to possibly care about my success.

It was a pure sales job – one I saw coming a mile away.

Are quarterly emails for you?

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I recently had consultant Amy Rasdal of Rasdal Associates and Billable at the Beach on my podcast, Neil Thompson Speaks! A big issue for entrepreneurs is generating business. During the podcast, Amy shared a tip that works for her.

Once a quarter, she sends a mass email to her list to remind the list recipients of her services. I recently received her quarterly email. In the email, she lists out the services she provides and examples of how her services have saved companies time and/or money. She sent the email using Constant Contact (, but there are many similar email marketing products out there (MailChimp, Vertical Response, GetResponse, etc.). Amy says that she always gets a few job offers from these emails.

Setting up a list in an email marketing software product is quite easy. In MailChimp, it’s especially straightforward. I have an email list in MailChimp and I’m not computer savvy in the least! If I can do it, anyone can. Once you have the list, you can customize your email to give it a certain look. You can unsubscribe from these emails at any time. There’s really no risk.

Amy swears by her quarterly emails. Using email marketing software, she can reach out to more people in less time than if she emailed individually. Since the people on her list know her already, they’re less likely to view the email as spam, too. Seems like a win-win to me.

Have I convinced you to give quarterly emails a shot? Perhaps if you listen to the podcast with Amy, the success she’s had with them will do so. Listen in at–amy-rasdal.

Want to be an entrepreneur? Ask these 3 questions

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

I recently had Gregg Ward of the Gregg Ward Group on my podcast. I asked him about his motivation to become self-employed after years or corporate life. He then revealed to me three questions reluctant entrepreneurs should ask themselves before jumping into entrepreneurship. These questions helped him make his decision to start his business.

  1. Can you do anything else besides entrepreneurship to be happy?

If you’re disgruntled at your job and don’t want to interview anywhere, perhaps entrepreneurship isn’t the best option for you. If you’d be happy working at another corporate job, brave the interviewing process to find that job.

  1. Do you have a passion to do something and put your life on hold to do it?

Entrepreneurship can be hard, especially at the beginning. You may not have many (or any clients) and cash will be tight. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing to weather the storm.

  1. Are you willing to lose sleep not knowing where the money is coming from?

Unlike at a corporate job, entrepreneurs typically don’t get paid consistently every other week. There’ll bust and boom times. If you’re anxious about this, the entrepreneur life is not for you.

Essentially, if your answer is yes to all three questions, entrepreneurship is to be avoided.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t present some thoughts to turn your “no” into a “yes”, though!

To the first question, how do you know that entrepreneurship wouldn’t make you happier than corporate life unless you take entrepreneurship for a test drive? Many people start their businesses part time while working a full time job. Why not try it to out to see where it goes? It may make you happier than your job, may make you a decent income so you can do it full time.

With the second question, people often put passion projects on the back burner because they don’t think they can make money doing them. If you’re able to see a progress, perhaps you’re more willing to put your life on hold to see it through.

The third question – this a tough one.  Money concerns keep a lot of people up at right – entrepreneurs and employees alike. Employees feel comfort in knowing when they get paid. But they can lose their jobs at any time – without notice. What am I getting at? You never know where the money is coming from. Don’t let that be a reason to forego entrepreneurship.

Have I convinced you? Perhaps if you listen to the podcast with Gregg Ward, the success he’s had with his business will do so. Listen in at–gregg-ward.

When the time is right…

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

“The company offers great health insurance benefits and a 401(k) match.”

“I was planning on taking a vacation soon.”

“I need to pay off some bills first.”

Do any of you want to leave your job? Do any of the preceding statements apply to you, though? If so, sounds like you’re waiting for a better time to quit. But is there ever a good time?

I was working at a job for a few years and increasingly became disgruntled with it. I had so many ideas, but they’d be swiftly shot down after I proposed them. I even ended up doing some training on my own dime to benefit my exit strategy. But when it came time to quit, over and over again, I hesitated. I’d think to myself, “Yeah, I want to quit, but my dental insurance is top notch. My dentist even said so.” I have cavities on top of cavities, so dental is a big deal!

I’d say to myself, “Yeah, I want to leave this job right now, but there’s a kickass 401(k) match. That’s free money!” I was getting a dollar for dollar match. Hard to pass up.

I very rarely went on vacations. But even then, I’d say to myself, “If I change jobs now, I won’t get to take vacation until the probationary period is up.”

I was debt free, but I’d say to myself, “My car could break down at any moment. I need this job to pay the bill.”

I made all kinds of excuses. But here’s something I didn’t make…any sense.

The job I had wasn’t the only one that offered dental insurance. The job I had wasn’t the only one that offered a 401(k) match. I could negotiate with a new employer on my eligibility to take vacation days. And last time I checked, jobs offered money in exchange for doing work. I’d have money to pay for car repairs sooner or later. So now what am I left with?

Is there ever a good time to quit? I’d say yes. The best time to quit is when you’re unhappy with your job and you don’t see the situation changing. After you’ve exhausted every avenue to make things better for yourself, why stay? All the perks in the world aren’t going to mask over the fact that you want to leave. I had a former coworker who stayed at a job she eventually couldn’t stand. I recently heard from her, and she mentioned one of the reasons she stayed was because of the health insurance – as if her employer was the only one on the planet to offer it.

Believe in yourself. You will find another job – one that is worthy of your talents. Why waste away at a job you don’t like, denying yourself of happiness? Don’t delay your exit. Start looking for a job while you have one. Employers look favorably on employed job seekers. Don’t let vacation days or a car repair that hasn’t even happened yet keep you from quitting. You deserve what you want, after all.

Next week, another excuse to slash and burn. Stay tuned!

I love it!

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you may get the impression that I want everyone to quit their jobs. A friend actually emailed me after reading a couple of posts and said as much. I don’t want anyone to quit a fulfilling job. That’s something that everyone should aspire to. With that in mind, the next excuse for staying at a job is that you like it.

I’ve liked all my jobs…at first. Working at jobs I liked and eventually disliked made me learn what’s important in a job. I boiled it down to three things: the job must be stimulating, offer a fair wage, and have helpful colleagues. Without all three, you’ll be updating your resume and LinkedIn profile in no time!

When I finished school, it took me seven months to land my first job. I was so grateful to have a job, I didn’t care about anything else. Stimulating work? At least I have a job. At your first job, you can expect to perform some mundane tasks at first. You’re a new entity, after all. No one really knows what you’re capable of. But I think after a year, you should have proven yourself enough to take on more responsibility, or at least for others to listen to your ideas. If you’re years past your first job, that timeline should be even shorter. Maybe you noticed a process within the company could be more efficient. Your suggestion for improving it shouldn’t automatically be considered meritless because you’re a newbie at the job.

I just signed the employment letter for my first job. I didn’t care about pay. The pay was higher than the zero dollars and zero cents I was earning at the time. It turns out the pay was actually pretty good for a job coming out of school, but even if it was not, I would have accepted the job anyway. For subsequent jobs, though, I expected to be paid the going rate for my job title. However, if you’ve been unemployed for a few months, this requirement may go out the window. Don’t let it. If you take the job, it’ll always be a sore spot that you’re not being paid what you’re worth. You probably won’t make that money up if you stay in that job, either. Companies are going to pay you what you’re willing to accept. Why pay more?

During the interview process for my first job, I didn’t even sit down with my future coworkers. I only interviewed with my boss and some of his colleagues. Ever since, I have insisted on meeting with potential coworkers during an interview. At the very least, I contact them after the interview to ask about the company. The people you work with are so important in shaping your experience at a company. If you get along with them, your work life goes so much more smoothly. They’re willing to help you if you need it. You can bounce ideas off them without fear that they’ll claim them as their own. You can hang out with them after work, too.

If you have a job that has all three of these traits, keep it. If your job lacks any one of them, believe that you deserve better. It’s not too much to ask to require a job that stimulates you, pays you a fair salary, and has supportive coworkers.

Next week, another excuse. Stay tuned!

I can’t do any better…

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I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

“I can’t do any better.”

“I can’t do any better.”

“I can’t do any better.”

If you’re contemplating leaving your job, does this sentence run through your mind? If so, you’re not alone. I believed I couldn’t do any better for a long time. But why would I let such a destructive and unproductive dialogue hold me back?

At my first job out of school, I thought I was doing great. I did whatever my boss told me to do. I thought I was the ideal worker. Then the day of my first performance review came around. My boss had never voiced displeasure at my work – until that day. Judging from my review, I was the worst employee who ever existed in life. “I didn’t show initiative” was the biggest criticism that I remember. I was completely blindsided, as I had no clue that my boss had any issues with my performance. I was so angry after the review, I thought about looking for another job. But then I thought to myself that if my boss thought I sucked, another boss would think so, too. I was lucky to have a job, I told myself. In other words, “I can’t do any better.”

At my longest tenured job, I started off great. The company was brand new, and there was a lot of work to be done, some of which I had never done before. After a couple years, though, I got stuck doing the same work over and over again. It made work a drag. I remember thinking that I wanted to find another job. But when I looked at job listings that interested me, I didn’t have many of the required skills. I had been doing the same thing for so long, and companies didn’t want the skills I had. Frankly, I didn’t think another company would want me. “I can’t do any better.”

After I quit one of my jobs, it took me 8 months to land another one. When I first quit, I thought I’d be out of work for a month – two months tops. But one month turned into two, which turned into the entire summer, which turned into the holiday shopping season. I ended up taking the first job offer I received. It was a contract job at a small company. Even though the contract was supposed to last for a year, the company let me go after five months. It took me 8 months to find the contract job. What made me think that I’d get my next job any sooner? I was leery to look for my next job. After all, “I can’t do any better.”

“I can’t do any better” is an absolute growth killer. It keeps us in situations that don’t benefit us. Rid yourself of the “I can’t do any better” dialogue. Sure, my first boss thought I was a poor employee, but so what? My next boss liked my work so much that I ended up joining him at a company he founded. Once I got over the fact that I was doing the same work at one of my jobs, I took it upon myself to make myself more marketable by taking courses after work. In fact, it was one of my certifications that piqued the interest of the company that hired me for the contract job. After I finally got over the fact that I was without a job again after the contract job, I decided to work for myself so that I’d never be let go again. And believe me, working for myself has definitely been better!

The excuses keep on coming. Stay tuned!