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Our friend Howard Lindzon (StockTwits CEO, TechStars Mentor and Investor) did an interview series with a number of the contributors to our book Do More Faster. I’ll post one each day or so over the next week. They are all short (15 minutes or so). Howard starts the series with an interview with me and David Cohen (TechStars CEO and co-author with me of Do More Faster.)
This interview happens via Skype when David and I were at my house in Keystone (where we came up with the idea for the book) during the recent TechStars Managing Director retreat. In NY starting tomorrow is the annual TechStars Alumni Retreat (gang – sorry I’ll miss y’all) followed by TechStars for a Day for folks that have applied to the New York program.
If you are an entrepreneur I hope this stuff inspires and informs you. Or, in the worst case, occasionally amuses you (if you listen carefully around minute 9, you’ll learn about my “fuck me once” rule along with why I think work-life balance is important.) Enjoy.
If you are in Boulder, come to my community hours today between 1 and 5 at the Boulder Bookstore on Pearl Street. David Cohen (TechStars CEO and co-author of Do More Faster) and I will be hanging out all afternoon, talking to whoever shows up about anything that is on your mind, and signing copies of Do More Faster until the Boulder Bookstore runs out of them.
As readers of this blog likely know, I do monthly community hours (also known as random days) where I’ll meet with anyone for 15 minutes about anything they want to discuss. Usually they are scheduled – today’s is an open free-for-all.
Come hang out, buy a book, and talk about entrepreneurship with me and David.
As part of our Do More Faster book tour, we’ve been having a pitch session each day called “Pitch More Faster.” During the hour, we hear four pitches that are five minute each and give direct feedback / suggestions on the pitch itself (not the content or the business, but the pitch.)
In my experience, most people suck at the five minute pitch. It’s really hard to do well. There are lots of variants of suckage, including cramming a 30 minute pitch into 5 minutes, doing a 5 minute pitch for the first time (and having no comfort with the material), or talking at 732 word per minute and being impossible to follow.
We’ve done Pitch More Faster in about ten cities now and it’s been really interesting. I think we’ve been helpful and have found that when everyone is in the room (e.g. all four companies that are presenting) the conversation becomes even more impactful and robust as by the fourth presentation everyone is weighing in with feedback.
I’ve noticed one consistent thing in virtually every presentation. It’s what I call the “read vs. listen” problem. Most of the presentations have slides with lots of words on them. Since the presentation is only five minutes long, the stuff being said is important. Most presenters know not to simply read their slides, so they say things that are not necessarily on the slides. And that’s the essence of the problem.
I learned a long time ago (probably junior high school) that I learn by reading, not by listening. In college, I was a “go to the minimum number of lectures that I can get away with but read everything” guy. As an adult, I’d much rather read and write email that talk on the phone. When someone wants to explain something to me, I’d much rather they just email me. And when I want to really understand something, I need to sit quietly and read it (or about it).
Furthermore, when you talk to me, if you don’t keep my attention, or if I don’t purposely focus on you, I drift quickly. If you’ve ever interacted with me, you may have noticed the look in my eyes when I drift. It’s sort of the equivalent of my eyes rolling up into my head. It’s definitely a me problem, not a you problem – it’s just hard for me to process a lot of verbal information for a continuous time.
Now, map this to the five minute pitch context. I can concentrate on you for five minutes. But if there are words on the screen, I go straight to the words and start reading them. And then I can’t hear anything you are saying. If there are a lot of words, I spend all my time on it trying to read everything and absorb it. And I hear nothing.
It turns out there are a lot of people like me. Many of them don’t realize it. When you are presenting, you probably have a mix of “readers” and “listeners” in the audience. In a five minute pitch, you want me to listen the entire time since your goal is to get me to engage and want to spend more time with you. So the words on the slides are a distraction.
I’ve long been a fan of minimalist slides – a few words and/or a picture to use as a guide for whatever is going on. I never completely understood why – now I know. If I close my eyes the next time you are presenting to me, it’s because I’m trying to concentrate, not because I’m falling asleep.
David Cohen and I will be hanging out at the Boulder Book Store from 1pm to 5pm on Thursday 11/4/10. Come see us, buy a copy of Do More Faster (and we’ll sign it), and ask us any questions you want. It’ll be a chaotic version of my Community Hours – instead of having 15 minute slots I’ll just talk to whomever shows up.
If you are based in Boulder, come support your local community bookstore and have some fun with us.
As week two of the Do More Faster book tour winds down (with a full day at MSNerd doing the 2010 version of ADPrentice with Sameer Gandhi from Accel Partners and Mark Siegel from Menlo Ventures), I’m starting to feel like Caine from Kung Fu.
Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?
Week three begins in New York on Monday, home of the newest TechStars program. David Cohen and I have a series of events throughout the day, starting with Pitch More Faster, TechStars for an Hour, and Angels in the Architecture being hosted at Cooley’s office. In the evening, we are having a TechStars party at The Hill from 6pm – 8pm being hosted by David Tisch, the Managing Director of TechStars New York.
I then travel to Quebec to give one of the keynotes at The Quebec City Conference. Yes, I brought my passport.
On Wednesday I join up in the DC area with David Cohen to do the Pitch More Faster, TS4AH, and Angels in the Architecture Drill again at Cooley’s offices in Reston, followed by a party there.
I’ll be back in Boston for Friday for an NCWIT board meeting and a bunch of other stuff, followed by what I hope is a very chilled out weekend.