Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tools for Making Effective Presentations

Stage Fright is a common disease of our dynamic corporate world. Astonishingly, not many senior executives undergo a formal training in the art of public speaking or in making presentations. And only those senior executives who understand the importance of posture, pauses, blank spaces, facial expressions, flow and quality of words, variation of voice pitch and timings try to learn this art.

I take it as serious business.

After having attended a formal “Effective Speaking” training program in 1996 at the British Foreign Office training center in London, I was quite hopeful to develop my skills as an effective speaker and presenter.

This three day program covered the above techniques in addition to a session on effective writing. I remember our facilitators kept repeating;

“There is only one tool that helps deliver good speeches or presentations – Practice, practice and more practice”.

In the past 15 years, I have delivered uncountable presentations and spoke at numerous public forums, conferences and seminars. And equipped with what I learnt at British Foreign Office Training, I also tried to analyze various fellow presenters.

My observations confirm that particularly case of senior executive that did not go through a purpose-designed program, there always are three common key missing links:

- Control on body movements
- Voice variation
- Expressions

In my opinion, one cannot doubt the knowledge and quality of contents of an expert speaker. However if the above ingredients are missing, it is highly likely that your audience will lose interest. I have also seen that extensive and complicated presentations also cause severe damage to presenter’s ability to engage audience. I have also observed that some presenters keep going in the flow of their thoughts, and in trying to impress their audience forget that a normal human has a short attention time span. In my opinion, if your listeners can not retain 25% of what you have said – “you have failed to deliver your message”.

Let’s discuss the common what can be done to avoid “Presentation Disasters”:

Understand your audience:
Highly important. One must not prepare a presentation without knowing the audience. Try to gauge the level of education, expertise, areas of interest, issues faced, and then only develop your presentation. This is the only way to keep your audience engaged throughout.

Write from your heart:
Often I have seen people delivering presentations or speeches written by others. For trained and experienced presenters, this is okay, however if you have not contributed towards developing the presentation or speech, speaking from your heart will be too challenging, hence creating an impact too will not be possible.

Avoid reading from paper:
I am not a fan of reading from a written paper. Fine to do it only in case of a specific government level speech or expressing point of view, but for any other presentation, if you read from a paper, you are inviting a reputational disaster!

Okay, here is the key – as I mentioned above, for making highly effective presentations, extensive practice is unavoidable. And when I talk about practice, I am not only suggesting “speaking practice” but also reviewing the flow and carefully thinking about expected questions and how to respond to these questions. Surprisingly, very few presenters follow this strict rule.

I have also seen presenters struggling with technical glitches, ask yourself:

- How difficult to have an additional soft copy of your presentation and a printed version?
- How difficult it is to check the microphone volume?
- How difficult it is to control the lights at the stage to avoid blindness?

And the final words:

“Your audience do not know what you would tell them next, so if you have forgotten a point, keep moving on, they won’t notice it”.

If you follow these points, you will be repeatedly performing better.

Happy presenting!!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Inspiring Self-made Entrepreneur - Owner of Sadia’s Kitchen – Meet Abid Beli

Real life stories are the best coach. Inspired with this thought, I requested my friend Abid Beli, owner of Sadia’s Kitchen, a small business run by husband and wife to allow me sharing story about his entrepreneurial experience. I am grateful to him for providing me information that some might consider confidential.

Sadia’s Kitchen is a popular brand for home made food. Abid and his wife Sadia started this business in 2009 with 10 customers. The business has grown to over 550 clients in two years.

To me Abid is spiritually an entrepreneur. He says that “I have been taking risks, and this is my key to success”.

Throughout his entrepreneurial journey, Abid kept tackling stiff challenges. He was amongst the first few South Asians who started an online business in 2001 by launching an online website The website focused at information related to information technology. In 2003 orkut came into being where he made a group by the same name and initiated various business related activities. Business leaped in 2005 with the launch of Facebook. Belicity was now a renowned name. Abid is selling hot stuff at hot prices and making money. The business took a sharp turn when Abid lost every penny he earned over the last eight years in a business deal.

Again his faith on his entrepreneurial spiritually played its part and in 2009, he and Sadia came with this unique concept of providing home cooked lunches to offices and household customers. This is a 100% online business.

Menu is preset. One lunch contains two vegi and one meat item and his delivered in hotpots, and enough to feed two people. Sadia’s Kitchen Facebook page now has over 2,900 fans. Lunch can be ordered via email or by making a call. Cost only $2.56 (Pak-rupees 220/-). A business that was started with a total investment of $ 140 only!

Considering the size of the market in Karachi, you would think that the growth has been slow. But remember, there is stiff competition with low quality street restaurants that provide sub-standard unhealthy food at a much cheaper price.

Sadia’s Kitchen is an excellent model with hardly any promotional cost and minimal overheads.

Abid says “I take online business seriously. Facebook, twitter and my blog are my marketing tools. I never market or advertise myself or my business on any other form of media. And I never will, reason is simple this is digital age and my USP is my active online presence”.

I asked Abid, how do people find you? He said, “simple – google me, or search tweets #homemade #freshfood #dailyluch #spices and you will find me”

There are four key lessons from this successful small business:

1. Entrepreneurs have courage to take risks at a very difficult situations. Perhaps most people fail to start their entrepreneurial journey because of their fear “FAILURE”.

2. For an entrepreneur, there is no failure; they only know the word “Learning”.

3. Small businesses can compete only on quality of product or service and by keeping their overheads at the minimal level.

4. Online presence is an essential element for small businesses.

Isn’t that inspiring?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Effective Cold Calling Improves Sales Volume

We all receive cold calls. This is considered as one of the most effective technique for improving sales. With outbound call centers established at India, Pakistan, The Philippines, Cyprus etc – cost of sales have significantly gone down.

From insurance companies, to selling broadband connections and training programs to holidays, there is an ever growing number of segments that are being covered by those sales people who have limited knowledge about the prospective customer. Therefore companies using this technique are working on share volume – more calls made, more potential for closing deals.

I consider cold calling an “emotionless challenge”. Funny enough, two strangers talking, one is trying to sell something that the other stranger is not interested – and chances of experiencing some kind of a hostile reaction – caller defending etc.

Cold calling is not salesmanship, asks a highly successful sales person to start cold calling, and he will chicken out. I consider cold calling as a separate profession altogether. Successful cold callers are special people; they can turn cold calls into sales.

The key point to realize is that cold calling is not about making sales. It's definitely not. It's about getting the chance to make the sale. Specifically, the purpose of a cold call is to set an appointment to explain the product features.

Following are four recommendations for Cold Callers:

• First phase is always a gentle warm-up by humble introduction.

• Engagement in conversation is important, if your subject is talking to you, that means he has time – cash it, as not many people spend time talking to strangers.

• Now is the time for need analysis – this is a tricky part. Now the war really warms up. You want to push and the subject becomes defensive. Keep pushing, gently though.

• Now your subject is really listening to you - This is the time to turn around and offer SPECIAL deals just for this individual, failing, take a chance and get appointment for calling in a couple of days.

How did I learn to respect co-workers?

1986 – I was 22 years – Studying

I needed to work to earn some extra income for the family. My first job was at a catering local company as supervisor. Key features of this job were long hours and low pay. But at least I was bringing some extra income to support the needs of my family.

The owner of this company Khurshid Ahmed was a seasoned businessman. He lived in Germany for many years, hence had extensive international exposure. He was my first mentor (although at that time, I did not know the meaning and value this word Mentor carries!)

One evening when I was supervising a major wedding dinner of over 1,000 guests, and was in the middle of usual chaos, I saw a waiter in the pantry, having a chilled cola. My young blood started rushing toward my head – I pulled him aside and shouted “what the hell are you doing here, dinner is being served and you are enjoying your cola?” “go back to your position immediately” I said and snatched the pop from him. He slowly walked towards the dinner lounge.

It was a big reception, my mentor was also present and at the time when I was shouting at the waiter, he sneaked in and heard me.

The party went well, customers were happy and waiters got heavy tip. End of story!

Not exactly – next morning, my mentor called me in his office. He offered me chair and also a cup of hot tea. I thought, I must have done a great job and this is the reward of last evening. I was wrong!

I was told that I was awful and I had almost ruined the whole function – Why, what did I do, naturally, I was surprised! My mentor came close to me and said “the waiter you were shouting at was a nice man, otherwise you, me and my partners would have been serving the guests, because with one call from the aggrieved, whole team of waiters could go on strike immediately”!

I was sweating, “sorry”, I said. “I do not need your sorry, you need to say it to that waiter” I was told. Realizing the sensitivity, I went to the pantry, hugged that waiter and said sorry for misbehaving with him last evening.

Matter resolved – But two lessons for me:

1. Control your anger
2. Never misbehave

Your Team Sucks!

It is too difficult to develop and retain an effective team! True.

The iconic industrialist Henry Ford said:

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

One needs to take a deeper insight the above quote from Henry Ford and try to understand the concept based on an enlightening definition of team I came across was basically an acronym which said ;

T- Together
E- Everyone
A- Achieves
M- More

Perhaps the most important among them all was the importance of people working together in coherence and harmony. In all forms of organizational environment, it is the teamwork which spells the difference between the truly great organizations and those which struggle to survive and remain engaged in “Fire Fighting Process”.

During my 26 year career, I have seen numerous organizations that struggled to build effective teams. And the key reason to me was the “misconceptions in the process of hiring”.

Finding good people is a challenge. If you see most adverts are focused at attitude such but do not target behavior. What I learnt from my experience that behavior is something that can be seen and judged whereas, attitude is hidden and intangible. So if you hire for attitude, I am afraid, your team will suck!

Secondly, most job adverts mention “self-starters” – who can be a self-starter in a new place at a new environment and BOSS? Train and empower – let’s be honest, you are building a TEAM.

Do a bit of hard work while building a team. Move out of typical HR Style and Stay natural.

Talented people are fast learners and fast movers as well. To avoid losing team members, motivation and often a pat on their shoulders is needed. Delete the concept of ‘I’, and induce the concept of working together. This process of inculcating the concept of working together comprises of five simple steps:

• Hiring the right team
• Setting the direction
• Communicating the vision
• Listening and fixing issues
• Motivation and appreciation

Punch line: “Teams are effective only if they pursue the common objectives”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Customer is My King (‘If you do not take care of your customers, someone else will’ – Clark Harley)

How many times did you personally suffer with bad after sales service? If you have, will you go back to the same company, or even recommend your friends that specific product? I guess the answer will be a BIG NO!

I tell my entrepreneur friends and trainees, that your customer is your king! And in most cases your king is neglected once sales are made – After sales people often do not consider themselves as part of sales team and forget that only their services are bringing the customer back and fetching referrals too.

Customers are indeed a pain! They are hard, if not impossible, to please. They endlessly whine about the quality of the company’s service, the price of the product and the complementary features they think they are entitled too. And why should they not? They are burning their hard earned money (or credit card) in buying your product; and every piece sold brings in more revenue in the company.

Technology has done wonders, and one of its wonders is the speed that it can spread the word around with! Twitters, Facebook, Linkedin are making it really difficult for companies to prevent for reputational damages. Customer influence and expectations have never been greater than in today's around the clock web connected world. Comments and opinions, positive and negative spreads at across the Internet and its many channels, communities, blogs, discussion groups and trusted business and social networks with a speed we cannot imagine!

Undoubtedly, today your customers need more attention, quick response and more personalized service – Remember there is competition in the marketplace. And also that most customers do not complaint; they just do not come back! Since a repeat customer reduces the cost of doing business, he is important – companies’ today need to invent new ways to retain customer loyalty lets think how can you keep brining repeat customers? How can you add value to your current customer service?

At times it is as simple as listening to your customer – Yes so simple:

Many companies, brands and campaigns put their reputation at stake only by a lack of listening and prompt responsiveness. Remember, your customer is busy – He would call you only if there is an issues – and your careful listening and reacting can make a significant difference to your brand perception resulting in customer loyalty and retention. Also you can build your brand value by engaging your happy customers through social media network for a viral impact!

There are two quotes I like to share with you:

‘If you do not take care of your customers, someone else will’ – Clark Harley.

“Choose to deliver amazing service to your customers. You'll stand out because they don't get it anywhere else” -Kevin Stirtz

Monday, May 23, 2011

The world is filled with talented poor people - In Business – There is only one way to make money!

Business is good, business is bad – Economy is melting down etc, these are the statements we hear in business conversations, business dinners and in the media.

I have however noticed that vibrant entrepreneurs do not complaint; they follow the simple route of making money – “Increase sales at minimum cost”. Think about it, there are MBA’s who know business tools inside out, but how many work for themselves? Few may be!

People who have created business empires usually have simple education, but great idea – implemented successfully – created massive sales.

I often quote Richard Branson and Anita Roddick who have built businesses from nothing and not only established world class brands, but also proved that doing business is about passion to excel and passion to SELL.

I was reading a comment by Anita in which she explained a “successful entrepreneur”, she says;

“You have to be an outsider, a person who does not go with a mainstream. You have to have a vision, ideas, optimism and a certain degree of craziness”.

Look at Body Shop’s selling technique, “Change what women look like”! Simple isn’t it?

I particularly like Richard Branson’s style. He is informal and adds fun to his initiatives. He has given Virgin this informal style – but if you look closely at his model, its 100% CUSTOMER FOCUSED. He sells what his customer needs. Virgin’s ability to understand customers is remarkable. From selling music to business and first class seats to expensive cruise holidays, there is just one focus – CUSTOMER.

Hence to me as an entrepreneur, your selling skills are more important than creating an excellent product or service.

Think about it:

- How many good writers are not Best Sellers?
- How many scientists are not able to market their excellent innovations?
- Why excellent chefs are not in restaurant business?
- Why many expert beauticians are not running their own beauty salons?
- Why so many business graduates are not in entrepreneurial career?

Your ability to SELL is the only route to making money. But the question is “Are you ready to take a course in effective selling? Remember Selling is an art that needs to be learned – and while basics are usual, dynamics of selling are also changing rapidly.

Page 181 – Rich Dad Poor Dad “The world is filled with talented poor people – Perfecting their skills to build better hamburger rather than the skills of selling and delivering the hamburger”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blogging for Beginners - Why Blog?

Only last week I was asked to share my views on Blogging with a group of 20 students at a local university. It was such a wonderful experience, and at the end of the discussion, I offered them help as well. I said if anyone of you wishes to become a serious blogger, send me your draft posts and I will do tweaking for improvements.

I thought few posts on the subject would interest readers. So expect several small posts here on this subject. And these will be purely based on my experience of blogging.

Question is, why blog?

Key reasons for me were “Recognition” and “Expression”. In addition to these two, I think for a young blogger, there are three more convincing points; blogging

- Improves creativity
- Improves writing skills and styles
- Interaction with wide community around the globe.

I was reading a report by KPMG, UK that suggests;

• People are watching more television, reading more news, playing more video games, spending more time updating their social networking profiles and using more video on demand services than they were six months ago, according to a new survey published today, but their actual spending has plunged as increasingly consumers expect free access.

• Spending on 'traditional' media such as newspapers and magazines has dropped almost 20% in the last six months, while spending on digital media has almost halved.

• Online, social networking and blogging remains the most popular pastime with half of all respondents doing it compared with 47% six months ago. The big jump in usage most recently has been among 45 to 54 year olds, increasing from 37% to 45%.

When more and more people are searching for reading material online, with over 2.9 million searches every minute, opportunities are infinite!

My next post on this subject will cover:

1. Challenges Before you Start
2. Finding your Niche

So watch out -