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.