As the startup ecosystem grows so do opportunities to showcase new products and services. While attending networking, trade and pitch events, I pay close attention to how participants engage their audience. Not surprisingly, the enthusiasm that founders display is largely a result of their ability to communicate the value of their offering.
So, the difficulties many entrepreneurs have explaining why their products matter often comes as a surprise. After all, we know our companies inside and out and could speak about them with anyone at anytime, right? Unfortunately, it takes much more than knowing your product.
So, here are a few guidelines to help you prepare for your next tradeshow, exhibit, conference, or pitch meeting … inspired by some excellent (and not so excellent) presentations I’ve witnessed first-hand:
Get to the point.
Your listener tends to pay the most attention to you in the first few seconds of interaction, so use this time wisely. Before the event, come up with a single sentence that explains what your product is and why the recipient of your message should care. Practice a few ways of saying it, and lead with that information.
The “what” of the product should include concrete information that illustrates how someone would use the product or service. Pitches often identify a pain point and a theoretical solution, but fail to illustrate what using the product would actually involve. When this is the case, people have a harder time remembering the product and conveying its importance to others.
Keep it brief.
After stating the main point and perhaps a few other sentences you feel are essential, stop. Your introduction will allow those who are interested to initiate further conversation with you and for those who are not interested to move on. There will always be people who are simply not interested, no matter how earth shattering it is. Let these people go, and focus efforts on your most important prospects.
Listen and observe.
After your short, to the point introduction, be sure to listen to peoples’ responses. You may hear important perspectives that can benefit the company going forward. Perhaps more importantly, people who respond to your introduction are at least somewhat interested. Effectively engaging them and addressing their questions will increase the likelihood that they walk away with a good impression of you and your company.
Be enthusiastic and nice.
You’d think this goes without saying, but people aren’t particularly drawn to those who appear sleepy or rude. If you’re bored, I’m bored. If you’re yawning, visibly unhappy, or playing on your phone, I’m going to waltz right by your booth. If I’ve started to engage you, and you sigh during your explanation or provide a monotone, memorized explanation, I’ll zone out.
If you don’t love your company, why should I? Granted, no matter how much you love your company, days can be exhausting. So, you may want to find someone who can replace you when you need a break to ensure there is always an upbeat person representing your product or service.
State strengths and weaknesses when relevant.
It’s really impressive that you went to Harvard and have 7 advanced degrees, but unless your product relates to Ivy League education, sharing this information can distract from the point you’re trying to make in the precious moments of attention you’ll get. If you’re asked about your credentials, share the ones that are most relevant to your product or message. There is also no need to bring up challenges your company has faced or potential weaknesses of your product. Instead, know what they are, and be ready to respond to questions about them if they arise.
Prepare for awkward moments.
The nature of tradeshow or networking events, in particular, is conducive to some awkwardness. You’re not guaranteed attention the way you are in a pitch presentation and cannot foresee the pattern or extent of engagement you’ll experience. How are you going to attract people to your booth when there are dozens to choose from at an exhibit? How will you engage newcomers that join the conversation when you’re 10 minutes into your pitch with a potential investor at a networking event?
Know that awkward scenarios will present themselves and develop strategies to minimize the negative impact they can have on your engagement. Deciding ahead of time that when these moments arise, you will hand people brochures or shake their hands and tell them you’ll be right with them will prevent you from becoming distracted or agitated when faced with these challenging circumstances. Whichever strategy you choose, don’t ignore potentially interested parties.
Make your attention grabbing tactics relevant.
It’s great to have something at your trade show booth that draws attention. But if you have a dancing clown at your station, and your product has nothing to do with dancing or clowns, you’ve wasted your time (and the clown’s).
Remember that though the tutu-clad man who hijacked the diving competition at the 2004 Olympics in Athens was successful in gaining press attention, he did little to improve the business whose name appeared across his chest. Choose attention-grabbing tactics that are so relevant to your product that peoples’ memories of those aids will spark memories of your product (most people do not remember that Golden Casino was behind the prank in Greece because we don’t tend to associate tutus or divers with casinos.
Final Thought: Remember that it is your job to convey the value of your product to your audience. It is not the audience’s job to figure it out. Put in the effort before interacting with new people to determine how to make it as easy as possible for them to understand why your product will change the world.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Nisha Kaul Cooch is the founder of BioInnovation Consulting LLC, a life sciences communications firm based in Washington DC. Dr. Cooch holds a PhD in neuroscience and specializes in the nature of decision making. Connect with @BioInnovationCo on Twitter.
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