The First in a Series…

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On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice Too Simple Not to Know

Story Time

Can I pick your brain?
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
Can you meet with my son/daughter/niece/nephew/cousin/spouse….about their career?
Will you be my mentor?
How do I get capital to start a company?

Here it is, the first of the pickings from my brain.

Since I have moved from the “boy wonder” corner of the room to that area reserved for those “more seasoned”, I am a slow moving target for those seeking advice. I am happy to give that advice although I am often not sure how it is received. My advice is never in the realm of get that MBA or make sure you get an “A” in quantum physics. Whenever I received that kind of advice I always felt guilty for not taking that extra calculus class, wished I was smarter or said to myself, “Oh well, too late.”

Much advice that is dispensed in person or on-line falls on deaf ears because it is just too hard to implement. No one wants to hear “Go to MIT”, if you are already somewhere else. If you hear, “Start your career at Accenture or IBM”, and you are already at Enterprise Rent a Car, the advice is not useful. I will not go into that part of the advice world. Rather, I will provide easy-to-use, practical advice that anyone can hear and use. Whether or not you will apply it is up to you. Each part in this series will be one bullet, only one. The bullet for this column is:

Tell a Story

This is not a hard concept and is one that we learn as babies but people seem to forget that much of life is about “the story”. Why do we follow celebrity gossip? There is almost always a story. Why do we like a particular wine? The label or the winemaker tells a good story. Why do people get ahead in their careers or get their companies funded? They can tell a good story.

Remember the stories that were read to you or that you are now reading to your own kids. Those children stories have three key parts:

The “Once Upon a Time…” the start, setting the stage
The “One Day…” intervening variable part, something changes
And the “The End.” The resolution part. Closure.
Making the case when you are looking for a job or trying to raise capital or trying to sell the project is not any different. You must tell a story. Your story has the same components as the children’s book.

Instead of talking about a princess or a witch with an apple or a handsome prince, you are talking about your background, your idea, what happened to bring you here and in the end, what you want.

In meeting people and listening to entrepreneur’s pitches all day, I see some common mistakes that can be easily corrected.

Too much time is spent in the “Once upon a time” section. Yes, we know the internet is changing the world and yes, it is a flat world, and yes we know that college usually takes four years. Don’t waste the first twenty pages or twenty minutes telling us what we already know. Many times the presentation or pitch should start on page twenty, not on page one. Too often, the presentation is over before it starts because the “once upon a time” section took too long. If the words “disruptive” or “paradigm” are used in the first twenty pages, see if you are really setting the stage like you may want to.
The story cannot be distilled to a few key messages. “We are building a world class technology company” is not a key message. “I like to work with people” is not a key message. Sometimes the more word-smithing that takes place, the more muddled the messages become. Three key messages should be developed and be crisp and tight.
Stories are about timing. If you know the interview or the presentation lasts for forty five minutes, which is usually the case, don’t mess around for the first thirty minutes and save the good stuff for the end. By then everyone will be on their blackberries. Pace the story so that by the time you are approaching the end, the audience is in a mild state of arousal waiting to hear how you will wrap it up.
Wrap it up and have a strong close before you say “The End” and close the book. Make sure the audience knows what you want. A job? Millions of dollars? Help? A second chance for a better interview or presentation? Too often, stories just end without any conclusion. Forrest Gump often said, “And that’s all I have to say about that.” Don’t say that.
Stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Constructing your own story shouldn’t be so hard, but it is. Without those three elements your story may not have a happy ending. If you get stuck, refer to The Little Engine that Could or A Bug, A Bear and a Boy Build a Garden.

Stay tuned for the second part of the series.

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