Go retail

A lot of public speaking coaching is directed at speaking to large groups. You know the images: A speaker, holding a microphone, standing in front of hundreds of people, usually on a stage or something like that.

But most big decisions are not made by hundreds of people. When you need to get budget approval for a big tech project, for example, that approval might be coming from the board, which is probably about 8-12 people sitting around a conference table.

This is where you “go retail” and “stalk the board.”

By “go retail,” I just mean convince a group by convincing one person, and then convincing another person, and then convincing another person. Don’t see them as one group of people, see them as a collection of individuals who just happen to be in the same room.

By “stalk the board,” I don’t mean get binoculars and crouch in the bushes outside their houses, that would just be weird. But make a list of each person on the board or budget committee, and what kind of argument convinces that person, and then make a Post-It note for each person, and put those Post-It notes on your bathroom mirror where you will see them every morning when you are brushing your teeth. This is an early, but necessary, step in preparing your pitch.

Your argument during the meeting will tend to have a little something for everyone. If you are using slides, for example, there will typically be 2 or 3 slides of graphs for the numbers-minded, a few slides with short catchphrases for the vision-inspired, and, maybe, an image of a customer simultaneously on the phone and laptop if it’s customer service software you are pitching, so the board can start to envision the software being used.

Because your board presentation will probably be short (10 minutes, for example), keep in mind that you will not have the time to completely answer the questions of any of these people. Your job during those 10 minutes is not to completely convince everyone of everything, it’s just to paint the big picture for everyone and to signal to all the different mindsets in the room that you can think and speak like them too, and when they need more information, you are the right person to come to.

By the way, you will often need to come to this meeting equipped with your printed-out collateral (often also referred to as “leave behinds” or “supplementary material”) so after the meeting, the board members can dive deeper into your project while they are riding in the taxi back to the airport, or while eating lunch at some restaurant next door.

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