Context, Lies, and Audiotape............
November 16, 2008
Say what you mean and mean what you say. March Hare, Alice in Wonderland
What you say, how you start the conversation, how you introduce yourself--really matters. Most people have a bunch of auto-pilot, semi-Pavlovian responses and routines. They say things that may or may not be relevant to the situation or worse, may not be something they even believe!
What's Your BIT?
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." I pointed at Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)
Ups and Downs of Elevators
The LA Social Venture Partnership held a contest for the best "elevator pitch" from a non-profit. Non-profits were trained in the business art of delivering a compelling investment message about their work in 180 seconds. The winners received $20000 and all of the participating orgs received invaluable insight into how to articulate what they do and why it deserves support.
While non-profits are learning their pitches. We all have something to learn about making a concise and compelling pitch about our business idea or why someone should hire us. Intuitive as this is, it is no simple task.
David Rose, the serial entrepreneur, gives in 10 things to know before you pitch a VC for money He discusses how you convey Integrity, Passion, Experience/Knowledge/Skill, Leadership, Commitment and Vision. These are essential qualities for any investment including the hiring decision. What is your elevator pitch for yourself? How do you convey these qualities in the answers to the interview questions? In other words, how are you expressing your qualifications, differentiating yourself from others AND conveying a great sense of comfort that you will fit in. Like a VC pitch, this take work, practice, and feedback. Being brief and concise is much harder to do. It is far easier to babble, ramble and make it up on the fly. :) Mark Twain said, "Sorry I have written such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one."
The personal elevator pitch is used when you are asked the hardest and easiest question in the world, "Tell me about yourself." This is where you can shine. You can't rely on your ability to improvise or ad lib. You are ready for this question with your prepared story that is relevant to this context, this job, this pitch. You get to communicate what led you to this moment and opportunity. You are given the chance to highlight your progression and what you learned. A career without failings and therefore learnings is one that is surreal and pretentious. All brag and no fact. So be prepared to talk about your mistakes as well as your successes. One of my most memorable interviews was with the legendary Vinod Kholsa, he asked my to "review my greatest failures in reverse chron order and do not tell me the lesson learned." Never had that one before, he was trying to see if I could reflect on mistakes and whether my mistakes were big enough. In the end, your story gives some clues as to who you are and what makes you tick. Your story can be 2-3 minutes long and it will lead to follow-up questions and your interview will turn into a conversation. This wiki-how page has a good summary Personal Elevator Pitch As recommended, write it down, practice in front of a mirror, make an audio recording of your pitch, work on it to make it feel and sound natural. You can only do that with real preparation and practice. And get feedback from your mentors. They will tell you if your story is believable and engaging. You can only do that with real preparation and practice.
Everyone can use a little or a lot of work on their story and their pitch. The buildings where these elevators reside are much shorter today. So stop the audiotape answers, smile, be conscious of the context and tell your story!
Thanks for reading. John