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Mind The Message©

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What do a thirty second commercial, an introductory handshake, and a headline have in common? They are all opportunities to make a first impression, to grab attention, generate interest, and sell.

We have similar chances to stand out from the crowd and be memorable: entrepreneurs, emerging corporate executives, community leaders, individuals in a career transition, even students competing for a science prize, seeking an internship or on the threshold of going to college. But…

Just as you only board a train once you know where you are going, you should only give a presentation or participate in an interview once you KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY.

Just as a map guides you among landmarks to your desired destination, so should you know your KEY MESSAGES and how to make logical CONNECTIONS among them to make a lasting, positive impression.

I am frequently asked, “How do I start?”  This question is as often followed by “There’s so much to say…” as it is by “I don’t have anything to say.” I believe we all have stories to tell. Storytelling has been essential to preserving human history, building communities, and developing the field of journalism – from the earliest accounts of what people saw around them shared at a communal gathering place to the instantaneous reporting shared globally via social media today.

Successful public speaking depends on your ability to tell your story in your own way using compelling vocabulary that an audience can understand. In this series, I will report on Delawareans I have worked with who have set communications goals and are on the path to achieving them.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Entrepreneurs drive America’s economy, accounting for the majority of our nation’s new job creation and innovations….The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that America’s 25.8 million small businesses employ more than 50 percent of the private workforce, generate more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product, and are the principal source of new jobs in the U.S. economy.”

Entrepreneurs find a receptive home in Delaware. Both Governor Jack Markell and Secretary of the Delaware Economic Development Office Alan Levin are fervent supporters of entrepreneurs and small business development. Both bring business background credibility to their strategies and initiatives to encourage small businesses.* One such program is the Delaware Emerging Technology Center Boot Camp and Business Plan Competition. Ken Anderson, Director of Entrepreneurial and Small Business Development is dedicated to educating and promoting entrepreneurs. “I’m seeing entrepreneurial spirit today evolving in a more diverse group of people than ever before. Historically, the statistics indicated new businesses were created by people ages 25-44. Today, in part due to the state of the economy causing multiple job transitions, that age is increasing to 55.”

Ken observes that the greatest communication challenge faced by entrepreneurs is “to connect the dots quickly for the listener. Don’t beat around the mulberry bush – get directly to the point specifically with what you need from them.”

I have addressed the Business Plan Competition entrepreneurs multiple times. From my perspective as an expert communications producer and coach, they generally spend more time on the written business plan than on practicing effective verbal communication skills vital for successful extemporaneous speaking. This takes us back to storytelling. I encourage entrepreneurs to identify and articulate key messages of their story and to practice recognizing how to make smooth connections among them.  I pose a variety of questions and critique how effectively they craft answers that express key messages to achieve their communication goal:  What is the business? How does it work? How is it special? Where did your idea come from?  What research have you made into your target market? Why are you qualified to lead? What do you want from me? That’s how I met Brian Sowards.

Brian is a social entrepreneur working on the June launch of his Internet marketing company called WebHappy.  “I founded WebHappy as a for profit company with a not-for-profit mission.” Brian is committed to helping nonprofit organizations grow by reducing their costs related to online communications and adapts how he explains the technology-based product so that prospective clients (the public, the press) will understand.  “WebHappy creates digital solutions to different business situations using the same library of computer programming code. This unique approach allows us to help clients understand technology and use it effectively to continually refine their brand online. At its best, WebHappy will demonstrate the transformative potential for partnerships between for profit companies and not-for-profit organizations through the web.”

An important part of successful public speaking is listening to others because the ultimate goal is mutual understanding.

* The Governor’s Entrepreneurial Business Conference on June 10, 2011(http://www.dedo.delaware.gov/gebc)
features speakers on a wide range of useful topics as well as partner exhibits relevant to growing new businesses.

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