Once in a while, we are presented with the opportunity where we must eat our own dog food. The Oak Ridge National Lab sponsored "Bridging the Gap" which was an opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors to come see a few of their most promising technologies that are well positioned for commercialization. Our job was to put "investor quality" pitches together and present them to an audience of about seventy people. Now over the last three years or so the CEG team has helped over a hundred companies prepare their funding pitches. We have gotten pretty good at telling other people how to present technology to business people. Now came the time for us to have to do it ourselves. Guess what....IT AIN'T EASY!!!!!!
One of my assigned technologies was "Nonoxide Fluorescent Nanoparticles" I still don't really know what that means. The researcher was very patient with me as he explained free electrons, chemical nanofermentation of metal sulfides and the implications for superparamagnetics and ferrofluids. Perhaps through pity, perhaps through exasperation, he finally explained that the process was just like making beer. That was my eureka moment. That was a story I could tell. A strange thing happened as I spent the next two weeks researching markets and understanding how products from rare earth metals are made. I began to be absorbed into the world of seven syllable words. The more familiar I became with the technology, the more I started using the language of the scientist and that found its way into my narrative and my slide deck. The team got together to review our progress and when it came to me, they stopped me on about the third slide and asked me what the heck I was talking about. "What do you mean?" I said and proceeded to convince them how cool it was to make heavy metals for quantum dots. John Morris reminded me of who my audience is and they would relate a lot better to making beer than how to precipitate indium and gallium. I guess I was proud of my new knowledge or perhaps it was just easier to use scientific language once I understood it. I went back and based the whole message on how it compared to making beer and rather than listing all the elements that could be made, I used pictures of the products that were made from these materials. It was a hit as were the other presentations made by the CEG team.
Here are some lessons the old dog had to learn...again:
- It's really easy to get sucked into the world of complex technology. The deeper you get, the more you begin to use the foreign language that is "techspeak". You don't have to have a PhD for this to happen.
- Practice for others - I recorded myself several times and although I got the "ahhh's" and "um's" out of the story, I completely missed the techspeak. I must have been impressing myself with how the big words rolled out of my mouth.
- Pictures ARE worth a thousand words. I replaced four slides filled with a couple hundred words and about 48 bullets...with one slide that had nothing but pictures of computer hard drives, solar panels and MRI machines. The people got it and the story was easier to tell.
- You can't throw it together. One 15 minute presentation took about two weeks to research, assemble and practice. I had two of them to do.
- It's not about you. Your job is to tell a good story to people who don't know who you are or what you are selling. You have to meet them on their terms, not yours. They won't be impressed with how casually you can say "superparamagneticism". If they are, then they are thinking about that and not what a great small business opportunity this is.
- It's not about the technology. There...I said it again but now I really believe it. Technology is cool. But no one will care unless they can see a pathway to make money with it. That's your job.
Telling a good story is about communicating an emotion. It's the listener who gets to judge, not the story teller.
I hope you enjoy my dog food! It actually tastes pretty good...