Crafting a Winning Elevator Pitch

By Martin Livingston of Breakthrough Communications

When I’m media training an executive, the first questions I ask are fairly straightforward: “What do you do for a living?” or “Tell me about your company and what it does?”

I’m always surprised when I get a long winded, convoluted answer when what I’m really looking for is a concise, focused elevator pitch.

A good elevator pitch shouldn’t be limited to media encounters. A networking situation can happen anytime, anywhere and with anyone. No matter what industry you’re working in or what position you hold in a company, you should be able to deliver a compelling, thought-provoking elevator pitch to promote yourself and your company.

An elevator pitch is a concise, easy-to-understand description of what you do and why someone should work with you. It’s so named because you should be able to make your pitch in the 30 to 60 seconds it would typically would take for an elevator ride.

Sounds simple, but most elevator pitches are too long, miss the mark or focus on products and services rather than business benefits.

An effective elevator pitch should immediately grab your listener’s attention and draw them in so they’re eager to hear more about you and your company. It’s not a blatant sales pitch. Rather, it’s a carefully crafted high-level introduction that can be used as a preface to a formal business presentation or for any spontaneous encounters to open doors.

Following are six tips for developing a winning elevator pitch:

Size up your audience. Tailor your pitch to your audience. Your approach when talking to a prospective client or business partner should be very different than when you’re talking to a prospective employee.

Keep it short. Be succinct. The average adult’s attention span is about 8 seconds. Grab your listeners’ attention at the outset so that after hearing a sentence or two, they’ll know what you do, how you can help them and want to hear more. Your overall pitch should take no longer than 30 to 60 seconds.

Have an appealing hook. Far too many elevator pitches in the high tech sector run along the lines of “We’re a solutions provider operating in the enterprise space,” which means absolutely nothing to the majority of the population. A good elevator pitch should be easy to understand, containing words or phrases that appeals to a listener’s interest. The objective of the first ten to 15 seconds is to have the listener want to listen to the next 45 to 50 seconds more intently. To achieve this, you have to stand in the listener’s shoes by answering the question: “What’s in it for me?” Nobody really cares about your products and services. What they care about is how you can help them save time, money, improve efficiencies or help build their business. Focus on the benefits you can provide rather than features that will appeal to your audience.

Identify your competitive advantage. To be memorable, you have to stand out by differentiating yourself from your competitors. You need to effectively communicate how your company is different, specifying what you do better than everyone else that is what gives you an advantage over the competition. Is it proprietary technology? A better distribution channel? Key partners? Ask yourself: What attracts customers to my company? What do we really excel at and how do we provide added value to our clients? Answers to these questions can serve as a magnet for audience interest.

Package your pitch. Write down your elevator pitch focusing on the key attributes of your business and/or how your products or services benefit customers. Read it out loud and then pare it down to the essential messages. Run it by your friends and colleagues to get their feedback and revise your pitch accordingly.

Practice. Rehearse your elevator pitch so when the opportunity arrives, you can deliver it smoothly.

An elevator pitch is all about making a good first impression, which is why it’s important to take the time to craft a concise and compelling story that’s relevant to your audience rather than winging it. You get one chance to make a good first impression, so make sure it’s memorable for all the right reasons.

Eight Questions to Ask a Reporter Before a Media Interview

Any spokesperson who has been blindsided in a media interview usually didn’t adequately prepare in advance for the encounter.

A media interview is not a spontaneous event. Journalists all prepare for an interview. They develop their questions in advance, have a good idea of what they’re going to write about and have the last word.

To make sure you get your message across, you should also prepare in advance for every media interview.

When contacted by a reporter, the first thing you should do is get as much information as possible on what the journalist is looking for before agreeing to the interview.

Following are eight questions to ask a reporter before a media interview:

  • What is your name and media outlet?

It may seem like common sense, but a lot of people actually go into interviews without really knowing who they’re talking to. Clarify who the reporter is and the media outlet he or she is representing. Get the correct spelling of the reporter’s name, phone number and email address.

A journalist from the Globe and Mail will take a very different approach to a story than a reporter from the Toronto Sun. The same holds true for reporters from CBC TV and CTV. Also, every journalist has his or her own particular style, approach and biases that you should be aware of before agreeing to an interview.

Look the reporter up on Google. Read past news stories, watch and listen to TV and radio broadcasts to get an idea of how a particular reporter approaches a story.

  • What is the subject of the interview or specific angles you are exploring?

If a reporter says he or she is going do a story on real estate development in your community, for example, respond with “That’s a pretty broad subject. What particular aspect are you interested in?”

This will give you a better idea of the specific angle the reporter is pursuing so you can better target your key messages.

  • Who else are you talking to for this story?

The answer to this question will let you know what role you’ll be playing in the story. If the reporter is also talking to a well known industry critic, you may have to defend your company’s position or recent activities. On the other hand, if the journalist is interviewing an industry analyst who just recommended your company, it’s a perfect opportunity to position and reinforce the attributes of your business.

  • What’s your deadline?

Reporters live and die by their deadlines. Find out when the reporter’s filing deadline is and return calls well before he or she has to file their story. If their final deadline is 4:00 p.m. and you call them back at 3:30 p.m., chances are you’ll be a footnote in the final paragraph of the story stating that you weren’t available for an interview.

  • What’s the format of the interview?

For print, a reporter working on a news story will focus on the most topical aspect of the subject and will be looking for a snappy quote. If it’s an in-depth feature, the journalist will be looking for more detailed background information.

For broadcast, if it’s a live interview, you’re going to have to be spot on with your messages, particularly if they’re going to allow call-ins from listeners or viewers. If it’s taped, the reporter will be looking for succinct sound bites to add some perspective to the story.

For television, ask if it’s going to be in-studio or remote. If it’s a remote interview, find out what kind of visuals they’re looking for and be prepared to be interviewed with those visuals as the backdrop.

  • Who will be conducting the interview?

For radio talk shows and some television news programs, you may be contacted by the producer rather than the on-air personality who will conduct the interview. Always ask who will conduct the interview and where it will take place.

Bear in mind that the producer will try to pre-interview you to gauge how you’ll perform on air. If you don’t have your key messages ready, respectfully tell the producer you will have to return the call. Then prepare your key messages and call back when you promised to.

  • How long will the interview last?

Make sure you set aside enough time for the interview and give the reporter your full attention. It’s always a good idea to specify in advance how much time you have available. Otherwise, the reporter may go on a fishing expedition. If you have a set timeframe, you can always gracefully end the interview if necessary at a specified time.

  • When will the story run?

Monitor the story when it comes out. If it’s positive, send it to clients and prospects and share it online. If there are grievous errors or it’s negative, you may want to consider contacting the reporter or editor and diplomatically point out what the errors were. If necessary, write a letter to the editor to get your message out to the public.

Once the reporter has answered all your questions, negotiate some time to prepare. If you’re the right person for the interview, tell the reporter you’d be happy to talk to him or her but will call back in half an hour or so, as long as it’s well in advance of the specified deadline.

Use the time before the actual interview to come up with a list of likely questions you may be asked and develop your key messages.

Every media interview is a golden opportunity to reach and influence your target audience. With a little bit of foresight and preparation, you can hit your target every time and leave a positive, lasting impression.

12 Reasons Why News Releases Miss the Mark

Even in today’s fast-paced era of media convergence, the press release stands out as one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools for generating awareness and building corporate credibility.  Why?  When a news story is reported by a respected journalist, blogger, or other independent authority, it has instant third-party credibility with the audience.

But in this crowded information age, getting the attention of time-pressed editors, journalists and bloggers is no small feat.  If your news releases aren’t getting picked up, you may be committing one the following cardinal sins:

  1. No News:  The most important thing for any press release is to be topical, newsworthy and of interest to your audience.  Before sending out a news release, take an objective look at it and ask yourself:  “What’s really new and different here?  Why would my audience care about this?”  If it’s a product launch, for example, are you first to market or is it just another “me too” clone product? Explain what’s truly innovative about the product, how it will benefit users by saving them save them time or money.  Back up your claims with relevant statistics, case studies or independent third-party testimonials.  Above all, tone down the promotional fluff and focus on the facts.
  2. Boring Headline:  Busy editors, reporters and bloggers rarely read past the headline unless it grabs them.  Ensure your headline accurately summarizes the focus and content of the news release.  Make your headline short and catchy and incorporate keywords that’ll be picked up by search engines.
  3. Buried Lead:  The lead sentence is the most important part of the news story.  It should clearly convey the main point of your announcement.  Don’t make the news in your press release a game of “Where’s Waldo” by burying the lead in the body of the announcement.  Get to the point from the start, then support the main point with additional information in the rest of the release.
  4. No Numbers:  A business story without powerful numbers is like a day without sunshine.  If you’re pitching a business story on your company’s success, back it up with sales figures or revenues.  Otherwise, it will just fall flat.
  5. Density:  Identify the key benefit of your announcement and drive that point home.  Don’t get bogged down in too much detail.  Editors don’t have time to wade through a morass of copy.  Keep your release simple and succinct. Back up key points with relevant facts and direct the reader to your website for additional information if appropriate.
  6. A Jungle of Jargon:  Most mainstream media outlets are targeted to a general audience.  Write your press release for a lay audience and stay away from industry jargon or acronyms.   You may understand the industry-specific lingo, but chances are the reporter or blogger won’t.
  7. Lifeless Quotes:  Quotes should say something meaningful and be able to stand on their own. Avoid quotes that are self-congratulatory or state the obvious, such as “we’re pleased that…”  Of course your CEO is pleased.  He just signed a multi-million contract.  Who wouldn’t be?  Reporters see that same old “we’re pleased” quote half a dozen times a day.  And to tell the truth, they don’t really care that you’re “pleased.
  8. Too Promotional:  Don’t make your news release an infomercial.  A press release should contain newsworthy information of interest to a media outlet’s readers, viewers or listeners.  A blatant sales pitch will quickly end up in the round file and undermine your credibility with the journalist.  Keep your press releases factual, include pertinent statistics and third-party testimonials to back up your points, and keep unnecessary hype to a minimum.
  9. Ignoring SEO:  The end game for any announcement is to increase a company’s visibility.  Make sure your news release ranks highly on search engines.  Use Google Insights and other SEO tools to identify words and phrases your audience is using to search for  your company and its competitors and incorporate these terms in your release.   Include relevant keywords and phrases in your headline and lead paragraph, but don’t overdo it.  Include links with your keywords in the release to drive viewers to your homepage as well as other applicable websites.
  10. Playing Favorites:  Maintain a level playing field with all media outlets.  That means giving everybody the same information at the same time.  If you’re going to give one journalist an exclusive, that’s fine.  Just don’t try to peddle to story to everyone else after the news has been broken.  The same holds true for press conferences.  Don’t tip off one reporter the day before the official announcement. No one likes to play second fiddle to their competitors.  Putting other journalists in that position doesn’t reflect well on you or your organization.
  11. Disappearing Act:  When you send out a news release, make sure your spokesperson is available days following the announcement.  Nothing frustrates a journalist more than following up on a press release only to find that the spokesperson is holed up in a meeting all day or on a plane.  If your spokesperson isn’t available, hold off on your announcement until he or she is available to take calls.
  12. Spelling and Grammatical Errors: There’s no excuse for sending out a press release with typos, spelling mistakes or grievous grammatical errors.  It reflects poorly on your quality control and status as a professional communicator.  Carefully proofread all your work before it goes out, and then hand it to a colleague for a second set of eyes and a fresh perspective.

Will Publishing Survive in a World of 100,000 iPad apps?

Subjective analysis can be dangerous.

Even a trained, skilled observer has to be aware of built-in demographic blind spots. Likes and dislikes intrude, preventing you from being entirely objective. But at some level, we’re all consumers. Often I ask clients to get in touch with their inner consumer by remembering those times they are all by themselves in front of a TV with the remote. No bosses to impress, no project to support, just you, the TV, and the hammer.

You’re the boss. And you’re brutal. If you’re even the slightest bit bored, you change channels and keep changing channels, until you find something that captures your attention, even if you have to surf through all 500 channels. It’s a fiercely competitive environment.

Then there’s the iPad, where 500 channels is nothing. As of July 1, 2011, the number of apps specifically developed for iPads cracked the 100,000 barrier. Not bad, considering the device was launch just over a year ago, on April 3, 2010, just 454 days if you’re keeping score at home. (For a comparison, the New York Times could recently find only 232 Android apps for tablet devices.)

Obviously, if you want the full tablet experience, you go to the iPad. And sales reflect that: Since its launch, Apple has sold 21 million iPads including the one I’m writing this piece on. After waiting and waiting, I could resist no longer and finally bought one.

And now it’s me, the iPad, and 100,000 apps. Go ahead, make my day.

Of course, this is the device that was so eagerly anticipated by the publishing industry mainly because no squinting is required. The smart phone is good for a lot of things, but as a reader, it’s barely adequate even for text messages. The iPad, on the other hand, could finally be the device that puts the final nail in the print coffin, yet – paradoxically – saves the publishing industry.

There are now numbers to support the coffin contention. According to the latest Forrester research, people with tablets don’t read as many print newspapers, books and magazines than they used to – 32 per cent of tablet owners read fewer newspapers and 23 per cent reading magazines less often. And an Online Publishers Association (OPA) survey released in June shows that tablet owners prefer their tablet to all other media, including newspapers and magazines, by 58 and 57 per cent respectively.

There are other equally disturbing numbers, especially if you cling to print. Tablet owners skew young – nearly 50 per cent are between 18-34; male – 60 per cent; and affluent – more than 40 per cent have incomes above $50,000 a year. And women are the next wave of tablet users: 45 per cent of those surveyed who expect to buy a tablet in the next 12 months are women.

Finally, the number one activity for tablet owners? 87 per cent responded that they access content and information.

Those are the numbers. But as a focus group of one, all I can say is that the iPad has changed my life. And I really didn’t expect it to. How different could it be from my lightweight, rugged Panasonic laptop? Or my big, fast Dell desktop? Throughout all those turns of the wheel, I kept buying newspapers, magazines and books. Now, I have to admit, I’m not so sure.

When I bought an iPod, making the change to iTunes for music was easy and exciting. If there were record stores in heaven, they’d look like iTunes. Every tune ever recorded is available wherever you are. I don’t mind paying 99 cents to get exactly what I want. Gone are the days when you had to buy the entire CD (cassette, 8-track, vinyl) album to get the one song worth listening to. Single-handedly, Apple saved the music industry.

Now, with the iPad, iBooks and various apps, I can duplicate that experience with books. I can even borrow books at the library. Also, the iPad has finally made the mobile viewing of movies and other long-form videos bearable, and for the first time in my life, I have downloaded a movie.

Because newspaper and magazine articles have been free on the Internet for such a long time, they constitute a special case. Why would I pay for Wired or the New York Times, for example, when I can almost always get the same content on the Internet for free, and even read it on the iPad?

It gets more complicated. With 100,000 apps to choose from – PLUS the Internet – it’s almost impossible to get through the buffet lineup. With that much on my plate, how will I choose? Will I even get to newspapers or magazines?

My electronic information-gathering is to some degree based on the time of day and state of mind. I’m in front of a desktop most of the day and get most information in the form of e-lerts. But if I want to kick back and read, I find that more and more, and without willing it to be so, I read using the iPad. Books pile up in the corners. Newspapers go into the recycling bin without being cracked. And iPad magazines are just as fun to read by the fire or in bed as they are in print.

There are challenges. I don’t recommend reading your iPad in the bathtub. Or at the beach, as Apple still hasn’t figured out how to handle glare, which is one reason why dedicated e-readers are popular, even though they deliver a limited experience.

When you remember, however, that the iPad is a pioneer device and it already does everything better, it’s just common sense to anticipate the day when iPad 4.0 or 5.0 renders all other reading media obsolete. How long will it be before you can roll up your tablet, drop it in the tub, or use it to make a perfect cup of coffee every time?

Don’t just take my word (or Forresters or the OPA). Get one and try it out yourself. After using it for a while, you will probably agree it’s a game changer. It will be trickier, however, to predict exactly how the game will change.

For the first time, publishers are able to deliver the complete experience to a mobile device. People who are used to print formats and like them will download and use apps or new versions of HTML that simulate a high-quality print experience. But it’s clear that the next generation of publishers isn’t satisfied with just duplicating the print experience.

Khoi Vinh could be the face of that next generation. He was art director of the New York Times for four and half years, and resigned to figure out what’s next for magazines. His answer to the question: “So is there a bigger solution for magazines, one that will bring in significant revenue along the lines of what they saw in the pre-digital world?” is “I don’t know” or “Probably not.”

Vinh worries that publishers will waste too many cycles on “this chimerical vision of resuscitating lost glories.” And while they’re doing that, iPad owners will turn to apps like Flipboard –“that are more of a window to the world at large than a cul-de sac of denial.” Add the ever-present issue/challenge/opportunity of social media, and, he says “I can’t see how the 20th Century concept of a magazine can survive, even if it does look great on a tablet.”

Flipboard, for want of a better word, is a mash-up of various magazines, newspapers, video and social media, but unlike a straight portal, there’s an editorial consciousness at work, compiling, sorting, organizing, presenting, and melding.  It’s fascinating, although like any surfing experience, it’s impossible ever to get to the end or wrap it up in a satisfying way. You just stop, in mid-experience, and go on to something else. One of the great things about print, that cul-de-sac of denial, is that, in whatever form, it has a beginning, middle and end. Flipboard starts well, but talk about a never-ending story.

After a month with my iPad, one thing is clear, to me at least. We have the device. We just have to figure out what to do with it. And I have faith in the innovative ingenuity of publishers. Now that they have a target device, even if it is the pioneer version, they’ll find the optimum format. And once they do, the money will follow.

iPad Apps for the Publishing World

by Paul Sullivan of Breakthrough Communications

As lines of fanboys and girls form outside Apple stores across the continent to catch a glimpse of the iPad 2, many magazine publishers are still waffling about whether or not they should build an app and get in on the action.

My bias is clear and obvious. If I were a magazine publisher I would have launched a free app the moment iPad 1 was out of the box, so that when 2 rolled out, I could charge for the premium edition.

Even now that I have to jostle with more than 60,000 other iPad apps, it’s worth it. Why? Well, I hardly know where to begin.

Let’s start with some big numbers. Apple’s Steve Jobs says there are 200 million Apple IDs out there. That’s a lot of potential customers.

Apple says it sold nearly 15 million units of version 1 last year, and while the vastly superior version 2 has only been on sale since March 11, (and the lines form tomorrow in Canada, which bought more than 4 million iPad 1s last year, punching above its weight), it sold 1 million units in 3 days.

Yep, three days.

These things are moving faster than hula hoops at the height of the craze.

Still, everyone’s concerned about the drop off in magazine app sales after the initial wave of enthusiasm. Wired magazine, for example sold 100,000 of its first iPad edition; by November it was down to 23,000. Condé Nast publications such as Vanity Fair experienced a similar drop-off. Maybe the iPad isn’t the savior of magazines after all.

Ok, but hold on. People is #34 among all iPad apps, and Martha Stewart Living, O, Wired and the New Yorker are all in the top 100 in the iTunes store. That’s all categories – movies, music, whatever.

And here’s an interesting piece of information: recent third party research indicates that ads are more effective on the iPad than in the corresponding print edition. According to Affinity’s Vista syndicated numbers, ads in the iPad edition of the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition generated a 21% higher recall than in the print edition, and reader action (visiting the advertiser’s web site, clicking on the iPad screen) were 34% higher than in print.

There were ads in the swimsuit edition? (Never mind.)

No one is sure why – is it because an interactive tablet naturally prompts more interaction, or is the novelty of the iPad that makes even the ads interesting?

But Condé Nast, for one, isn’t waiting around to find out. The UK division is investing in new iPad apps for Wired, GQ, and 21 iPhone apps across seven of its magazine brands in 2011.

We tend to forget about iPhone, but the rumored iPhone 5 is lurking down the pike, with the same enhanced A5 dual-core processor that makes the iPad more than twice as fast as its predecessor (and 9 times faster at processing graphics), and a 4-inch-screen. That’s a whole extra half inch!

Neither should we forget the raft of tablets about to give the iPad a run for its money – including the Blackberry Playbook and a variety of Android powered tablets.

Devices galore. But the iPad2 is the real game changer: 15 per cent lighter, down to 1.3 pounds, one-third thinner, faster, featuring two cameras—one in the front and one in the back—high resolution, HDMI compatible, etc. Even the cover is clever. It attaches magnetically and automatically puts the iPad to sleep when it’s applied and wakes it up when it’s removed. It even serves as a stand.

So back to my obvious bias. I’ve always been a believer in following eyeballs. Over the years, magazine publishers and distributors have been fiendishly clever about getting their products in front of eyeballs, on the newsstand, at the check-out, even at the doctor’s office.

But when online publishing came along, we became uncertain and afraid. Not without reason. Almost instantly, ads on web sites became commodities, and only search engine companies and Facebook were making any money on ads. And how: Facebook is worth $50 billion. That’s “billion”.

All that uncertainty has been resolved with the tablet, specifically the iPad and its 60,000-plus apps. It’s reasonable to assume there will be at least 30 million iPads in the hands of American consumers by the end of this year, and many of them will be your customers. Unlike desktops and even laptops, iPads are not computers – I’m not 100% sure what they are, but they are at least magazine readers and browsers and represent a golden opportunity for magazines.

The invention of the iPad may not be as game-changing as the invention of the TV, but it definitely trumps the FM radio. Wired has already hailed the app store as the Internet killer, which sounds extreme to me.

Whatever else it is, it’s a 9.7 inch newsstand times 30 million (and that’s just a start). People are lining up for it, and you have an opportunity to own your own pipeline direct to that eager (some would say over-eager) consumer. An iPad app for your magazine is a key piece in your total brand strategy. It could revitalize a flagging franchise or make 2011 a year for growing revenue.

Not only that, it’s easier to play Angry Birds on a 10-inch screen.

Get Interactive!

I would like to hear from any publishers who have an iPad app or are in the middle of creating one. I’d also like to know if you’ve decided not to go ahead and why. In the next post, I’m planning to compile a list of app-building tips and would like to feature as many of your apps as possible.

The Investor Presentation: Making the Perfect Pitch

by Martin Livingston of Breakthrough Communications

It’s 9:00 a.m. on Monday. An analyst and two investment bankers in crisp navy blue suits sit impatiently at your boardroom table. The PowerPoint projector bursts to life and your heart starts racing. It’s show time! You have 20 minutes to convince them that your company is worthy of their time and money.

Relentless competition for capital among private and public companies has made courting investors an integral part of building a successful company. Of all the communication channels available, the investor presentation stands out as one of the most direct and effective ways to get on a money manager’s radar screen.

A presentation is often an investor’s first introduction to a company. To make a favourable impression you must persuade investors in a very short time that your company has the technical expertise, business acumen and potential to develop innovative products for a ready market, or in the case of mining, to uncover and identify a promising deposit and take it to the feasibility stage. While a flawless presentation alone will not open the purse strings, a poor one will certainly limit your chances of securing a second meeting or a cash infusion.

The overall objective of the presentation is to make a sound business case for your company. Outline the value of investment proposition and demonstrate how investors are going to benefit from the company’s progress through a handful of well-placed key messages that resonate with your audience.

Venture capitalists, retail investors, analysts, portfolio managers and fund managers all have different information requirements and varying degrees of knowledge about your industry. A fund manager who specializes in your sector will naturally require a higher-level briefing than a money manager who includes companies in your space as just one component of a larger portfolio. Know what will interest your audience and tailor the pitch accordingly.

Research and qualify prospective investors well before your presentation. Identify their investment style and criteria, portfolio of companies, stage and focus of investment and other parameters.

Before you set up a meeting, draw up a list of “hardball” questions that could arise and develop some credible answers. Above all, rehearse the presentation beforehand, particularly if other members of the management team will be speaking.

The presentation should flow seamlessly, using clear and assertive words that tell a compelling story to capture and maintain investor interest. The key is to simplify the story, limiting each slide to one take-away point, paring down excessive verbiage on slides and adding visuals to illustrate important points. Be sure to maintain a consistent level of disclosure, and tone down any blatant promotion.

Arouse interest immediately by hooking the audience with your “elevator pitch” — a clear, 30-second description of the company and its investment attributes — along with a noteworthy accomplishment or milestone that establishes credibility at the outset. The entire presentation should be structured to support these key messages. Limit your presentation to less than 20 minutes — that’s 20 to 25 slides, maximum — and allow an additional 10 minutes for questions, but be prepared to go longer if required. Limit each slide to one take-away point, pare down the text to essentials, and add visuals to illustrate important points.

Design your presentation so it’s easy to follow. Succinctly explain your business, products and technology or, in the case of resource companies, your exploration and development strategy.  Choose key investment strengths and reinforce them throughout the presentation. Describe your target market, business strategy and management expertise concluding with financials and a strong, confident close.

Be sure to provide investors with a hard copy of the presentation so they can take notes. You may also want to hand out an investor package providing more details on the technology, development program or the market opportunity. Investors can refer to this if an applicable question comes up.

The Target Market

Define the market opportunity in realistic terms. Investors want to know that you understand your company’s or product’s true market potential. Describe the market’s size, characteristics, growth potential and trends.

One common mistake company executives make in an investor presentation is displaying the multi-billion-dollar international market they’re targeting without identifying what part of that market they can realistically capture. Be specific about your strategy for penetrating that market.

Innovation

Technology investors are looking for undiscovered companies with leading science and intellectual property that addresses an unmet need. Explain the technology in very simple terms. Where possible, use analogies to drive the point home. Focus on the novelty of the technology, how it works, proof of concept, how it compares to the gold-standard in the industry and the company’s product development and marketing plan.

Investors want to know that senior executives have a good understanding of the market and their competition. Anticipate the inevitable questions: Who else is pursuing this market? What, in particular, is unique about this technology? Always be prepared to explain diplomatically who your competitors are and your sustainable competitive advantage. Describe your ownership of any patents, proprietary process or technology, exclusive licences or agreements. Discuss core competencies that give you a clear advantage over the competition.

In the case of mineral exploration, investors like to acquire shares in companies during the early stages of discovery, betting that geologists with past successes will continue their winning streak. Early geophysical or geochemical evaluations indicating mineralization on a property may initially pique the interest of the market. But each progressive stage of exploration will also raise new questions that management should be prepared to address concerning the size, continuity and grade of the deposit, risk factors, potential native or environmental conflicts, infrastructure, the economic viability of extraction and the company’s strategy for moving forward.

Business Strategy

Whatever stage a company is at, you must be able to clearly articulate its goals and long-term business plan. If, for example, the company is working to expand its portfolio of products, how is management going to finance and manage the growth?

If management is looking to sell or license rights to a product, development rights to a property, or enter into a joint venture, they should be able to confidently convey their strategy for doing so. What is management’s track record of negotiating similar deals under favourable terms? Is the background and expertise of management suited to their stated business strategy?

Management Expertise

Investors like management teams that can get results, ideally made up of professionals with a track record of successful discovery, expertise in taking a product or project beyond the feasibility stage, as well as experience forming partnerships and raising capital.

Briefly highlight management’s track record and expertise by pointing out relevant past accomplishments. Don’t just rattle off credentials — be specific. How exactly did they help their former company achieve its goals?

Financials and Milestones

Given that few start-up companies are profitable, conventional valuation guidelines such as price/earnings ratios rarely apply. Instead, valuation may revolve around discovery, intellectual property, or management expertise. Investors pay close attention to the progress of product/project development, partnerships, associated news flow, and, in particular, the amount of cash a company has on hand compared with its quarterly expenditures.

Always end the presentation on a high note by either recapping the company’s investment highlights or showing a timeline detailing business milestones. If you’re looking for financing, specify how much you need in this round and how it will be used, with emphasis on the company’s investment merits.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to follow up with investors after a presentation. Feedback surveys or a follow-up call from an independent third party will likely elicit candid responses from investors on what they thought of the company, its management and the presentation.

At the very least, send the investor a letter or handwritten note, as opposed to an e-mail. The personal touch will leave a more lasting impression, which can help keep the lines of communication open whether the final decision is favourable or not.

A massive effort to create a giant nerd

Just Saying by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Canada

Watson is some machine.

Named after the founder of IBM, Watson is a supercomputer worthy of the title. Built from 10 racks of IBM servers, it has 15 terabytes of RAM and the processing power of 2,800 of the most powerful computers on the market.

Watson is a humdinger, all right. But even with all that firepower, so far it has only managed to tie a human contestant on Jeopardy!. As I write, there are two nights left to go, and Watson better get game or it’s going to lose to some guy named Brad.

Watson is a quantum leap ahead of the most famous IBM computer to date, Deep Blue, which humbled world chess champ Garry Kasparov in 1997.

But as impressive as Watson is, it still has trouble with trivia. During a dry run before its appearance on Jeopardy!, it answered the question: “What do grasshoppers eat?” with “Kosher!” causing its programmers to choke on their pastrami sandwich and write another million lines of codes to correct the problem.

Is it just me, or is this a massive amount of effort to create nothing more than a giant nerd? A nerd that can answer most trivia questions in three to five seconds, but a nerd nonetheless.

Consider the evidence. It plays chess. It competes on Jeopardy!, the exclusive domain of nerds.
If these IBM scientists had a life, maybe they could create a machine that does something useful: Pick stocks that only increase in value; remember where I left my car keys; or find a decent restaurant in Nanaimo.

Instead, it’s really good at identifying the names of Beatles songs from their lyrics. Big deal. I already know how to do that.

According to some experts, Watson’s ability to answer questions will revolutionize call centres. Great. Instead of getting some bozo from South Carolina, we’ll get some bozo from the cloud answering the question: “What’s this $350 charge on my cellphone bill?” with “Would you like to speak to my supervisor?” and then hang up.

Our desire to create a machine that’s smarter than we are is kind of pathetic. After all, we’re limited by that fundamental law of computing: Garbage in, garbage out. We can only create a reflection of ourselves. Which explains why Watson is so easily confused. It’s one of us.
Meanwhile, Watson and Brad conclude their epic battle tonight. May the best nerd win.

Minister of everything has nothing

Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Vancouver

As we watch the B.C. Liberal leadership hopefuls peck each others’ eyes out, the one man who is most qualified to be B.C.’s next premier beavers away in humble obscurity, forever shut out of the political Promised Land.

Remember Colin Hansen? Not too long ago he was considered Gordon Campbell’s logical successor.

But that was before he got tangled up in the web of deceit that is the HST debacle. Campbell resigned; Hansen may as well have. His chances of becoming B.C.’s next leader went the way of all those sales tax exemptions we used to enjoy.

As far as I can tell, his punishment for backing up the boss on HST is to be forced to work his butt off as Minister of Everything while his fellow cabinet ministers take several months off to play politics.

Campbell resigned and went to Maui, his (mostly) happy place.

So, as finance minister, Hansen has to table a budget tomorrow to open the first session of the legislature in 256 days.

As health minister, he has launched an investigation into how two unqualified radiologists managed to review thousands of CT scans.

As finance minister, he has appointed a panel of experts to examine the virtues of the HST. (Good luck with that).

Busy, busy.

I wonder how he feels watching the mayor of Parksville duke it out with a CKNW talk show host for a job that could have been, should have been, his.

Whatever he thinks, in a couple of weeks Christy Clark or George Abbott or Kevin Falcon or somebody will be the premier of the province and he won’t.

Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t have too much time to think.

What’s sad is that Colin Hansen is the right man for the job. He’s been humbled by defeat, forged by fire, and is probably the one person in government who really knows what’s going on. The others are too busy fending off the threat of Clark.

As for the NDP, are you kidding? If you think Colin Hansen displays questionable political ethics, how about the Gang of 13? Not to mention Adrian Dix and his (alleged) political dirty tricks.

As the rest of our elected representatives wear themselves out doing the Funky Political Chicken, Colin Hansen just quietly goes about the business of government, a big “L” for Liar or Loser, or both, pasted on his forehead.

But how long will it be before all is forgiven and a solid majority of British Columbians, plus or minus four per cent, wonder where the Minister of Everything went when we need him?

Considering the alternatives, not long.

Cue the geeks for the Goldilocks zone

Just Saying by Paul Sullivan, published in Metro Canada

It wasn’t too long ago, 1995, in fact, when the idea of finding planets outside our own solar system was science fiction, so even if you wanted to boldly go where no one has gone before, you couldn’t.

But since then, planets have proven as prolific as peanuts, and the space-based Kepler scope, launched in 2009, has found more than 1,200. And here’s big news: 54 of them are in the so-called Goldilocks zone, not so hot that we’ll fry like bird poop on the roof of a car on a sizzling summer day, not so cold that it’s perpetually Jan. 27 in Winnipeg – but just right. Mild enough to hang out, watch the stars, and wonder if ET’s doing the same thing on Planet Cubic Zirconium.

More good news. Kepler can view about one per cent of the sky. If it could see the whole enchilada, it could identify another 400,000 planets, many of them habitable by humans.

We’ve fouled our own nest so badly that even the notion of a second chance is welcome relief. Just imagine, a new home without Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump, where we can start replacing indigenous inhabitants right away!

It’s a good idea not to get too carried away. That the planets in question exist at all is based on mainly circumstantial evidence, and using current technology, it would take a zillion years to get there (300,000 to be precise). But the point is, there’s now a “there.” We’ve got something to shoot for.

Humans are a resourceful bunch. Columbus thought he would find a passage to India, instead, he found a “new world” and exploited the indigenous people there instead. Smiles all around, except, of course, for the exploited indigenous peoples.

Even if we never get there, planets fire the imagination. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have turned out to be big disappointments, ET-wise, but no matter. Now we have at least 54 new outlets for our ridiculous notions of alien beings, and that should be enough to keep our minds expanded for generations to come.

Getting there is half the fun. It’s time to cue the geeks, stock up on their favourite snacks, and get them planning the warp drive that will get us there, faster than it takes Capt. Jean-Picard (the thinking man’s Star Trek captain) to say: “Make it so.”

Look out galaxy, here we come …

Reliving the Party of the Century

Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan, published in Metro Vancouver

I’m having flashbacks.

No, I’m not ready for the Charlie Sheen Memorial Rehab Ward just yet. It’s this magnificent burst of Wet Coast sunshine that’s taking me back to the same time last year when the sun came out and turned the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics into the Party Of The Century.

And now we get to remember them every year, right around Groundhog Day. If the sun comes out every year at exactly the same time — bonus.

As these anniversary stories go, there will be a lot of talk about the legacy of the Winter Olympics, and that legacy will be compared to Expo 86 and so on.

Expo 86 was the Miracle Of Yaletown, multicultural diversity, tourism and convention business, not to mention that Vancouver was thrust onto the world stage, liked it and has stayed there ever since.

It’s still a bit early to figure out the 2010 legacy since it’s still a work-in-progress. But the trend is good: My contacts at Tourism Vancouver tell me 2011 will be our biggest year ever in terms of convention business, likely a combination of the convention centre getting built in time for the Olympic media and all those beauty shots of Vancouver on NBC.

(For those of you who are lucky enough to hold your convention in sunshine enjoy the seawall. For everyone else, welcome to the Wet Coast.)

By the time we’re done analyzing, we’ll probably conclude the legacy of 2010 is like 1986, just more: More condos, more cultural diversity, and even higher prices for teardowns.

But there is one vital difference: 2010 showed the world that Canadians, and especially Vancouverites, really know how to have a good time. All the problems and anxieties of the first couple of days were overwhelmed by a tsunami of celebration.

I’m still blown away by that YouTube video of 10,000 people flash-dancing in the street.

The other thing that’s clear: Robson Square is the heart of this city. If we really want to wave our red mittens high, we’ll do everything we can to build on that legacy. If that means preserving the square for sidewalk cafés, street vendors, pedestrians and zip rides, let’s do it. If that means keeping at least part of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the square, let’s do it. If that means reliving the Party Of The Century same time every year in the square, let’s do it.

In a world where taking to the streets usually means something different, what greater Olympic legacy could we hope to have?