To confound or perplex (*see bamboozle)
Recently, I got bamboozled at a networking event. After a few minutes of hobnobbing (yeah, I do that), I sat down with a professional whom I didn’t know and vice versa. Fueled by some freshly-brewed coffee, we got into an up-tempo conversation. He talked about a new program at his firm, another program they were piloting, spoke about some of their newer team members, and finally segued into their annual goals.
I was overwhelmed—like I had started a puzzle in the middle instead of starting with the edges. So I somewhat awkwardly stopped him mid-sentence, told him I was a bamboozled (see above), and asked if we could start at the beginning.
However, this time, I took an opportunity to ask a few pointed questions:
"Who are your key customers? What segments are growing the fastest? What challenges are you facing with recruiting?” And once I had established rapport and learned he was the founder, I asked "What inspired you to start the firm?"
My goal with these questions was to gain a clear understanding of his business, acquire insights into his connection to the work, and get to know him a little, too.
This interchange reminded me of a basic rule when presenting new information to a new audience. The presenter (you) must provide the audience (even if only one person) with appropriate context to help them understand.
WE ALL START AT INFORMATION ZERO
One of our golden rules at Pitch DNA: assume your audience doesn’t know anything about you or what you’re going to talk about.
They might be the brightest minds in the universe, but they’re uninformed about you, your project, your ideas—everything.
We call this “information zero.”
Therefore as the presenter, your job is to make it easy for your audience to grasp your ideas. A simple way to share your ideas and build clarity is through this time-tested, three-part structure:
PAST, PRESENT + FUTURE
To illustrate this classic structure we’ve created a mythical story in bullet point format, broke down why each section works, and demonstrated how you can apply it to your presentation.
The Mythical Backstory
Stu imagines he’s a world-class pastry chef (ha!) who’s sharing his pitch with a group of potential investors.
PART 1: ILLUMINATE THE PAST
- As a kid, my French grandmother taught me everything she knew about baking.
- I loved it so much that I studied at Le Cordon Bleu to become a pastry chef and open my own business.
- However, when my wife and I learned that our young son was allergic to wheat, and could even die if exposed, I knew I had to find another way to express my passion for baking.
- That’s why I started Stu’s Famous Bakery—a gourmet, wheat-free bake shop.
The Breakdown: PAST
First, it’s essential to provide some information about YOU.
In our example, Stu’s alter-ego shares his inspiration (grandma) for becoming a pastry chef, where he learned the trade (Le Cordon Bleu), and how deeply he felt for his craft. But the reversal comes when he discovers his son could die from exposure to wheat. (NOTE: This is a real thing. I had this allergy as a kid, so I know how painful and terrifying it can be for both a child and their parents).
The reversal is not only a great storytelling technique (including a “but” statement that flips the story from a positive to a negative, which captivates your listener), it’s highly personal. Moreover, in the appropriate setting, revealing something personal can be incredibly useful to engage your audience.
How you can apply your PAST to your presentation:
If you’re an engineer who’s developed an innovation for an existing product line, start with a story about what motivated you to get into the field. When well-told, stories are the most effective way to grab and sustain the attention of your audience.
After sharing a little information about YOU and your IDEA (or product, initiative, etc.), the audience should be able to answer two critical questions:
1) WHO are you (as it relates to this presentation) and
2) WHY are you giving this presentation?
In Stu’s pastry chef example, the WHY (i.e., he decided to launch a wheat-free bake shop) is clear: his son.
PART 2: HIGHLIGHT THE PRESENT
After his time at Le Cordon Bleu, Stu must establish where he is now. Here’s how he could present this information:
“So, what’s the current status of Stu’s Famous Bakery?
- One: We have one location in downtown Boston, and we also sell in local stores and coffee shops
- Two: We have five full-time employees and ten part-time
- Three: Our sales have been growing 15% per month since we launched in January
The Breakdown: Present
Break the Present into three sub-sections (see above for one, two, and three). For instance, if you’re giving a project status update, share the three most relevant pieces of information:
“So, where are we now with Project X? One, we have found a manufacturer. Two, we’ve secured funding. And three, we expanded our team with a lead developer and a UX designer.” If applicable, go into further detail on each of your three core updates.
Power Tip: When you offer a status update, tee-it-up by saying, “So, where are we now?”
PART 3: ENVISION THE FUTURE
Now that Stu has illustrated the inciting incident of his journey (his son’s allergy), and his proposed solution (launch a wheat-free bake shop), he closes his “story” by sharing his near-term vision.
“So, what’s next? Stu’s Famous Bakery is launching partnerships with wholesale partners and upscale eateries:
- We’re opening two new locations in Cambridge and Brookline.
- We’re adding more staff, as well as a controller to help us manage expenses and a marketing expert to grow our reach.
- We’ve even been invited to appear on The Ellen Degeneres Show in July!
GOAL: We’re raising $500,000 to...
- Upgrade our production facility
- Hire key team members
- Secure partnerships
The Breakdown: Future
Now that you’ve provided background about your past and shared a three-prong status update, it’s time to talk about where you’re going from here (hint: the future).
The future is where you share next steps so the audience is clear on your direction. If your upcoming chapter is to release a new version of your software or open another branch, tell us! Just like we did in Present, you can use a self-directed question to kick off this segment:
“So, what’s next for us?”
Then, break down the future in your three most relevant, compelling steps:
“We’re going to test our new version with a hundred users, add new team members in both operations and marketing, and then prepare for soft launch in September.”
Remember, we all start at information zero. When pitching to a new audience, leverage PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE to drive your conversation, gain understanding, and guide your audience to support your big ideas (or specialty bake shop).
Try it out in your next presentation and let us know how it goes.
See you next month!
Stuart & auGi
@StuartPitch / @auGiGarred #PitchDNA #AUGTRICITY
PS. Power Pitch Tip: Warm ‘Em Up Before You Begin. Before you consider presenting to a new audience, do your research! If possible, interview some of the people who are attending. This will prevent you from going into a room “cold.” Check out Insider 108: Are You Talking to Me?
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