There’s a difference between writing a technical paper for an academic audience and writing a business presentation that attracts investors to the next innovative business idea.
That may seem like a very obvious statement, but transitioning from technical writing to presentations that attract investors is a difficult hurdle for many an inexperienced entrepreneur, says #b#Bob Baker#/b#, owner of Copy to Go in Hillsborough, which specializes in “translating geek into speech the rest of the world can understand.”
Baker and #b#Lorette Pruden#/b#, a professional speaker and business coach with Team Nimbus New Jersey in Belle Mead, will present “Techno-Psycho-Babble Be Gone!” at the New Jersey Entrepreneurs’ Forum on Thursday, November 11, at 4 p.m. at the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies in North Brunswick. Cost: $35. Visit www.NJEF.org.
Angel investors and venture capitalists value focus, as well as great business ideas, says Baker. “You need to rid your business plans, summaries, and your presentations of the phrases that cause funders to cringe and clutch their checkbooks rather than open them.”
Baker graduated from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1964, with a bachelor’s in chemistry. He planned on getting a Ph.D. in the field and was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Maryland.
“But I quickly found out that things were different there,” he says. “My professors could only talk about chemistry. That was all. If you wanted to talk about art or literature or movies or even sex they had nothing to say. I thought to myself that if being a Ph.D. in chemistry meant becoming this boring, I didn’t want it.”
Baker left the university after a year and took a position in a laboratory at what was then Allied Chemical in Virginia, but again, he found the job wasn’t really for him.
“We were working on making nylon and I actually have two patents in my name,” he says, adding that as an employee he was required to sign the patents over to the company for the princely sum of $1. “I found again that while I love science, I really hated lab work.”
He considered moving to the company’s sales department when he happened on an advertisement in the Chemical Engineering News for a technical writer at an advertising agency in Philadelphia. “I wasn’t really sure what a technical writer was, but I had a minor in English, and I’d always liked to write, so I decided to try it,” he says.
He spent the next three decades as a writer for various agencies in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
While he loved the work he learned an unfortunate truth. “When the guy at the top screws up and loses an account it’s the guy at the bottom who gets the axe.”
After his third layoff he decided it wasn’t fun anymore and headed out on his own. “I had my own niche,” he says. “There are a lot of excellent writers out there who are terrified of technical stuff and there are a lot of techies who would rather face surgery without anesthesia than put pen to paper. I figured I could combine the two and translate geek into English. That was 14 years ago and I’m still writing.”
#b#Avoid acronyms — except one#/b#. When planning a presentation for potential investors definitely leave out the acronyms and the technical jargon. “Every profession has its own jargon and acronyms that are perfectly clear when making a presentation to a group of fellow engineers or chemists or biologists, but they are as clear as mud to people outside the profession,” says Baker.
There is one acronym he suggests every entrepreneur remember: KISS, or keep it simple, stupid.
“If every other word that comes out of your mouth is an acronym, you may as well be speaking ancient Greek,” he adds.
A classic example, Baker recalls, is an entrepreneur who gave a presentation at NJEF a few years ago. “He talked for five minutes about harmonics and other technical things and I looked around the room and saw all of the investors scratching their heads and looking bored,” he says.
“He’d lost them. Finally at the end of the presentation he said, ‘This device reduces electrical consumption by 30 percent.’ That should have been his opening line. That’s what would have made the investors sit up and take notice.”
Baker realizes that often a presentation cannot be made without using some technical terms, but if you must use them, make sure you explain them.
“If you use the acronym RFID make sure you explain that you are talking about radio frequency identification or an advanced form of bar coding,” he says.
Examples and illustrations are also helpful. “Don’t just say, ‘One part per billion,’ explain that it is ‘like finding two drops of alcohol in the middle of Lake Erie.’ That’s something that everyone can relate to.”
#b#Talk about results, not processes#/b#. Ask any business owner about his business and you will probably hear more than you want about the why and the how of what they do.
The stereotype is particularly true for scientists and engineers, but investors aren’t particularly interested in how a process was developed, the methodology of the research studies, or other technical details.
“They don’t care if you are talking about 10 nanometers or 100 nanometers. They are interested in the benefits,” says Baker.
— What will the process do for your customers that no one else can do or that no one else can do better or less expensively? How much money do you need?
— What do you plan to do with the money?
— How much return can I expect on my investment?
#b#No Boring PowerPoint slides, ever#/b#. Most initial investor presentations are only five minutes long. That’s five minutes to make the sale or walk away empty-handed. Bringing written support materials is an excellent idea, says Baker, but make sure they are interesting and readable.
The same is true for PowerPoint slide presentations.
“I’ve seen too many people put up a slide with 100 words of text on it,” he says. “That’s not readable. Simplify it. Put up one sentence, or better yet, a graphic. Remember: one slide, one sentence.”
#b#Bring only what is asked for#/b#. Baker remembers an entrepreneur who came to a presentation with 28 pages of material.
The only problem was that he had been asked to bring two. Investors, particularly at pitch events ,may see dozens of presentations in a day.
They aren’t interested in reading through pages of material to find the few paragraphs they are interested in.
Don’t be so enamored with your technology that you forget the basics.
“If you can explain it in such a way that not only will your grandmother understand it, she’ll be able to explain it to her friends and they understand it; then you’ve succeeded.”