Preparation takes stripping.
No, no, no! Calm down. I’m talking about refinishing, refurbishing — you know, working on fixing up an old piece of furniture. Or am I?
The refinishing project I tackled recently made me think of the steps needed to best present a business pitch. Both start with stripping.
I had decided to take a week off work to have a “staycation” — that’s what we call vacation now in the age of COVID. We can’t go anywhere, so we just take vacation days and stay home. Well, on Day 1, I knew that was a mistake.
“Hey, why don’t you refinish this for me?” my wife asked me, after she noticed the paint peeling off her make-up vanity. “Couldn’t take you more than a few hours. It just needs repainting.”
Of course, that was my reply. But a quick look at the finish on the vanity let me know what I was getting into, and it wouldn’t be a few hours. It would be at least a week’s “stay-cation.”
The prep is worse than the paint
For anyone who’s ever refinished furniture or who has painted or stained something, you know it’s all about the preparation. Many older pieces of wood furniture have coats of paint, coats of varnish, coats of shellac. The actual wood is often buried underneath various layers of hastily applied covering.
This vanity actually had a coat of white spray paint. (Yes, I admit it, I put that on the vanity in a hurry when she asked me to paint it the first time!) On top of the white spray paint was a coat of grey and white “antiquing” paint; and two coats of varnish with a coat of shellac over those.
This is where it’s best to employ a stripper (seriously, paint stripper works very well). To remove the layers of old stuff, you have to liberally apply paint stripper and carefully wipe/scrape off the old finishes. It can take a few applications of stripper if you have several coats of old paint or varnish.
After removing most of the old finishes from the furniture, you let it dry overnight. You’re still not done. Then you sand with medium-grain sandpaper and wipe it down. Then you use extra-fine grain sandpaper to smooth out the wood. Finally, you’re ready to refinish the furniture.
The vanity I was working on had a lot of fine detail work on it, and so this was a tedious process. In fact, my prep work took four days; actually, repainting it only took half a day! But even in repainting, there is prep work: I applied a thin coat of wood primer to the surface to insure the paint I was using would stick to the vanity and completely cover it.
The prep makes the pitch perfect
So where am I going with this? You know, I always relate my stories to my profession, working with entrepreneurs. One of the most important things they must do to succeed is raise money. Raising money typically means “giving a pitch” — standing in front of people, telling your story, and using a presentation that carefully explains what you do, why you do it, how you will do it, where you’ll sell it and how you’ll make money for the investor. (That’s a condensed version, but you get the idea.)
Through the years, I’ve been asked over and over, “What’s the secret to giving a killer presentation?” I’ve given the same answer over and over for the past 40 years — PREPARATION.
Yes, preparation. You can’t just get up in front of an audience and “wing it” with an investor presentation. Now, I’m a public speaker, and I’ve been told I do a good job at speaking. I admit that I often speak extemporaneously — in other words, no notes, no prepared speech, no practice. Those have been some of my best speeches — but it’s easy to flop, as well.
A smooth, easy (and believable) delivery comes with preparation — knowing your topic, knowing your audience, knowing what you want them to walk away with after your talk. I find it often helps to practice in front of others to get used to an audience, to get helpful comments and to develop your style.
So help your entrepreneurs to “strip away” bad presentation habits (like saying “umm,” speaking too fast/slow/quietly, jingling keys, etc.). Help them strip away bad slides (too much text, small text, overly technical, etc.). And help them strip away boring presentations. (I often tell people that “PowerPoint” comes from an ancient Greek word for “sleep inducement.”)
Help them prepare so they are ready to engage potential investors. Show them examples of great presentations; there are plenty out there online. Show them what awesome slides look like, and how to construct slides that are attention-grabbing and simple but with a wealth of information conveyed in a few words — or images.
After all, PowerPoint is a presentation program. (That’s a whole other blog post). It’s designed to insert text, but also mostly designed for graphic images. You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So more pictures and graphics, less text is the idea.
Preparation — in furniture refinishing and in business pitching — is the key to success. Liberal applications of “stripping” away the old, “smoothing” things over a few times, adding a “base” of knowledge, then applying the “final look.”
You should see my wife’s vanity now.
Mark Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.
Originally published on the IncubatorBlogger on September 29, 2020.