In business, having a good product or service is rarely enough. An owner also must be a persuasive communicator, especially when pitching to new clients.
A common mistake business owners make: Saying too much, says Joe McCormack, a Chicago business consultant who has written a new book, “Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.”
McCormack has been preaching his less-is-more concept for years and has done work with companies and organizations including Harley-Davidson, MasterCard, Heinz and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He will be in Charlotte May 7 speaking at an International Association of Business Communicators luncheon.
The problem, he said, can be traced to information overload. With all the gadgets and messages vying for attention, Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to stay focused.
That means business owners who want to get their message through must learn to be succinct.
“An entrepreneur has to be careful not to get caught up in all the words and descriptions,” he said during a recent interview with ShopTalk. “Brevity is a way of cutting through the clutter.”
In his book, McCormack notes the following factoids, which he says are based on various research:
• On average, professional workers receive about 304 emails per week.
• Nearly 75 percent of professionals will tune out of a presentation after one minute if it doesn’t have a clear point.
• On average, smartphone users check for messages or texts about 150 times per day.
• In 2000, the average attention span was 12 seconds. In 2012, it had fallen to 8 seconds.
McCormack said business owners who become verbose are often the victims of their own unfocused businesses.
“The tendency when you start a business is to lose focus and try to be all things to all people, and your message becomes muddled,” he said.
When working with corporate clients, McCormack said he encourages business leaders to go back periodically to reassess why their companies were created. In other words, what are the unique needs or problems the companies were formed to address?
McCormack said this basic information should guide all presentations and sales pitches, even when addressing employees or prospective hires.
McCormack said owners and professionals typically make three common mistakes:
• They tend to over-explain: Because owners know more about their companies than anyone else, they tend to share too much information when making formal or informal presentations. McCormack said the key is to share only what is needed to help a prospective client or employee make a decision.
• They tend to under-prepare: McCormack said business owners and professionals too often go into meetings or presentations unprepared, especially when meetings are scheduled to be short. “They shorter it is, the more preparation you need,” he said. McCormack said he advises his clients to map out the key points they want to make and then make sure to cover those areas first in their presentations.
• They tend to be unfocused: McCormack said he sees this in meetings, conference calls and even email – owners and professionals who are unclear about the very point of the communication. In other instances, he said, they wait until the end of a presentation (when the audience is less attentive) to attempt to make their point.
“You have to ask yourself when you jump on a call or go into a meeting, what’s the point for this person?” he said. “If there is one thing that they need to remember from this call, what would it be?”
So how do you know when you’ve made an effective presentation? Follow-up questions are often a good indicator.
“When you finish a short, succinct explanation or statement, and you stop and you pause, how do they respond?” he said. “A simple nod and a smile is not enough. The clearest indication is that they want to hear more.”
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.
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