Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @KarenHough. Karen Hough is CEO of ImprovEdge, Amazon bestselling author, contributor to the Huffington Post, featured in Inc.com, winner of the Stevie International Award for Most Innovative Company of the Year and the Athena PowerLink Award for Outstanding Woman Owned Business, and Yale grad, uses improvisation to change behavior for the better in corporations. Her new book is just out! “Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes and Win Them Over.” For more info, visit: improvedge.com
SmallBizLady: ImprovEdge? How did you come up with the idea to meld improvisation and business?
Karen Hough: I trained with Chicago’s Second City and enjoyed a career in stage and film, performing in over 100 live and filmed productions. My next life involved working as a successful executive in network engineering for many years, and finally becoming an entrepreneur. I’ve been using improvisation as an engaging learning tool for more than 14 years, helping companies transform behavior through interactive training.
SmallBizLady: In this second book with Berrett-Koehler Publishers, you’re telling people to “Be the Best BAD Presenter Ever!” Why?
Karen Hough: After training over 1,000 people, we found that people walk in thinking they are bad, or they ARE bad, because they are following old, outdated, dumb rules. Nobody wants to see a slick, perfect, salesy pitch. People want to see an authentic, passionate person! Even if they make a mistake, as long as they are being themselves, they aren’t bad in the worst sense; they’re bad in the good way. Like Michael Jackson! We want people to embrace who they are and show their authentic selves. The world doesn’t want perfection anymore – we want reality. That’s why YouTube videos perform better than scripted commercials. We want to see the vlogger in her jeans, being herself and giving us her honest opinions. We don’t trust commercials, and that applies to presentations, too.
SmallBizLady: You tell people to break old rules to be more authentic. Some of them are surprising! One rule to break is “Practice in Front of a Mirror.” Why wouldn’t that be a good idea?
Karen Hough: Mirrors actually make you self-conscious. You’re focusing on how you look, when you really need to be focusing on the audience! It’s better to practice in a big empty room, than in front of a mirror. The room will teach you to move around, that your voice needs to project, that you’ll be looking at things other than yourself. A mirror makes you really nervous. Practice makes you better. There are videos available on our website, and embedded in the ebook for this concept and over a dozen other ideas!
SmallBizLady: A funny rule to break was “Picture the Audience in their Underwear.” Is that really a rule? And why is it bad?
Karen Hough: MANY people use that silly rule. I’ve also heard that you should picture the audience in silly costumes. They think it will relax them and make them less nervous. It does just the opposite! It actually makes you giggle, get distracted and leaches away energy. Your audience is the reason you are there, so the best thing you can do is respect them. Just take in your audience! Pay attention, see if they are interested, ask them a question – engage! Presentations today are not about speaking and never interacting. It’s about the conversation, just like social media.
SmallBizLady: What’s one of the most powerful ideas you share in the book?
Karen Hough: Purpose. People forget to have a singular, powerful reason for presenting. NEVER stand up just to inform! It’s boring and gives you an out to do nothing. You need to be there for a purpose. You want your audience to walk out and vote for the first time. You want them to buy your product. You want them to be angry enough picket Town Hall. Powerful politicians, ministers, and change agents all have a clear purpose walking into a presentation. This also applies to small meetings. Define why you are there!
SmallBizLady: What’s an easy tip you can teach us right now to make us better presenters?
Karen Hough: There’s a concept I teach called “bookends.” If there is anything you practice, script, perfect – it’s your opening and closing. People remember the first and last thing they hear – make it powerful, engaging and memorable.
SmallBizLady: I understand that this works for big presentations, or when you’re standing in front of a committee? What about one-on-one meetings that are so critical to entrepreneurs? Or small sit down group meetings?
Karen Hough: All of the concepts in the book apply to meetings as well – you just vary your tone. Formal presentations are like acting for the stage – larger and more energetic. Meetings are like acting for film – it’s quieter, smaller and sometimes more intense. Think how much more successful your meetings would be if you walked in with a burning purpose, you had a great opening comment and left them with a provocative thought at the end.
SmallBizLady: How can this knowledge help an entrepreneur brand themselves?
Karen Hough: You’ve got to have a clear, effective elevator pitch and ability to engage a group. You’ve got to think about your different audiences and be selling all the time.
SmallBizLady: So how does improvisation apply to presentations?
Karen Hough: Improvisers understand that anything can change anytime. We know that we may mess up, the technology may fail, or in a good way, we may get an unexpected laugh or round of applause. Staying flexible and rolling with whatever happens are keys to being a great, authentic presenter. There’s an easy trick I teach in the book. Follow three steps whenever anything goes wrong – Acknowledge it, Deal with it, Move on. You have to let the audience know that you know something has happened or changed. Then you have control! You can do whatever is required to keep the event on track. Then move on – no need to keep referring back to a problem that’s over with.
SmallBizLady: What else do you have that could support our entrepreneurial community?
Karen Hough: In addition to these great videos and the book, our website has so many great products to support entrepreneurs! We have proven products like the Yes! Deck, a handy deck of 29 cards packed with ideas on everything from running a killer conference call to crafting a perfect elevator pitch.
SmallBizLady: Tell me about one of your biggest mistakes in your journey as an entrepreneur.
Karen Hough: In improvisation, we call that “Oops…to Eureka!” You use the mistakes to move you forward. Initially, I didn’t do enough competitive analysis – as you outline in your book, it’s critical to understand where you stand against your competition. I was vastly underpricing myself for the first couple of years. That stunted my company’s growth and didn’t allow me to reinvest in research. Once I did real, deep competitive analysis, I knew that I was offering something of great value, and companies would pay for it.
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