How do you respond when a person says “Tell me about yourself?”

Photo Credit: just.Luc
“Tell me about yourself?”, Photo Credit: just.Luc

It might be called confidence, it might be called belief – do you let others see the best version of you, or do they see a dull, low-intensity, passionless version of yourself?

Why do we find it difficult to sell ourselves?

I spent the first 3 years of my entrepreneurial career selling insurance over the telephone in the spanish language. I picked up the phone 20 times each day and worked through my script. 3 years of this taught me 2 things: the spanish language, and zero fear of a “No”.

I got to practice hundreds of times how I present myself.  I got pretty instant feedback whether my way of presenting myself engaged the other person into a conversation, or got a quick hang up on the telephone.  Time and time again I learnt that “Hello, I’m Conor” was not a great start (to somebody who doesn’t know Conor).

At an Entrepreneurs’ Organisation retreat last month, the facilitator asked everybody to introduce themselves following a specific structure:

  1. What I want you to know about me is _________
  2. What I expect from these days is _________
  3. My biggest dream for myself is ________
  4. My name is ________

It made such a difference to the standard introductions.  The standard version that I hear day after day is something along the lines of: “My name is John…  from London.  I’m glad to be here.  I work as a lawyer.  Ahh…  I guess that’s it…   Oh yeah…  I am married.  We have 2 kids.  Yeah, that’s all.”

By the time John has finished, he has managed to bore himself about his own life.  He certainly won’t be someone I’d think of asking questions about life, business or his hobbies.

On my online course, Speaking as a Leader, the first big lesson is about how to answer the question “Tell me about yourself?”.  (You can sign up for the free course here).  You will hear this question hundreds of times.  Instead of John’s response, what would be the 100% version of your potential version?

What’s your answer to “Tell me about yourself?”

Global Entrepreneurship Week

It is Global Entrepreneurship Week on 18 November through 23 November.  There are events all over the world.  The overall organisation website is: www.unleashingideas.org. You can find out more following twitter hashtags #GEW, #GEWSpain, #IESEGEW.  There will be plenty of events in your city led by Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, The Kauffman Foundation and many more local entrepreneurship groups.  Get involved!

Here is a post inspired by the Global Entrepreneurship Week.  What questions must you ask of yourself and your idea before moving into execution?

The 12 Vital Questions for Any New Business

Are you an entrepreneur?  Are you a corporate leader?  Do you have an idea and have thought about turning it into a business?  Here is a list of 12 questions that you must answer (and why):

  1. Why do we exist? (purpose)
  2. What is our aspiration (vision)
  3. Exactly what problem will this solve? (value proposition)
  4. For whom do we solve that problem? (target segment)
  5. How big is the opportunity? (market size)
  6. What alternatives are out there? (competitive landscape)
  7. Why are we best suited to pursue this? (our differentiator)
  8. Why now? (market window)
  9. How will we get this solution to market? (go-to-market strategy)
  10. How will we measure success? (KPIs)
  11. What factors are critical to success? (CSFs)
  12. Can we succeed – is this viable and sustainable? (go or no-go)

This comes from Ramanathan’s answer to What should you do as an Entrepreneur if you have no background in business over at Quora.

Pitching Your Idea

As a bonus, once you’ve got those 12 answers cracked… you now need to be able to share the answers in a way that others can get excited, get involved and make it happen with you.  You need to pitch.

What is the best pitch:

“The best pitch decks don’t feel like they were created for the benefit of venture capitalists. They feel like an outgrowth of the work the startup is already doing.” Michael Wolfe

Pablo Villalba pitching Teambox
Pablo Villalba pitching Teambox

The best pitch decks portray:

  • This is what we are doing.
  • This is how we are going to do it.
  • We can do it better if we get some money in.
  • This thing is going to happen with or without you.
  • Are you in or are you out?

That comes from Michael Wolfe’s answer to What should be in a Pitch Deck also at Quora.

Further Reading

“But, is this normal?”

Why am I so fixated by normal? What about optimal? Wouldn’t optimal be a better aim?

Is my life normal? Some of it, yes. Some of it, no. But it adds no direction to my journey to the future me.

Is my life optimal? Is my running posture optimal? Is my blog writing process optimal? Is my current way of dealing with the blows of life optimal? (It is often normal, but far from optimal).

What is optimal seems to be a much better question than what is normal.

“But, is this blog post optimal?”

At the end of every course I teach at IESE Business School, all participants give extensive feedback on their experience of the course, the facilities… and on my role as a teacher.

When the summarized feedback reaches me a couple of weeks later, I open the pdf in a state of nervous tension.  I am preparing myself emotionally for the news contained in the report.  If the report is positive, I start to relax and enjoy the feeling of professional competence.

Photo Credit: Ben Heine
Photo Credit: Ben Heine

However, the last few quotes on the report are always the “areas for improvement”.  I get tense again, and start already to justify myself before I even start reading.

I love positive feedback.  I hate “developmental” feedback.  I pretend sometimes to appreciate it, but I resist it fiercely inside my mind.

I am pretty sure that I am not alone.

I rationally know that it is the developmental feedback that can most help me improve, but I find it very hard in the moment to accept it and work with it.  I feel it as a personal attack, not as an objective opinion of a friendly student who wholeheartedly wishes to see the institution of IESE Business School improve with their advice.

What do you do to “accept” developmental feedback?  Are there any things that have changed your willingness to be open to and even seek out developmental feedback?

 

Good speaker?
Writer?
Dancer?
Singer?
Runner?

How do I become one? How does the whole thing come together? How will I know if it really is my thing? Will it be worth it?

There is only one way to find out. There has really only ever been one way.

The way to mastery in the past, the way to mastery in future… And the way to mastery today:

Start.

Take a single step.

Do it now while you are rubbish.

Don’t wait to feel “ready”. Don’t expect that you will ever feel that you have finally reached excellence. The moment you achieve something, it immediately becomes something that you can achieve – and no longer special.

Einstein didn’t feel like “Einstein” while he worked and thought – he felt like you, like me- not quite “there” yet, slightly unsure… But willing to keep moving anyway.

I wonder often why our minds are so rigged up to stop us beginning important work. Is it an evolutionary beneficial tendency? Perhaps it is the “cowards” that survive. The coward gene has been evolving for many, many, many generations.

Mere survival for a lifetime might be what your genes want, but it is not what your spirit wants.

This then is the daily war between the spirit that wants to change the world, and the genes that want you to hide beneath the duvet covers.

Who will win?

Time after time I see promising young athletes reach the professional teams, and they don’t make it.  Time and time again I see someone do well in the good times, but then allow one small setback to avalanche into a total personal, business and financial collapse.

Other times someone struggles through the youth ranks, shows no extreme talent, but when they reach the professional team they excel.  Or, a friend uses a small personal crisis to multiply their productivity across all aspects of their life.

What differentiates those that cope with those that do not?

Resilience: Mental Toughness

How do you cope with setbacks?  How do you deal with the blows that life deals you?

Photo Credit: ecstaticist
Photo Credit: ecstaticist

The 5 levels of Resilience

The five levels of individual Resiliency are:

  1. Able to maintain emotional stability
  2. Able to focus outward: Good problem solving skills
  3. Able to focus inward: Strong inner “selfs”, self-belief
  4. Deliberately practiced procedural habits
  5. Be Water my Friend

Resilience Means Adapting to Adversity

Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches. When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain, but you’re able to keep functioning — both physically and mentally. Resilience isn’t about ignoring it, stoic acceptance or lonely heroics. In fact, being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient.

Resilience and Mental Health

Resilience offers protection from many mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Resilience can also help offset factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as lack of social support, being bullied or previous trauma.

9 Tips to improve your Resilience

If you’d like to become more resilient, consider these tips:

  • Make every day Meaningful – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
  • Get Connected – Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad.
  • Write it Down – Think back on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. You might write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify behavior patterns.
  • Maintain Hope – You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
  • Take care of your Health – Include physical activity in your day. Find a night time pattern that allows for good sleep. Eat consciously.
  • Be Proactive. Eat the frog first.
  • Playfulness and Pause. Rest your mind and let it wander through imagined worlds. Mindful imagination can reduce stress (and it improves your immune system).  Play games and act like a kid.  YouTube videos about Goats Shouting Like Humans are stupid, but they do make me laugh insanely.
  • Embrace Creativity Regularly. Participation in music and dance, can have a significant effect in building resilience.
  • Use Procedural Skills –  take advantage of the “procedural learning” part of your brain. Keep practicing the skills you’ve mastered by repetition – like playing piano, ping-pong or drawing pictures. Rote-learned information is what school focussed on – but today it’s all Google-able.  Forget it.  Focus on your procedural skills. These should be exercised and enhanced every day.

Resources:

My last post was on Meaningful Contribution.  I talked about three questions about the work you are doing: does it serve others? do you do it well? and do you love doing it?

The 4 Paths in our Working Life

Taking two of those questions: does it serve others? and do you love doing it?  I put together today’s 2×2 graphic.

The man in the middle is like a new employee starting first day at a new company.  Which path will he take?

20130222-125856.jpg

The 4 Paths are:

  1. Quit and Stayed – he will keep showing up for the job, but do the minimum possible effort in order to not lose his job.  He is not satisfied.  He is not contributing.  He is worried about showing up on time, looking busy when the boss is watching, sending emails at 9pm to let everyone see that he is busy – but he is not contributing.  He is a cancer to those around him.  He will suck their satisfaction.  He will work to ensure that others are being regularly interrupted and unproductive so that he can feel comfortable in the company of slackers.
  2. Coasting – he enjoys his job, but has been focussing on the aspects that benefit him.  He is not there to serve the team nor the customer. He doesn’t do a bad job, but is not going to spend more than the minimum to hit minimum quality.
  3. Burn Out – he is good at his job, but has not taken his own growth as a person seriously.  He is running like a sprinter, not a marathon runner.  It is his responsibility to work at a rhythm that allows him to contribute more each day.  If he has too much work he needs to improve his work tools, his work methods.
  4. Engaged – he has found a good balance between enjoying the work, doing it well and improving his work.  His energy serves as a boost to those who are around him.  His contribution is sustainable and growing.  He is on the path to being an “A” Player – Self-Motivated and Experienced.

Bosses, Environment and Culture

The man in the central box could go any way.

Lou Holtz once replied to an Accenture partner’s question: “What do you do with unmotivated players?” with a snort of derision.  “Un-motivated players!?!  This is their dream.”

He returned to the question later and said “I guarantee that day 1, every new employee that walks through the door arrives motivated, with a desire to contribute.  If a year later he is no longer motivated, it is something you guys have done that has removed that motivation.”

Our parents, our school teachers, our past bosses, our current friends all contribute to our current state of contribution and satisfaction.  We can push our kids, our friends, our employees out of the middle circle into any of the 4 paths.

What do you do to make the top right path the most likely?

I so loved the title of Brad Feld’s post, that I just had to copy the title.

This is an important one.  We live in a world of personal branding, quick online reputation checks and a lot of noise.  Authors, Entrepreneurs and job seekers get less and less time to explain themselves.

This morning I was listening to Guy Kawasaki pitch his new book “APE” in a webinar on publishing.  He talked about the challenge of an author.  “Nobody walks into the bookstore thinking I am here to make Guy Kawasaki a little bit richer.  He walks in with a problem that he wants to solve.  His problem.”

The mentality of someone walking into a bookstore and browsing, and the mentality of an investor share a lot of similarities.  They have their own agenda.  Either you show you can help that agenda very quickly, or there are 20,000 other books in the bookshop that will get their attention.

If You Can’t Explain what You do in a Paragraph, You’ve Got a Problem

Gimme some Attention!!

I love the energy of entrepreneurs.  I spend a lot of time involved in activities in Barcelona.  I love the entrepreneurial energy. It is great to see people and institutions coming together to build the supporting community.  We need to get better at connecting 1) the people with the resources with 2) the people with the ideas with 3) the people who can execute these ideas.

If you approach me at a networking event and say “I’d like to talk to you about my business.”  I’ll say “Great.”  Then I will ask “What problem do you solve?”

This is the point at which 85% lose my attention.  They try to steer the conversation to describing the technology, or give a generic statement that uses either the word “platform” or “solution”.

I don’t want to hear about what language you are coding in.  I don’t really care about which font you have chosen for your book.  I don’t care when you started.

The 3 Ingredients of What We Do

Brad Feld says the “What We Do” Paragraph should be three sentences: (1) what we do, (2) who we do it to, and (3) why you should care. Sometimes this can be two sentences; sometimes four, but never more than a paragraph.

I believe the major risk of early stage startups is getting customers to buy, and showing that you can sell.  The words “platform” or “solution” are indicative of an entrepreneur who has not spent much time with real or potential customers.

What’s your paragraph?

Photo Credit: saikiishiki via Compfight cc

I wrote “Give a TED talk” on my bucket list 4 years ago, today I feel happy to see the idea come to fruition. It is not a TED Talk per-se, i.e. it is not up there on a stage, but in my mind almost better – a lesson from my class, and a concept that is very important today. We are increasingly overloaded with information, but need to be more and more careful how we trust this information. We want to connect to the meaning behind the information. As the lesson says “Ethos and Pathos are missing”…

What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about Persuasion

Imagine you are one of the world’s greatest violin players, and you decide to conduct an experiment: play inside a subway station and see if anyone stops to appreciate when you are stripped of a concert hall and name recognition. Joshua Bell did this, and Conor Neill channels Aristotle to understand why the context mattered.

Lesson by Conor Neill, animation by Animationhaus.

View the full lesson, additional resources and the quick quiz on the TED Education website: here

Joshua Bell on violin

Joshua Bell, “Poet of the Violin”

Often referred to as the “poet of the violin,” Joshua Bell is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists. He continues to enchant audiences with his breathtaking virtuosity, tone of sheer beauty, and charismatic stage presence.

Aristotle

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher ofAlexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics,government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics,logic, science, politics, and metaphysics.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. The English title varies: typically it is titled Rhetoric, the Art of Rhetoric, or a Treatise on Rhetoric.

In the late 1870s, A Dublin-based shoe company sent 2 salespeople from their head office to a new territory in rural Africa.  The two salespeople, Willy and Jimmy, travelled out on boat, trains and foot to reach the rural African areas that was to be their new sales area.

2 months later, 2 telegrams arrived in the Dublin headquarters.

The first telegram from Willy read “Terrible news. They don’t wear shoes.”

The second telegram from Jimmy read “Fantastic opportunity. Never seen a greater need for shoes. Much work to do.”

Are you seeing the world as Willy or as Jimmy?