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Washington DC Autumn 2013
Sessions: 2013-11-19 - 2014-03-04
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5 Tips to Improve Your Teachings as a Startup Mentor, by Jimmy Hendricks
It was an honor this year to receive the highest rated global mentor award from Founder’s Institute. I always received feedback from our San Diego organizer, Jeanine Jacobson, that my teaching was well received, but I thought initially she was just being nice and supportive. When I saw some of my scores and then received the nomination, I realized I must have been doing something right. I’ve always known I enjoyed teaching and was able to communicate my message well, but I wanted to know exactly why founders found my presentations useful so I asked them.
This post is the result of my findings, and I hope it helps Mentors who are looking to improve their teaching. I believe we have a responsibility to pay it forward and help future entrepreneurs learn from our mistakes so they can have a greater chance of success.
1. Know the mentors and what they are working on.
One of the basics of public speaking is “Know your Audience”, but I think this is an easy thing to forget. I think some mentors just make the assumption that entrepreneurs are the audience and therefore we will relate to each other. In reality though, its business type to business type that creates more relevance. In 2011, when I spoke on Customer Development, the class was predominately mobile apps. As a result, I tailored my talk around customer acquisition cost, tracking, and expected funds needed to prove a mobile model. In 2012, the San Diego class had more B2B business ideas and traditional web applications so I tailored the talk around online marketing and how to test traditional sales models. So before you speak to a new class, ask the organizer for a list of the current business ideas so you can focus on the relevant points in your talk.
2. Tell your story honestly and don’t boast.
The second common feedback point that I received from Founders was that I was humble, they could relate to me, and I was approachable. I asked a few mentors for more information and one point really stood out. “You talked as much about your failures and mistakes as you did about successes and the right decisions you made.” When you talk about how wrong decisions and explain assumptions you made this helps mentors realize that it’s not just about being right or having a great model, but it’s the willingness to persevere and adapt. I believe it’s our responsibility to pop any bubbles of overnight success and roads to quick success. Every company starts with an idea, requires several iterations, and there are a thousand things that can kill a company before it reaches true sustainability. Founders may be entertained by the multi-million dollar exit, but tell the war stories which in the end they will find much more value in.
3. Teach the basics, not the advanced.
The third thing I heard from a lot of Founders, was that I gave useful knowledge and a place to start. After watching some of the more successful Mentors with multi-companies or exits under their belt, I realized what the Founders meant. It wasn’t that Mentors were giving bad advice, but it tended to be higher level information that was only executable once a company is up and running or at a certain state of growth. A common question I receive from Founders when meeting 1-on-1 is, “What are the key things I should be worried about or working on in regards to _______?” When I was asked this question, it made me think first about everything I worried about that wasn’t important early on and the few things I wish I would have known.
So, in my talks I focus on practical knowledge with the goal of communicating two things: 1) what they should be doing now and 2) what they shouldn’t be worried about until they have accomplished the first list of things. For example, with Sales and Marketing, Founders tend to want to know how much money they need, but they haven’t interviewed customers or tested an online ad. So I explain in detail how to determine target customers, interview them, and test marketing ideas with very minimal budgets. Then at a high level I explain once they have proven or disproven their theory, what to do next. When writing your talk, just ask yourself, “What are the 2-3 things I wish I would have known when I started”. In most cases if Founders nail those, they will succeed and can figure out the rest as they go. Remember less is usually better.
4. Always close your talk with step-by-step action items.
The final and most common question I heard from Founders my first year of mentoring was, “Where should I start?” As Mentors, it’s easy to forget how much we know and how much information we can really share in a 20-minute talk. In point three above, I encourage teaching the basics, but in most cases what we think is basic really is intermediate to advanced. The easiest and most effective way to have a high score and end a talk is with measurable action items. The last slide of every talk should end with a short list of 3-5 action items on where to start. I have found the #1 key to Founder confidence is having a plan.
5. Review the keys to a great presentation.
This last tip doesn’t just apply to giving a great FI talk, but applies to giving great talks as a business leader. Every Mentor is an expert at something, but in most cases we are doers not explainers. This is what makes us great entrepreneurs, but many times we are average teachers. I have found the best way to teach is to learn. So, before every talk I Google, “keys to being a great teacher” and “keys to giving a great talk.” I recommend spending 10 minutes doing the same and bookmark the best articles you have found. It will show greatly in your delivery and feedback score. Here is a great post I recently read from Mark Suster’s blog, Both Sides of the Table. “How to Nail a Group Presentation”. Enjoy!
If you have any comments or want a PPT copy of any of my talks, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author:
Jimmy Hendricks was the #1 rated global mentor for Founder Institute in 2012 and is the CEO of Deal Current Network based in San Diego. Deal Current provides a white-label deal and coupon platform to media companies and performance based marketing solutions for small business owners. His education includes a Masters in Corporate Tax from the University of Missouri.