The Entrepreneur Communicator

In today’s business world there is a constant drumbeat for clear communications. And without a doubt, we will find a lack of clear communication at the root of many of the issues that we have with each other. OK, I get it. We need to communicate clearly. But here is something you will not hear as often. There is also a need to simplify our communications. Sometimes we may think we are communicating clearly when in fact the message we are conveying is so convoluted and complicated that our audience gets lost.

I am involved with a venture capital business that screens large numbers of start-up companies in the biotech space as we look for potential investments. One company stands out from the rest – not because of the product it was developing, but because its pitch was so impossible to understand. We have some technical people on our board as well as advisors with whom we work, and no one understood what the pitch was all about. This company used highly technical terminology and language that no one ever hears in day-to-day conversation. I suppose that it is possible that the product could have been an amazing breakthrough in its field. But we will never know because we declined to invest for the simple reason that we could not understand the pitch. Here is an excerpt from the pitch summary.

(XYZ) technology allows RNA to be manufactured using well proven large scale fermentation processes. Prior to (XYZ) manufacturing innovations these large scale fermentation processes were not viable because of the ubiquitous and unavoidable presence of RNAses (enzymes that break down RNA) in the fermentation process environment. (XYZ) technology sequesters, inside a protein capsid, the RNA as it is produced thus protecting it from RNAse degradation. This protein capsid protects the RNA allowing subsequent isolation and purification. There is also a high level of interest in using the protein encapsidated RNA as a delivery mechanism.

The preceding is an extreme illustration of overly complicated communications. But there are countless examples that occur daily to a lesser degree. I moderate panel discussions at several apartment industry conferences each year. We talk about many aspects of the business including debt, equity, construction, and operations. Often, we have audience members who are new to the industry. While the subject matter can be complex at times, the bigger problem is all the acronyms that are the plague on our house.

It does not matter whether the communication is written or verbal, we must redouble our efforts to simplify, simplify, simplify. When we write like we speak, we tend to accomplish this objective. And if we think before we speak, it is likely our communication will be understood. Guarding against ego-creep is also in our best interest. We have all seen the pontificators who like to show everyone how smart they are by spouting a bunch of intellectual-sounding mumbo jumbo. Staying humble and being respectful of the audience’s desire to understand what we are communicating should be our guiding principle.

A man or woman of few(er) words conquers rambling purveyors of verbosity every time. Striving for clarity and simplicity in our communications will ensure that we are persuasive and convincing.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Ghost of Miss Johnston

We entrepreneurs are a talkative bunch. We love to explain our ideas to anyone who will listen, and we’ll lobby the guy sitting next to us on a plane until he finally agrees with whatever position we’ve taken on our subject du jour. Our penchant as an interlocutor is an integral part of our persona. Care must be taken so as not to dilute the effects of our prose with careless or incorrect jargon, as well as gratuitous statements. All that said, I’m not suggesting that we speak in the stilted tones of a 19th century aristocrat, but merely that we appear to have paid attention (somewhat) in English class during our formative years. Here is my list of possibilities for consideration.

  1. I’ve heard some very bright and educated people use the terms “quite honestly” or “quite frankly.” For example, “Quite honestly, I believe that we are on the right track with that decision.” The implication here is that the speaker is being honest at this moment because he says he is. Does this mean that if he does not add this qualifier to everything he says, that he’s not being honest? Interchange the term “frankly” for “honestly” and the same question can be pondered.
  2. Another cringeworthy moment comes when we hear the following statement, “Her and I went to the meeting.” Or how about, “Me and him are going to meet.” I’ll never forget the steely glare from my seventh grade English teacher, Miss Mary Johnston, when we got this wrong. She made it easy to remember by reminding us to individualize the statement; “She went to the meeting, not her went to the meeting. I went to the meeting, not me went to the meeting. Thus, she and I went to the meeting.”
  3. The next was a favorite of my mother-in-law – or should I say it caused her to go ballistic whenever she heard the word used incorrectly. “Where are you going to or “Where is the cake knife at?” I think she emphasized this so much while she was alive that I became deathly afraid that she might stab me with that cake knife if she ever heard me use the prepositions “to” and “at” to finish a sentence.
  4. Here’s one that I hear surprisingly often. A “picture” is not a “pitcher.” I’m not sure how there’s confusion surrounding the fact that a pitcher is someone who throws a baseball or is perhaps a container from which liquid is poured, and a picture is a photograph or a painting.
  5. I’ve found as I’ve become older that I tend to search more for certain words as I’m speaking. I’m not quite ready to admit that age may be a factor here. Instead, I’d like to chalk it up to the fact that I have way too many thoughts swimming around in my head. Nevertheless, while stumbling around looking for a certain word, I have fallen victim at times to the overuse of the terms “like” and “you know.” I swore I would never succumb to sounding like a Valley Girl, but alas, I know there are times when I revert to Valspeak. Ugghhh! It’s maddening and I’m so glad that Miss Johnston isn’t alive to witness my shame.
  6. Now we move on to a dreaded phrase that is death to entrepreneurs. This isn’t an incorrect usage of speech. Instead it’s an incorrect usage of entrepreneurial principles. The phrase, “We’ve always done it that way.” Ralph has observed that a manufacturing process in his plant involves multiple steps and could be streamlined. When he asks the plant manager why so many steps are involved the answer is, “We’ve always done it that way.” Ralph’s head is about to explode. The obvious answer is, “Hmm, maybe we need to take another look at that process. I don’t think anyone ever thought to do so.”
  7. Finally, we must be mindful of the way we use acronyms and industry-specific jargon. When I speak at industry conferences, I often lead panel discussions. I know there are newbies in the audience and I stop panelists that shortcut their speech with the heavy use of acronyms. I ask them to explain the terms they are using for the sake of clarity. It’s important that we know who is listening to us and whether they are a civilian or “one of us.”

Paying attention to what we say when we communicate will help us be more precise in conveying our ideas and will promote a clear understanding of what we mean. It will also keep us from being haunted by the ghosts of Miss Johnston and her brethren (and my mother-in-law).

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.