In this podcast episode, Jim James interviews Ed West, the head of Fox-West, a communications consulting firm, who helps large corporations communicate and persuade. Ed shares tips on how to prepare for investor presentations, reduce the use of jargon, and simplify the message. He suggests using the simple message house tool and the "James Bond Start" to grab the audience's attention. Ed also advises to use analogies and stories to bring statistics to life and avoid overly intricate slides. To make the message accessible, he recommends using the Flesch-Kincaid test to assess sentence and word length and to present informally, like having a conversation with a friend in a pub. Finally, Ed emphasises the need to be yourself and show your personality without making it all about yourself.
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Hello and welcome to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur with me, Jim James. And today we're going all the way to sunny Buckingham here in the UK to meet a good old friend, Ed West. Ed, welcome to the show.Ed West:
Thanks, Jim.Jim James:
Now, Ed West runs a company called "Fox-West," and he is a Communications Consultant and helps big brands like "Deutsche Bank" and "Syngenta" to communicate and to become more persuasive with their words. So, we're gonna talk to Ed about the way that he coaches large companies, Executives as they're getting ready for presentations, also Entrepreneurs for investor presentations. He's gonna talk to us about the 'ums' and 'uhs' and what we can do about those when we have the too many of them in our speech. Ed, you and I have known each other for over 25 years. You're in Singapore same time as me. Now, you're back in the UK. Let's start with what do people do wrong when they communicate? When they are about to talk to Investors or their Stakeholders? Take it away.Ed West:
Thanks, Jim. So, well what we suggest is that for any communication that anyone gets involved in, they've gotta do two things for it to work. They need to get a clear message across, which hopefully people will understand and buy into. And they need to get a positive sense for them, for their personalities, for their professional competence. Because if you understand the message, but you don't buy into the speaker, that doesn't work. You buy into the speaker, but you don't understand the message. That doesn't work either. So in its simplest terms, that's what you've gotta try to do. Our challenge is that I think a lot of the people that I work with, and I think most of the people on this podcast listening, are probably experts and they know an awful lot about their business. And when you get an expert who's passionate about their business and they want to help people understand it. And often this download of information comes across and people drown in it, and they can use quite complicated terminology. So let me give you an example. So, here's the opening line that the CEO was giving. They were trying to raise, I think a billion dollars. And this is how the CEO started: "So we have a commanding sustainable market leadership in large growing categories protected by significant barriers to entry. We also have a significant runway for growth and shareholder value creation, underpinned by multi-pronged organic and inorganic expansion strategies." Which I don't know about you, but I think most people don't know yet.Jim James:
I feel like I may be yawning at the end of that. So obviously someone in PR wrote that. I mean, it's like a whole cocktail of the high value words from Scrabble. How would you help to unscrabble that and make it into a language that the audience would understand?Ed West:
Well, often on these big investor presentation, you've got Lawyers, you've got Bankers, you've got Accountants, and you've got the PR and you've got the obviously, the company management as well. So there's a lot of people getting involved in it. The challenge is to cut through all the mumbo jumbo and make it as clear and simple as possible. As I often quote the Einstein's lovely quote, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." So, it's not a case of dumbing it down, but it is making it simple and accessible. So, I often use this very simple message house type tool.It's thinking about:
What's your objective? Who's your audience? If they walk away remembering three or four things, what should they be? What's the evidence we're gonna use to bring it to life and make it compelling? And then we should have an attention graber. A good start. I term it a "James Bond Start." Every James Bond film starts with an action sequence to grab people's attention. So, consider having a James Bond start to make people sit up and want to listen. And if they walk away remembering three or four things, they're not gonna remember much more than that. So if you can do that, you'd probably succeed.Jim James:
So in the case of the CEO, who had this paragraph really of introduction, what would you have counseled them to do? What would've been their, if you like, their action sequence at the beginning, Ed?Ed West:
Well, so you think about their audience first. Who's listening to this? What are you hoping to achieve and is it realistic? So, what are you hoping them to think differently, to feel differently? What do you want them to do after you've shut your mouth? So you've gotta be really focused on that objective. And then, secondly, what do you know about that audience? Because each audience is gonna be a little bit different. So you probably want to be well, ideally, you wanna know as much about them as you possibly can to help you with that. Then, once you've decided and you've understood that, then it's thinking about those messages and then it's bringing it to life. And how do you bring it to life? There are stories, lots of stats in an investor presentation. There's gotta be lots of compelling data. But bring that data to life by using stories, using analogies. And not having horribly complicated slides with too much information, which often just gets in the way of that communication.Jim James:
Okay, so you've talked there about the need to sort of make it simpler, but not if you're like less intelligent.Ed West:
What sort of tools or metrics are you using to help people to judge that? I know that there are some, if you like measurements aren't there that people could look at to help them to decide. What can you recommend for people to use?Ed West:
The simplest, I'll talk about the "Flesch–Kincaid Test," which is something that you could do. But the way that I suggest is if you think about... if you are in a pub and you were talking to a friend, how would you say, what would you say? So keep it conversational. The problem is that we get into a more formal presentation mode and then we start talking in a more formal way. And that's not just the language changes, but also we become as the deliverer of that information, we change and we become stiff, monotone, and it all becomes a bit boring. But the Flesch–Kincaid test that I just touched on, that measures sentence length, word length. So I remember reading in the Boston Globe, they did a study back in 2016 of the election campaigns there. So they put all the candidate's speeches through that and it's quite an interesting way of measuring. And they noticed that Donald Trump, his speeches, he came out his language and the sentence length, he talks at the age of, I think it's a fourth grade, which is a 10 year old. So really super simple. I'm not suggesting that people should try and talk like Donald Trump, but it is interesting how simple his messages are so that there is no doubt everybody gets what he is saying. They get the message. There is no confusion there. And I think that there is something that we could probably all learn from that simplicity. But my general recommendation is say it as you would say it in a pub. Talk conversationally. Don't get into formal presentation mode.Jim James:
Okay. That's really interesting Ed, that somehow we have to remain accessible as the speaker. You've mentioned as well about the need for people to both buy you and the message, can you give us some ideas of how you can, if you're like, share your personality without making it about your personality, especially if you're raising money for a business, you know you're a founder, but you've got a product or a service. How do you get that balance right?Ed West:
Well, my simple message is "Be yourself." Most of the people that I work with are either middle or very senior management. They wouldn't be in those positions or they wouldn't have been hired in the first place, if they weren't already believable, credible people. The problem is when the adrenaline kicks in, when the pressure is on, then often we see somewhat of a change of style and people do become quite stiff, just by way of example. So I've worked with too many investment Bankers over the years when they're pitching for multimillion dollar deals. What often happens is the hands come out in front, they lean on the table and they start talking in this way. "Well, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present to you today. I'm now a senior director in ABC Bank, and it's important that I talk to you in this professional manner. My hands probably won't move for the next five minutes, but that's professional, so that's what I'm going to do." And then it just feels as if their whole personality is being sort of sucked out of them. So, what I try to do is show people because I mean, essentially my message is be yourself. But that's quite difficult when you're put on the spot. When you're under pressure, you're not feeling yourself. So I try to show people, "Here's you, and you perhaps sometimes you didn't realize that the camera was running. Here's what you do naturally. Let's diagnose that. Let's break it down for you, to help you to see what it is you do naturally." And naturally, you probably use a few hand gestures. I mean, when I'm on the phone and I'm talking, I'll probably be walking around and I'll be using my hands and that's how we all talk. But when there's a lot at stake, we change.Jim James:
So Ed, can you suggest ways that people can practice that? Because I've noticed as well when I have guests on the podcast in the pre-show, everyone's kind of relaxed and chattier that the microphone goes on and some people really find it quite tense. What do you do as Fox-West to help people to, if you like get into the state before going into the presentation?Ed West:
Controlling nerves and the adrenaline is a big part of that. I think also recognising that the nerves and the adrenaline, it's natural and it's not necessarily a bad thing. I remember working with well, little name drop here. I worked with a guy who was the, he was the chairman of HSBC in Hong Kong, many years ago. And he said to me, "Ed, I still get these butterflies in my stomach every time that I stand up and give a talk. But the time that I stop getting those butterflies, I know is the time that I should quit and resign." And I've said to him, "Really? Do you really mean that?" And he said, "Yeah, because the danger is if I'm too relaxed, I'll do a sloppy job. And I don't wanna do a sloppy job." So I thought that was interesting. the nerves, the adrenaline, it's not necessarily a bad thing if you don't have it, we've got a bigger problem, which means that you don't actually care. So, recognising that it's okay, but recognising also that your perception of time is gonna get distorted probably as a result of that adrenaline. Which is why we do those, "Um, uh, uh." Well, what I think, we do that because we are uncomfortable with silence. So, one key element is getting more comfortable with silence. Recognising your perception of time is going to get distorted. But of all the things, I think, it's boring, but you've gotta be super well prepared.Jim James:
Okay, so you talked about "Ums and Uhs," and that's a big issue especially when we have guests on the show, but also if you're in front of people, especially for example, journalists as well as investors and so on. Ed, is there some sort of tool or technique you mentioned about preparation for the "Uhms and uhs"? How do you help people to recognise they're gonna do that and then to work through that? Because this is a skill to be learned, isn't it? I mean, it's not just a natural talent.Ed West:
So, three things. So first of all is make sure that you are well prepared, that you've rehearsed it, particularly the start. Secondly, make sure you've got a great start. Make sure you've got a James Bond start that you know the audience will be captivated by. Because I think once you see that they are with you, then that boosts your own confidence and you get over those initial butterflies. So, I would work really hard on the messaging side, particularly of the start. I'd make sure I'm really well rehearsed and prepared. And thirdly, just one simple thing that you can do is to get rid of the ums and uhs, is on your phones, you've probably all got that voice memo app. So, my medicine for people I suggest is to record yourself. Give yourself a topic, random topic when you got five minutes spare, record yourself talking on that topic, play it back, count how many, actually, sort of, basically, like, all of those filler words that aren't adding any value. They're just getting in the way of the communication. Count those kick yourself that many times, and if you do that three times a week for the next five weeks, you'll have a sore leg afterwards, but you'll have also raised your consciousness levels to such a degree that you will chip away at a lot of them, you won't cut out all of them and that doesn't matter because they are pretty natural. But you will cut out a lot of them.Jim James:
That's great. So a little bit of self resolution through, practice. I can rely on you for that. You spent 25 years also working in Asia, Ed. For those people that are communicating with audiences that are maybe different cultures or indeed, different generations. I mean, you could draw parallels between different generations and different cultures. Any guidance, because we've talked about how one would prepare, for example, you had James Bond intro. I haven't really talked about the audience understanding. What do you give as guidance on that, Ed?Ed West:
So, well I can use a profiling tool called "The HBDI", which stands for the Herman Brain Dominance Instrument. And it measures how people think. So you've got detailed thinkers, you've got detailed fillers, you've got big picture thinkers, and you've got big picture fillers. So it separates you into four different quadrants. And it's been used by, I think it's something like half of the Fortune 500 companies. So it's very well established and very credible. So, I often ask by clients to put themselves through it. It's 120 question online questionnaire, and it helps you to better understand your thinking preference. Which then also helps you to better understand how you prefer to think, but how you then make decisions, how you prefer to communicate. But also then get people to recognise there's lots of different thinking styles out there, and you want to make sure you are as persuasive as possible. You want to be tailoring your communications to their thinking preferences. So I find it's quite a... there's lots of different tools out there, but I use The HBDI, I think it's quite a useful and it's quite simple tool to help you to measure those differences. So it measures the difference in individuals, but I think you can also put different countries, different cultures into those categories. So if you take a Singapore culture, or you compare that to a Thailand, or you compare that to a French or an Italian? It's a quite a useful framework is what I find to help people to grasp the concepts.Jim James:
And as you dropped in the word persuasion to that sentence there, is that what we're really talking about the art of persuasion. Do you think, when it comes to communication, what's your view on that?Ed West:
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there's not that many times when you are just giving an update. So, when I've worked with clients, if I'm doing a training program and often people will say, "Oh, it's just an update." And I'm say to them, "Okay, you are presenting in front of your senior management. Isn't this an opportunity for you to at least make them afterwards think this guy's doing a great job or their team is doing a great job?" I remember there was a guy at Deutsche Bank who said exactly that. "I'm just doing an update," and I bullied him a little bit and I said, "Really? Is there nothing you want from this?" And that made him think about it. And he said, "Well, yeah, I don't get to see this person. Well, maybe only once a year, and this person's new to the job." So he thought about it and he said, "Well, actually, when we built 'the message house,' his message was something along the lines, I can't really remember, but it was like, "We process 5 billion dollars worth of trades every year. More efficiently than they can do in London or in New York. And we've got spare capacity." So the message was, we're doing a great job and actually you could give us more and we'll essentially save the business, money, and time.Jim James:
You've given us lots more than we can possibly thank you for. Is there one thing that you could give the fellow unnoticed Entrepreneur on my side of the mic, as guidance? You've mentioned about being yourself, but is there one other thing that you can mention in terms of sort of getting noticed aspect of this art of persuasion?Ed West:
I think it's bullying yourself on the messaging side and thinking about, because we all know so much and we're all passionate about it. So if you can dread it down to just three or four things that you need to implant in people's brains that is gonna make it compelling, what should they be? Then, have you got some stats? Have you got some stories? Have you got some analogies so that you can appeal not just to the people's. Left detailed brain, but their right brains as well. If you can appeal to the whole brain, you are gonna make your message that much more persuasive, more, more compelling.Jim James:
Ed West, you've engaged my left and my right brain, and I'd love for you to just share some details of how people can get hold of you, Ed West at Fox-West. How can they get hold of you?Ed West:
At my email, email@example.com. So firstname.lastname@example.org.Jim James:
And of course I will put those details in the show notes. Ed West, joining from Buckingham today. Actually, for a change, he's the man in the shed today. We switched pla-, switched places. I worked from the shed for two years. Ed West, after 25 years, you've helped people raise over 30 billion dollars with your presentation skills training. Thank you so much for joining me on The UnNoticed Entrepreneur Show Today.Ed West:
My pleasure. Thank you, Jim.Jim James:
So you'll be listening to Ed West and I discussing presentations and really the power of persuasion. So I'll put his details of course in the show notes. If you've enjoyed this show, do please share it with a fellow unnoticed Entrepreneur. Rate the show if you can and remember that this is one of a number of conversations that I then transcribe and put into books. And Volume one is available on Amazon, online, and Barnes and Noble. And if you're in Singapore, it's also available in Kinokuniya. So do check out the book and thank you again for listening to this episode. And until we meet again, keep on communicating.