Market musings

Winning Communication Tips for New Founders

by Sasha Viasasha
October 3, 2017

There are a lot of reasons why people decide to start their own business, but a common thread runs though many stories about the entrepreneurial journey. Entrepreneurs are often fiercely independent, self-driven and self-reliant individuals. Because of this, communication can be a challenge. You can’t communicate by yourself, it requires the cooperation and willingness of a second party. Because of this, communication is inherently social, and some people aren’t naturally social people.

In fact, one of the first obstacles a new founder will often hit hard is a major communication snafu that impacts a project timeline, critical benchmark, or public announcement. These painful mistakes are all part of the learning experience, but minimizing the pain and optimizing the learning can make the curve less steep and the fallout less disastrous. The following communication tips for new founders can save you time and embarrassment. 

Wearing many hats

Communicating with potential investors, partners, co-founders, employees, contractors, clients and the general public requires you to develop mental dexterity, flexibility, and also a strong sense of time and limits. You must be responsive to key players and team members while controlling and prioritizing the information you take in.

An overload of information, bad data and an overly negative (or sunny) outlook increases the risk that you’ll make a bad or poorly timed decision, or lose focus at a critical moment. Controlling your exposure to information while staying engaged and relevant is a delicate balancing act, and takes some practice. 

Sharing your vision

At the same time, you have to be prepared at all times to communicate your idea or vision to a variety of different audiences in different settings. Most people have an elevator speech ready, but what about when the elevator ride turns into a long lunch? You might have a pitch deck ready, but can you discuss your idea over the phone? Can you quickly shape your narrative to pitch a story idea to a publisher, then turn around and inspire the people who will help you breathe life into your vision?

Is your pitch exciting and memorable enough to engage your audience, anywhere, anytime? It’s a tall order, and requires a strong message that is supported by data and yet has strong emotional appeal.  

Your idea or vision is probably so familiar to you that you don’t realize other people can’t see what you do.  Even if they have the cultural and social context to understand it, they aren’t necessarily immersed in the space that you are, so they’ll need the background and context to make a connection with your idea. To create those links first you’ll have to capture their attention and pique their curiosity.  

Become a story teller

Stories grab attention, pull people in and establish an emotional connection. But even beyond that, they create neurological pathways that allow people to retain and make sense of data. They allow teams to bond and coalesce around a common mission. 

A Stanford research study showed that statistics alone have a retention rate of 5-10%, but when coupled with anecdotes, the retention rate rises to 65-70%.

Storytelling was how information was passed down in oral cultures, and while we don’t use a formal narrative like epic poetry to preserve our collective culture and history, a vast amount of critical data is still conveyed verbally, in both formal and informal conversations over lunch, on the phone, and in person. 

If you want people to care about what you say and remember it, find a way to embed your ideas in a story, and to illustrate your data points with anecdotes. 

The first telling of a story might be awkward and feel uncomfortable, but stories get better with time and practice. Keep a journal and jot down interesting stories you hear. Talk to people and analyze the stories they tell.

Storytelling is a great way to transcend cultural and generational barriers, but it takes practice, both listening to stories and telling them. Take in stories and reverse engineer them to learn what critical messaging they contain. Stories, however uninteresting, are rarely pointless, people use narrative to make points about everything, all the time.

Develop empathy

Founders tend to be data-focused, and rightly so. Data drives strategy, justifies expenditures and establishes objective facts about what works. None of that matters, however, unless the founder can first develop and demonstrate empathy. The Annenberg School for Communication surveyed business leaders about what executives must have to succeed in a digital, global, mobile world. They answered:

  1. Cultural competence, including the capacity to think, act, and move across borders
  2. 360-degree thinking, especially recognition of patterns
  3. Intellectual curiosity
  4. Adaptability
  5. Empathy

Overwhelmingly, leaders said that empathy must be developed first. It underpins all the others. 

Be a conversationist

When people hear information they process it very differently from when they read that same information. That seems like a simple statement but it turns out to be profoundly significant for founders.

European researchers at BCBL reported that they recorded brainwaves start to sync up as two people take part in a conversation. The researchers specified that,

"The brains of the two people are brought together thanks to language, and communication creates links between people that go far beyond what we can perceive from the outside.”

No matter how much you blog, no matter how good your financial slide deck, you will need to master conversation – active listening and empathetic presentation – to put your ideas in the minds of others.

Virtual phones are conversation engines

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Spoke is a very different kind of phone system that was designed specifically to facilitate communication for small business owners. We eliminate the need for desk phones, for wires, for servers and for IT crews. You and your employees just download an app and you are in business. Spoke makes your workforce mobile and does it for around 88% less than a traditional phone system. Get your own free trial of Spoke or contact us for a demo and let's see if we can get you talking.