Getting our point across…

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Every time I talk to someone about this issue (how we progressives have had the political rug pulled out from underneath us by a bunch of ultra-rich, ultra-conservative ideologues), I flail around for a few minutes and then wind up saying, “Go to the Commonweal Institute web site, and read the information there about how the right wing has manipulated the media and public consciousness… spend two or three hours reading some of the reports, and you’ll never look at a news article the same way again.”

This obviously limits the potential audience for the ideas and information we’re trying to communicate. Reading Dave’s speech prompted some thoughts, and I thought I’d share them. Basically, it seems to me that we are victims of the standard liberal disease of making everything just too damn complex for your average harried human to follow. You get 10 seconds or less to make your case when someone hits your web page, and if you don’t manage it within that time, they’re gone.

If you want an excellent example of this, take a look at the Commonweal Institute’s website – click on “learn more” on the home page, and you get this (not too bad, four bullet points, four paragraphs of exposition) – but click one more level down, and you get an entire essay’s worth of exposition on each point – most people will bail immediately.

Dave’s information page on that same site is another example. It’s an incredibly valueable resource – but you have willing to take the time to dig down and read a score of multi-page reports to get anything from it. How many people are going to do that?

Even STF doesn’t have a single, clear exposition of our core position. We have Dave’s posting, “How to Fight Back”, but even that is (a) buried and (b) too long — a new vistor to this blog would have no idea what our core value proposition is, or what the title, “Seeing The Forest” refers to. We need an “About This Blog” link, right above the “About The Authors” one. And it needs to be short and sweet. And visible.

But we need more than that. As organizers, we need the basic communications tools to make our case to the public, the media, and potential funders. I spent several years over the hill, at a VC-funded start-up that went through several rounds of funding and learned quite a bit in the process. In the following essay, I talk about the tools entreprenuers use to convince investors to fund their companies, and how they can be applied to our needs.

The first step in getting any company funded is “the elevator pitch”. If you can’t communicate the essence of your idea in 30 seconds or less, you haven’t refined your core pitch enough to persuade anyone to even let you in the door to speak with them, let alone get funded.

What’s our elevator pitch?
If we have one, it isn’t visible. It should be the first thing anyone visiting STF, Commonweal, or any of our own personal sites sees. It should be the first thing any one of us says when we raise this issue in a conversation. I see pieces of it on the Commonweal site, but nothing I could easily lift out and repeat to someone in under thirty seconds, that would convince someone that we’ve got something new and different that could level the political playing field.

Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door you need to convince someone to let you walk through it. That’s where the next tool in the entreprenuer’s bag of tricks comes in: the business plan and executive summary. You expect people to read the executive summary – you don’t expect people to read the business plan.

The executive summary lays out your case for why your company is worth funding in one or two pages (at most). It boils your argument down to something that can be read and processed well inside ten minutes. It describes the opportunity available, your plan for capitalizing on it, and why you and your team are the people to make it happen. Put another way: people, market, product.

What’s our equivalent? Where have we laid out our complete case in as concise a fashion as possible, such that someone could read it, and nothing else, and come away convined that we’re on the right track?

I looked around on STF for something like this, and the closest thing I was able to find was Dave’s “How To Fight Back” posting, and even that is too long (as I said above) and complicated. I don’t think we can honestly expect even someone who is seriously interested what we have to say to read through that whole thing if we sent it to them in email. Seems to me that we have a business plan without an executive summary, which means that most likely, our most valueable work will never get read.

Strike two. Not doing so well, eh? But, hey, this is fixable. We just need to write this up. 🙂

Now that you’ve gotten in the door, you’ve got thirty minutes or less to convince an incredibly busy, highly skeptical and extremely financially conservative professional to invest in your company. Oh yeah, did I mention that they’re are looking for reasons to say no, and focused on finding the flaws in your argument? We had a highly trained, throughly experienced CEO at my last company, and even he was hard put to keep on message when confronting a potential investor.

How do you prepare for this? Focus. Refine. Simplify. Repeat. And then repeat again.

What does every entreprenuer walk into this meeting with? A PowerPoint presentation (along with a copy of their executive summary and business plan, to leave behind when they’re done).

About that PowerPoint presentation:

1. It consists of not more than ten pages.

2. Each page has no more than three or four high level bullet point points.

3. It doesn’t last longer than twenty minutes (at most).

This (and the presentation around it) is your basic selling tool. More than anything else, how well this presentation goes over determines whether or not your company gets funded. Creating it is an extremely valueable exercise – it forces you to refine your ideas to their essence, and discard anything even slightly extraneous or distracting from your core message.

What’s our equivalent? A short web based presentation that walks a new visitor through the core elements of our presentation (and their underlying rationales) in five minutes or less. Someone needs to walk away from having clicked through a half dozen pages with a solid grip on our entire case.

Of course, we also need a script to go along with it, for in person presentations to groups and individuals, and for those wanting to dig deeper, later on.

Do we have this? Doesn’t look like it. Strike three. No wonder we’re losing the battle. We’re the smart ones on our side (since we see the forest), and we still haven’t managed to put the basic communications tools in place to make our case with. ’cause you’re all too damn smart, I guess, and haven’t needed our help to figure things out.

But, we can fix this. See tomorrow’s posting for some thoughts on how to refine things down to meet these requirements.