Coaching FAQ

I’ve tried to anticipate all your questions about arranging a coaching session with me, what to expect, how to prepare. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, contact me and ask.  

What kind of a coach are you?

There isn’t a precise term for what I do. I'm a presentation coach can and can help any speaker improve  'platform skills' and fix problems with delivery (voice, hands, eye-contact, etc).  I can coach slides – I have a background in graphic design. 

But I’m really more of a content consultant. I work to understand your real story (which is often not the story you’ve been pitching), then I show you how to make that story come alive. This is when I draw on my experience as a professional writer and my specialized understanding of the investor audience. 

I sometimes serve as a business advisor.  I advise companies going after venture investment for the first time on what to expect and what to do to prepare to raise money. I sometimes act as a sounding board for more sophisticated entrepreneurs. I draw from all I’ve learned from the thousands of companies I’ve coached over the years.

All of these roles merge as I diagnose problems and then offer solutions for any presentation, at any level. If you need help with the basics, we work on the basics. If you're an experienced presenters, we work on advanced techniques for taking your pitch up a notch. If you need help sorting out the content, that's my forte. And if you need coaching or remedial help with your delivery, I'm your guy for that as well. 

Do you coach over the phone?

Yes, all the time.  It works well.  I often work with clients I’ve never met.

If you can’t travel to Media, we can do the whole process over the phone and email.   Don’t hesitate to call me even if you’re located in another state or country.

How do I make an appointment?

Call or email to set up a time for our first session.  Let me know if you’re local and intend to come to my office in Media, PA (19063), or do it over the phone.

If you have any doubts that I’m the right coach for you, we can talk on the phone for a few minutes.  Then if you’re satisfied, we’ll set a time for the first work session.

If we’re meeting at my office, I’ll send you directions and GPS info. 

Where are you located?

I’m in Media, PA, 19063.  Media is west of Philadelphia, a 40-minute drive or train ride from center city and 30 minutes from the airport.  We’ll meet on the second floor of my 18th Century farm house, around the walnut table in my conference room.  It’s quiet, free of distractions—the perfect place to concentrate and create.

If possible, try to meet with me in person for the first session.  Then we can conduct follow-up meetings over the phone.

If you can’t travel to Media, no problem.  We’ll do it over the phone.

How do I prepare for coaching?

You don’t need to do much to prepare for your first coaching session.

The first thing we’ll do when we get together (phone or in person) is a role play of your current pitch, no matter what state it’s in.  You play you; I play a roomful of investors.

I like to start “cold,” knowing nothing about your or your company before we start.  This is so I can simulate what an investor goes through when hearing you for the first time.  Channeling the impatience, skepticism, and prejudices of a typical investor, I note what I understand right away, where I get confused, where I get bored, what gets me excited, and what questions I can’t wait to ask.  I make rush judgments as to whether I “buy it,” and if not, why not.

Then we break out of role and I launch into questions and comments based on what I experienced while role-playing investor.  I probe to learn as much as I can about you and your company.  This part of the session can get quite intense and last up to three hours, non-stop.

Don’t spend a lot of time perfecting your slides before you meet with me.  This first pitch is your baseline presentation—the “before” in the “before and after” comparison.  Odds are you’ll decide to make radical changes to the slides as the result of our session.  However, it is good if your pitch up-to-date in terms of business status and strategy.

This is the one time I’ll suggest you not spend time rehearsing.  It’s ok if this baseline presentation is a little rough.

For in-person meetings

Bring your slides on your laptop, or on a thumb drive if you want to use my laptop.  Bringing a copy of executive summaries, business plans, etc. is optional.  No need to print out slides.

Do bring product samples, props—anything that helps show what you have.  I’m a big believer in “show and tell.”

Dress code is “whatever.”  If you want me to make fresh-ground, french-roast coffee, let me know a little in advance.  I’ll have chocolate and nuts to sustain us through the long meeting.

For phone sessions:  

Email me your files before the call.  If you’re sending slides, I can work with PowerPoint or Keynote slides—no need to convert to a different format.  PDF format is ok, but is a little harder to work with if I need to dig in and play with some of the slide elements.

Please, put your company name in the file name.  A date or version number helps too.  (You can’t imagine how many files on my harddrive titled “investor presentation.ppt.”)

If you’re conferencing in other partners or advisers, I don’t mind using a conference call service—whatever works best for you.  But if it’s just you and me, an old-fashioned direct call is sufficient.  I prefer you use a land line, if you have one, to avoid the latency delay of cellphones.  If not, use your cellphone.

I find it works best if you place the call to me, rather than the other way around.

Can I include my partners?

Yes, by all means. I find it helps me to be able to draw from a second viewpoint as I’m trying to understand the essence of your business. Also, it means that you have two people who understand and remember my coaching advice when you return to your office and start making changes. You’ll want to take notes too.

If we’re doing a phone call, I have no problem if you conference in a team member or two.  If we’re meeting in person, I can comfortably accommodate an extra person or two.

I'm not the CEO. Is that okay?

Investors want to be pitched by the CEO. So its not ok if you're trying to improve your odds of being funded. An exception is early-stage companies with co-founders--either can present. If for some reason the CEO can't present, we'll talk and figure out the best strategy to achieve your goals. I'll work with anybody on your team, but prefer to focus on the person who will actually be delivering the pitch.

BTW, the presentation itself is a solo act. I advise strongly against 'tag team' presentations. 

Can I record the sessions?

Yes.  I encourage you to use whatever method you need to remember all that happens.  Most of my clients take lots of notes; sometime a partner takes the notes while I grill the CEO.  Once I get rolling, I’m hitting you with a lot of ideas, wordings, specific suggestions and you won’t be able to remember all of it when you sit down to make changes.

I don’t mind audio or even video recording, so long as it doesn’t interfere with our concentration in the moment.  (If you want to share beyond your team—on FaceBook, for example—I request you consult with me first.)

How much coaching is enough?

When discussing the terms of our engagement, clients ask me, “How much time will it take?”

Of course, the answer is, “It depends.”

It depends on what state your presentation is in now.  If there are major problems, or you’re starting from scratch, it’ll take longer to get you to even good enough.

It depends on how far you want to take it.  The BizClarity Scale (Trainwreck to Insanely Great) is designed to help you target your time and money.  Good Enough might be all you need.  Given enough time, I can take you to Outstanding or all the way to Insanely Great.

Balance goals with resources.  If cash is scarce (what entrepreneur isn’t stretched?), I’ll work with you to be as cost effective as possible.

One way to get the most out of the engagement is to first digest the written materials I provide (see Guides section), and then follow through on assignments that arise from our time together.  And take good notes.

Will I have to redo my pitch from scratch?

Not exactly.

It does happen.  I often hear clients say, “Damn you, Steve, now we have to start over.”  Followed by, “I wish we had met you six months ago.  Would’ve saved us a lot of wasted effort.”

By the time our first session is over, there’s a good chance you’ll decide for yourself to start over.

This is the best decision if the story you first pitch is not the story you really need to tell.  If you aren’t telling the right story, trying to salvage slides is a waste of time.  My first job is helping you find the right story.  You decide how much you need to change.

If you are telling the right story, but your slides are cluttered and in the wrong sequence (usually the result of working from a formula), it might be easier to start fresh.  If I see problems with your slides, I’ll show you what to do about it.

If your initial presentation is telling the right story, with clean slides that energize a concise narrative, you’re in the minority.  I’ll thank you for reminding me it is possible.  Then I’ll switch to “master class” mode and we’ll work at an advanced level to make your pitch even better.

Can I hire you for one session?

Yes.  I charge by the hour (unless we work out some other deal), so you can use me as little or as much as you want.  

Many companies on a tight budget pick my brain for an hour or two and tell me it’s money well spent.  Some of those companies come back for more later, usually after applying my advice and experiencing the difference in their next few meetings with and investors.

Can you teach me to be a better presenter?

Yes.  Before I specialized in investor presentations I was a presentation skills trainer.  Stage fright, pacing, voice problems, nervous habits, etc.—I’ve seen them all while teaching speaking skills to students and corporate clients.  I once taught a seminar at Wharton for non-native students with special problems communicating in English. 

If you have issues with speaking to a live audience, I can help you.  If your problems run deep it will take training, practice, and time to correct.  I’ll diagnose the problem and suggest a course of action. But more likely, your quirks are easily fixed with the right coaching.

The good news is that most of the delivery problems I see aren’t caused by a lack of speaking talent, but from other factors fully in your control.  Bad slides is the worst culprit.  Others are poor preparation, unfocused message, too much material, wrong level of detail.  I’ll be looking for those first.  Well-designed slides and narrative make a poor speaker look good, and a good speaker great.

Will you write my slides?

I do sometimes write slides and scripts.  When I do, it’s at the same hourly rate as coaching/consulting.  And I only do it after we’ve had enough time together that I feel I have a good grasp of your company.  

But I’d rather you do your own slides.  My goal when coaching is not only to critique and offer solutions, but also to teach you enough that you can eventually do it yourself (“Teach a man to fish …”).

You’ll get the most bang for your buck with two to four iterations of your presentation.  Between coaching sessions you go off and apply my suggestions and the lessons you learned.   With each iteration I’m addressing finer details as we refine your pitch to a point of perfection.

Will you write my executive summary?

I do sometimes write executive summaries.  When I do, it’s at the same hourly rate as coaching/consulting.  And I only do it after we’ve had enough time together that I feel I have a good grasp of your company.

But I’ll try to talk you out of it.  Writing takes a lot of time to do well—and my standards are high.  Really good writing is clear, concise, easy to read, compelling and persuasive.  To achieve writing that sounds “easy and obvious” requires all my skill and energy, lots of rewrites, and a big block of time.

I am more amenable to doing editing.  I can take your writing, analyze it, mark it up, comment and then send it back to you to fix.  It’s relatively quick, compared to actual writing.  And you’re in full control over what you actually send out.

How much do you charge?

I normally charge by the hour, as a lawyer or consultant would.

You can pre-pay for a block of time at a discounted rate.

If you’re a group—an accelerator program, for example—we can negotiate a wholesale rate for coaching all the people your group.

I’m open to discussing flat rates for projects that can be clearly delineated.

If your needs are on-going, we can talk about a retainer contract.  For example, you could retain me to help create and coordinate all of your pitch materials throughout the whole funding campaign.  Or to give on-going presentation skills coaching of all the executives in a large company.