Posts Tagged ‘language’

Killer Language For Entrepreneurs: Strengths

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

“Why are you smarter than your peers?” To know your unique strengths, to encapsulate them briefly in a powerful sentence or two, and to place them in the context of your audience’s immediate improvement, is a rare skill. 90% of responses from entrepreneurs are “weak”.

©  James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.



Compelling Investors

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

“Please feel free to share investment opportunities in the future….” or “This isn’t right for us at this stage we have a prefer businesses with positive EBITDA” The problem with so many investors is there is no “siren call” to them. Their language is weak, their feedback is meaningless, and there is visibly close to zero commitment to a future relationship with the introduction source. In return, there is no compulsion to make you THEIR priority. To put you at the top of their call list. To keep you uppermost in their thoughts. To reciprocate, in a meaningful manner.

If the game is about identifying, attracting, evaluating, and applying impressive levels of knowledge to high-quality investment opportunities and making wise decisions consistent with an investor’s strategic goals, there is a need to constantly nurture referral sources. You don’t achieve that with bland throwaway sentences or anaemic feedback. You do that best by providing something of value to the introducer quickly (ideas, insights, other investor names, a promotional opportunity and so forth). Of course, that assumes your real intention is to have an ongoing relationship and not banish the referral source to Siberia.

© James Berkeley. 2016 All Rights Reserved.

A Dumb Englishman Abroad

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Rick Stein, the international chef is currently airing an entertaining series on BBC television about long weekends in European cities – the food, the culture and the history. Stein is a great chef, I have eaten in a number of his restaurants and the creator of an impressive brand. He comes across as intellectually curious and a decent man but his mangling of the English and Austrian language in his latest show in Vienna, wouldn’t get him a job in Burger King.

If you want to be taken seriously on a public stage, on camera or at an international gathering or event, the minimum expectation is that you demonstrate a command of your own and your host’s language. If you want to use local terms or words to impress others, make sure you know how to pronounce them properly and in the right context. If you are in doubt about the latter, ask an informed local. Don’t wing it, you’ll look an amateur.

In Stein’s case with an expensive production and abundant researchers, it is just lazy film making or you can blame it on the irritating tendency at the BBC to dumb down programme making to the lowest common denominator. Either way, it makes the speaker look dumb. Why would you do that or allow others to create that impression?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Help I Need Somebody

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

While my focus is on helping mid and large organisations with dramatic growth opportunities, I get asked by early-stage entrepreneurs for a “second opinion” on their business model from time to time. I am often bemused by these “soft” requests, as someone, who has been in the exact same stage of growth.

If you want help, by all means “ask” for it but do realise that there is a strategy and tactics to the request process.

“Strategy” in asking, what do I want to accomplish from applying the requested help? Is it a faster resolution of a past problem, validating a current decision or greater confidence in a future plan?

“Tactics” in the form of how do I get the fastest and best solution? Where external help is required how do I present the “ask” in a way that is mutually beneficial for all parties, not just me.

I come across many interesting entrepreneurs, who are clueless in these areas. Consequently, they buttonhole you at events, send “cold” investment presentations or feign interest in articles that you have published.

Can I make a suggestion? Be very transparent upfront about your intentions, find the warmest path to the “expert” and position the request in their self-interest.

I cannot guarantee, I or anyone else will give you our “free” time but you sure dramatically increase the odds in your favour.

Is that helpful advice?

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

15 Mega Relationship Questions For Every Situation

Friday, December 4th, 2015

Whether you are hiring a key person, seeking to be hired, wanting to develop a peer, subordinate, key client, business partner or investor relationship, here are 15 mega questions you must always have in the back of your head. You have my permission to copy and paste this list and use it as you wish with appropriate attribution to me.

The beauty of these questions is in the simplicity and their power. “Simplicity”, asking a short question results in people revealing more. It crystallizes it for them. “Power” in that emotion and passion are key to getting others to act. We want people to be alive and we want to tap into their deepest place so that they reveal themselves. You can’t demand people to reveal themselves, you have to ask it in a way so that they reveal themselves.

Mega Relationship Questions

  1. Tell me about your obsessions?
  2. Tell me what you are passionate about?
  3. Tell me about your earliest memories?
  4. Tell me about the defining moments in your life or career?
  5. Tell me about your proudest achievements?
  6. Tell me about your greatest disappointments?
  7. Tell me about your hopes?
  8. Tell me about your favourites?
  9. What are the fundamentals of your own success?
  10. Tell me about your secret talents?
  11. Tell me about your biggest conflicts?
  12. Tell me about your fears?
  13. What would be your final piece of advice?
  14. Tell me about your influences?
  15. What makes you tick?

The added advantage is that these three dimensional questions enable you to change the length, depth and breadth of any conversation with minimal effort.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The Generalisation Trap

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Don’t you just love it when when you hear statements like “the millennial generation are different, they don’t want what we want.” Excuse me but don’t they want peace, prosperity, rising health and education standards, and a better quality of life? Generalisations are the lazy and intellectually dishonest way to make sense of the world we live in.

The same holds true about different types of ownership. “Ah, private equity ownership confers being a slave to an accountant” or “VC’s want your sole and to eat it”. Yet the PE and VC ecosystem is a very broach church. There are firms and partners (EQT, Sequoia and JZI Capital), whose track record of long-term investment, high levels of engagement with top management and collaborative success is far preferable to trade investors.  Indeed, they might look, speak and act much more like an investment fund.

Different forms of capital: The oft repeated one in today’s reinsurance business “the Pension Funds and the Insurance Linked Securities providers are unproven capital”. Sorry but these folks are mostly highly conservative people, whose investment bets in other asset classes dwarf the minuscule reinsurance sector. Indeed, they have hired many of the very same experts who the traditional reinsurance sector has relied on for smart underwriting decisions.

Doing business in different countries: “Americans are more direct and will not beat about the bush. Brits dance around the tough issues”. Sure, there are US clients, business partners and colleagues in my 25 year career that have those behavioural traits but there are a great many analytic and amiable characters, who in a negotiation or client relationship are highly prone to avoid confrontation and join the list of world champion procrastinators.

My point here is be careful generalising your way into an intellectually dumb corner. Come with hard evidence or strong anecdotal information and carefully apply it to a particular situation.  “Ah the Spanish, it is always mañana”

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.



Decision Maker or Decision Taker

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

I talked yesterday to an investment manager in a highly acquisitive business at the behest of a client I represent, who thought their firm would have a high level of interest buying them. They had known each other as family friends and my client was certain his friend was the “decision-maker”. The manager’s opening line when asked about their interest was, “Are they desperate to sell the business or just figuring out a fit?” When I asked why he posed the question, he responded, “We are on a buying spree, I am just working out how fast they want to move and how much skin I would need to invest in the game (encouraging his superiors to commit)?” The last comment immediately set the alarm bells wringing. Despite my client’s assurances, his friend is a “decision taker”, not a “decision maker”, at least one, who can sign off on the deal without others approval.

I observe that 70% of the time my clients and prospects conversations with potential prospects, clients and partners ends in failure because they enter the conversation at the wrong level (not seen as a credible peer by the “decision-maker”) or worse talk to and invest time in people, who cannot say “yes” without others’ approval (“decision takers”).

Whether it is selling a business, selling a new product or service or exploring a strategic partnership, here is how to swiftly avoid spending oodles of time talking to “decision takers” and ruthlessly get in front of “decision-makers”:

  1. Be clear exactly what you want to talk about and how the “decision maker” is demonstrably better off from buying, using or hiring your expertise.
  2. Visualise exactly who the “decision maker” (by name or title in that organisation) is, who you must build a trusting relationship with and mutually-explore where you might be of help to each other. If you need others (non-decision makers) help identifying the appropriate individual, use language to position it in away that is beneficial for them (“I know you work with XXX, I thought he would be appreciative of hearing about how my firm could help transform your firm’s future and in so doing he would be appreciative you of you introducing us”).
  3. Work out the shortest, quickest route to that individual (referrals, networking, speaking etc). In larger firms there might very well be multiple “decision-makers” who you need to map out.
  4. How do you create the warmest welcome (identify shared interests, experiences, short-term needs, immediate value) to open the conversation with.
  5. What is the right mindset you need to have entering the room (“We are two peers irrespective of our past or accomplishments having a one-to-one dialogue without fear or guilt to help transform our respective futures.”)
  6. What is the best environment and time to meet the “decision-maker”? (when and where are you going to have an uninterrupted conversation, where will you both feel comfortable and rapidly progress the conversation)
  7. What ideally do you want to accomplish in that meeting and how can use the time most effectively to move towards your goals? In other words, how do you know if it has been a success and what are the signs (decision maker’s responses) that you have maximised your own time usage and the dialogue is moving in your desired direction.

The bane of every client facing person is time wasters. When you are your own worst enemy, it is time to adopt a new approach.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.


Simplicity In A Complex World

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

I walked out of a capital markets presentation in London today about the convergence of the insurance and capital markets sector. The speakers spoke passionately about the quality of “new” alternatives (capital efficiency) and the speed of accomplishing a potential client’s desired business outcomes.

Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that there is a more powerful converging force happening today that most ignored, making the complex simple. This force is not unique to finance or insurance, it is happening in all aspects of our lives. Technology and human behaviour are the great “enablers” if used intelligently.

Three of the four speakers used detailed PowerPoint presentations to deliver their thoughts and provide hard evidence for their views. One speaker used no slides, he chose to escape the lectern and share informally his opinions, occasionally reverting to handwritten notes when he lost his train of thought or needed a prompt. All of them used wireless microphones, carefully placed television screens and discreet lighting to enhance the audience experience.

One speaker, you have guessed it, was exponentially more effective at conveying his wisdom and interacting with the audience. He was able to distill complex ideas and insights into simple, digestible soundbites and mental pictures. I doubt he was any more expert or knowledgeable about the subject but he was much smarter with the delivery.

This is an important lesson not just for speakers.

Ask yourself,

  1. “Where can I/we make the complex simple?” (Marketing, sales, delivery, business management, personal productivity and so on).
  2. “How do I/we best achieve that?” (adjusting human behaviour and leveraging technology).
  3. “What is the risk and reward attached to each alternative?”

You might just surprise yourself at how much complexity and time loss has inadvertently crept into your business and life while the bouncers weren’t looking. You need to challenge it immediately and eject the transgressors. You also need to proactively put in place processes to protect yourself. If you are unsure what or how to do that, get expert help.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.





Rebuilding Trust

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

England’s most high profile cricketer, and a former neighbour, Kevin Pietersen finds himself out in the cold today chastened by the statement from his past Captain and English Director of Cricket, Andrew Strauss, “I don’t believe any team can function in any sort of capacity if there’s no trust, if we don’t trust each other’s intentions.”

The reasons why as suggested by Pietersen’s supporters have been overlooked in favour of casting blame and aspersion. The general media has reported Strauss’s statement as fact when the answer is a little more nuanced. There is trust. After all why would Strauss even invite Pietersen to a meeting, least he think he wouldn’t show up or offer him an advisory role on the future of cricket. The issue is that there is insufficient level of trust with the right people to bring him into the team environment now, Pietersen’s actions need to have greater impact and there needs to be clearer indicators of success.

Similar objection can and do arise in profitably growing and expanding a business when an investor, client, employee or business partner becomes increasingly uncomfortable with you. It takes two forms, professional, they perceive through your actions and/or behaviour that you are not competent to resolve the matter or personal, there is dwindling personal chemistry and enthusiasm to continue working with you.

Let’s be clear “trust” is defined as the hand-on-heart belief that at all times you will act and behave in the other party’s best interests.

What are the indications “no trust”  is the issue if unlike Pietersen you don’t know for sure? The other party questions your credentials repeatedly. You are continually asked about yourself rather than your ideas or insights on how to improve the investor, client, employee or business partner’s performance. You are brushed off with superficial responses, the other party name drops or seeks to upstage you about their past experiences.

What are you to do? Take your time, don’t jump to the conclusion, answer questions fully. Provide appropraite examples and case studies to support your points. ask a lot of questions about the other party, their motivations for being in the business and hopes. If there are others in the room embrace them in the conversation but keep a focus on the key person you must influence. Find common experiences or perspectives that demonstrate you share similar not dissimilar philosophies. Listen assertively and keep your mouth shut.

What are the indications you are successful? You are asked to go for a drink or meet socially. The other party moves the conversation from the superficial (background, social chat) to the detailed areas of help (business, investment, hiring opportunity, collaboration etc.) There is self-disclosure from the other party about their own failures. The other party confides confidential information (“We are weak in these areas…”). The other party asks for more time together or asks immediately for a further meeting.

The point is that we should be well prepared at countering the “no trust” issue. On a day Pietersen batted imperiously for 7 hours, he lasted 40 minutes before being given out LBW offering no shot to Strauss’s questions. Thankfully profitably building a business is not a game of cricket and  the investor, client, employee or business partner shouldn’t be umpiring.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Buying “Cheap” Votes

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Here in the UK, 36 hours before an election, we have every political leader desperately promising “sweetners” to assorted members of the electorate to get their support in Thursday’s tight General Election. Am I alone in thinking the more these statements are lobbed from the political trenches the less impact they have on landing (perceived credibility and impact)? If the opinion polls and betting markets are correct, we will end up with an elected government where all these promises are up for negotiation in the hard bargaining that follows (largely worthless).

There is a similar effect in selling a business, when buyers in an auction start making last minute “promises” on investment, jobs and the preservation of cherished assets, when in all probability they cannot expect to make money doing so. The net effect is that their credibility is severely hurt when they need it most, at the closing and in the 90 days thereafter, to persuade key strategic areas of the business and constituents to support their growth plans.

Of course, if your only goal is to get elected or close the sale and not govern effectively or grow the business profitably, you have little to worry about.


© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.