Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Debate Skills Matter for Entrepreneurs

Whether you’re a die-hard Republican or Democrat, somewhere in between, or don’t actually care much about politics, you have probably run into at least some kind of commentary about the recent presidential and vice presidential debates. Maybe it was about President Obama’s “lackluster” and “unconvincing” first performance, or the “confused and bored” audiences. It could have also been about Vice President Biden’s “nonverbals” or, if you’re someone who still watches SNL, Paul Ryan’s “shark eyes.”
No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum (and even if you never want to run for public office), if you’re an entrepreneur, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the debate strategies and tactics of our presidential hopefuls. In fact, in reading through this insightful article on how debate skills can and should apply at one’s “home, school, and work,” I couldn’t help but think about the many ways debate lessons would also help budding entrepreneurs.
As Woodsome notes in her article on Voice of America, “being prepared” and “knowing your audience” are two of the most important attributes of a successful debater. This is often the same advice we give to entrepreneurs who may be meeting with potential investors or strategic partners.
It is crucial to be prepared at any discussion or meeting to explain in a clear and convincing way what it is you are looking for, and why the other party should give it to you. Many entrepreneurs can discuss the nuances and technicalities of their ideas for hours, but conveying a concise, exciting pitch – and actually asking for the business or investment – is much harder to do (note the relentless request of debate moderators to the candidates to stick to the question at hand and give a relevant answer). Honing this skill requires practice and preparation, both in understanding your own business and goals and those of the other side. Mastering your side of the debate, if you will, automatically makes you a more credible and convincing presence.
Your opponent, or in this case potential partner or investor, will also inevitably have tough questions or push back. It’s crucial to your success to not only anticipate these questions, but to have prepared and well-thought-out responses.
If you know that there is a weak point in your business strategy, or a strong and well-recognized potential business competitor, don’t just hope that question won’t be asked. Think about the hardest variations of the question and plan out your responses – or even consider preempting the question by including the pain point and how you plan to overcome it in your initial pitch or presentation. And as Woodsome notes, be sure to listen closely. If an inquiry is made for which you didn’t prepare, don’t just attempt to fit a stock answer to the question. Take a moment to analyze what the true concern appears to be, and respond accordingly.  
Last, remember that your audience will ultimately always want to know what’s in it for them. They are making a choice as to where to spend their “investment” – whether it is a vote, time, reputation, or money – and they want to be excited about the choice and convinced it is the right one for them. Satisfying the person on the other side of the table that your interests are aligned with theirs will be the overriding factor in whether or not they ultimately decide that you are their candidate.

A Post by Karen Wenzel, Guest Blogger

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