3 reasons entrepreneurs have trouble explaining their tech

You're an entrepreneur, you're working on a new startup, and you're attending a networking event. You'll be pitching your business over and over again to as many people as will listen, hoping to meet that next crucial investor, mentor, or customer.

It's vital that every person you talk to understands what it is you're working on and is intrigued enough to want to help. After all, you never know who you'll run into at one of these things, right!?

Whether these events get you excited or nervous, chances are you'll find yourself in an emotional state where you're so focused on getting the words out as fast as you can that no one understands what you're talking about. This is especially true when your secret sauce is something technical or abstract.

I've been in your shoes and it's not easy. My company was developing patented combined heat and power concentrated photovoltaic technology. Try getting people to even say that tongue-twister let alone understand what it means!

So how do you get the point across exactly? What I've learned may surprise you a bit and will probably even be counter intuitive. Here's what you need to know.

You may think it's about your tech, but it's not about your tech.

You're not giving a pitch, you're telling a short story.

It's more about listening than it is about talking.

Let's go through point number 1. When you're in the trenches, working on your company and building your product day in and day out, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. It's not that people aren't interested in your technology. In my experience most early adopters, even the less technical people, can be just as curious as a PhD in the field. It's that people don't think about things in terms of let me understand this cool technology first and then think about the applications second. If your audience is not immediately aware of why you're creating what you're creating, then they will be completely distracted during you're entire pitch trying to sort that out in the back of their head. Worse yet, they may dismiss you as some crazy person and become uninterested altogether.

Point number 2, you're telling a story. The order in which you start your pitch is:

For who are you creating this for,describe and establish empathy for the problem/need, anda concise 1-2 sentences on how you are addressing this in a valuable way.

Compare these two ways of telling your story:

"We're developing the world's fastest microchip. It utilizes our patented 10,000 layer core platinum technology. It has applications in defense, consumer PC's, aerospace, and data centers."

"Smaller data centers in urban areas have trouble with computing speeds. They're spending a fortune working with slow microchips that consume an incredible amount of energy. Our microchip addresses this very need and can be retrofitted to their current servers for easy integration."

Do you see the difference? I don't know anything about microchips and I totally made up the problem but based entirely on the way I told the story the second iteration almost sounds plausible doesn't it?

Point number 3, to get the point across most effectively requires more than just better messaging but also better listening. It's obvious that a pitch to an expert in the field is different than a pitch to your technologically inept uncle right? If your entire conversation revolves around you pitching, how can you tell what your audience's background is? Are they a visual or auditory learner? What part of your concept are they having trouble understanding? Did they not understand something you said 2 mins ago and that's why they're now stuck? Are they unable to empathize with the problem? Are they looking for supporting data? Listening is more than just waiting until you're next response. It's about trying to understand how your audience is thinking and why they are thinking that way. This isn't about trying to fill in knowledge gaps this is about trying to work from their perspective and tell the story in a way that they can understand.

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James Shomar
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