Monday, May 1, 2017

A Young Homeless Man's Death in Riverside Park Leaves a Void; 'I Wish I Knew His Name'

The bench near Pier I where a young homeless man would often sit, until he vanished one day.
He was always there. The young homeless man in the maroon hoodie, always sitting bolt upright on a Riverside Park bench – sometimes at 75th Street, other times near Pier 1 Café at 70th – his big canvas rucksack near.
He said almost nothing. No requests for money or food. No murmurs to himself or invisible interrogators. His gaze seemed steady, as did his strong walk – all six-plus feet and 200 pounds of him, occasionally spotted on Broadway peeking into garbage cans or picking up a free Metro paper to read.
He had neighbors who wondered and worried about him. Food, clothes, magazines and money would be placed within his reach. After several such interactions, he might turn toward his visitor, meet their eyes and give a faint, quick smile. But he left it at that.
For going on four years, he was always there. Until he wasn’t.
Billy the Birdman on a bench at 75th Street favored by the man
“It took me weeks to find out what happened to him,” says Billy the Birdman, another daily presence at the park, an avid hawk-spotter who lives nearby on 76th Street. “I knew him better than anyone, saw him every day for years, but I never got him to engage past saying ‘yes, no or thank you.’ And yet I feel like I really lost somebody.”
According to Billy, park workers told him that the man in the maroon hoodie had been found dead several weeks ago in a fenced off area controlled by Amtrak under the West Side Highway near 71st Street, steps from the Riverside Park South Dog Run.
I asked NYPD and the Parks Department for verification. Though we cannot be certain it was the maroon hoodie man, NYPD confirmed that on the morning of March 9th an “unidentified male in his 30s” was found there, “seated on the ground, unconscious and unresponsive.” EMS responded and pronounced him dead on the scene. “The medical examiner will determine the cause of death. There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing.”
The Office of Chief Medical Examiner told me that, “The person still has not been identified yet. And the cause and manner of death are still pending.”
Billy thinks the man he called ‘the homeless kid’ was more like 25 years old, but it was difficult to discern any specifics about him. He seemed healthy and strong. He had a full head of reasonably neat, short, wavy black hair, a medium complexion and features that were not easily categorized. Was he of Samoan or North African or Caribbean descent?
“He had no accent when he said any of the three words he would say,” recalls Billy. “I wish I knew his name. I want to say a prayer for him.”
Billy’s not the only one. WSR heard from several readers asking if we could find out about the man. Said one, “We’re all part of the life of the park.”
Whoever he was, he was likely not one of the 62,692 homeless people in NYC shelters each night. And if he was sleeping tucked up under the highway, the City likely didn’t count him in its annual HOPE census of street homeless people.
But to those who saw him every day, he did count.
First published April 5, 2017 in West Side Rag

Altercasting: The Best Persuasion Technique You've Never Heard Of

As an astute businessperson, you’re always up on the most powerful ways to persuade people to act in their best interests (and yours). So, of course, altercasting is among your top techniques.
Wait. What’s altercasting? Why don’t I know about this? I need to know about this! Tell me more.
You’ve just been altercasted, friend.
I’ve persuaded you to read this article using altercasting.

Altercasting is a persuasion technique in which one person characterizes another as a certain kind of person – casts them in a role – and then gives them the opportunity to live up to that role by taking a desired action.

I justifiably cast you, dear reader, as a shrewd entrepreneur who’s always learning the best ways to improve your results. You agreed with this characterization. It’s who you are. It’s how you want to perceive yourself and how you want to be seen.
Then I offered up an assumption:  that you already know about and use altercasting.
This caused a pang of cognitive dissonance. You are a smart entrepreneur. But you didn’t quite know about altercasting. So you acted immediately to bring this situation into alignment.  You’re learning about a technique that many successful people do know about and use daily.

Altercasting works. But why?

Most people want to live up to others’ expectations. Especially when someone shares admiration for one’s talents, character and industriousness. We don’t want to let anyone down, including ourselves.
Altercasting makes use of this natural tendency, this need for consistency between who we perceive ourselves to be, and our actions.
Here’s how to use altercasting as a positive force in your business.

Altercasting to Win New Clients
Think about what’s most important to your prospect’s identity – what role would be most appealing? How could your business feed that part of his/her ego?
A few common self-perceptions and ways to align your pitch:
  • Bravest, most innovative, always pioneering – you’d want to be the first to experience our new way of doing XYZ
  • Uncompromising when it comes to quality, performance – you can see how our product clearly outpaces the competition across every metric, you need not compromise
  • Leader, achiever, avid competitor – you aren’t going to wait around for everyone else to get a clue, you’re willing to move ahead and take advantage of what our XYZ can do for your enterprise

Remember, pacing and structure matter when altercasting.

You must first let your prospect know that you are interested in doing business with them precisely because they are this kind of person. Then you can position your offering in alignment with that self-perception.
This isn’t about blanket flattery or fawning. It’s about understanding your prospect at his/her core, authentically recognizing that identity and setting up a situation where doing business with you can only enhance their performance of that positive role.

Altercasting to Motivate Your Team
You, as their leader, have an obligation to cast your employees in roles that encourage them to aim high and act accordingly.
Imagine the lift in their spirits when you recognize that glimmer of potential just waiting for an opportunity to shine.
The key word to get them to rise to the occasion? Willing.
Studies have shown massive increases in compliance when people are asked to be willing to live up to an altercasted role…
  • Dave, your presos and emails are always so on-point and clear. Beyond being our project manager, you’re also a gifted writer. Would you be willing to take a crack at this e-newsletter?
  • Miranda, you’re our go-to foodie, always adventuring into new neighborhoods. Would you be willing to partner with our real estate agent to evaluate locations for our next retail shop?
  • Sally, I saw how you took charge of the chaos last week when Tom fell ill. I need a leader like you to train the new clerks before launch. Would you be willing to get everyone properly onboarded?

Altercasting can help to effectively delegate tasks, expand someone’s responsibilities, renew enthusiasm for the overall mission, show appreciation for as-yet underutilized talents and get more done with greater satisfaction for all parties.

You know a valuable strategy when you see it. Surely altercasting is now part of your persuasive repertoire.
Right? ;)

First published for Veromo

Friday, April 28, 2017

10 Winning Slides: Your Pitch Deck

You’ve learned how to tell your brand’s story. Now it’s time to create your pitch deck.

Yes, now. [Or would you prefer to be scrambling to prepare for that unexpected meeting?]

Your basic pitch deck is like a well-stocked cupboard. Once you’ve got the foundations organized – your spaghetti, spices, olive oil – you’ll always be ready to add in some fresh bits and present something tasty with an hour’s notice.

The good news:  You already have all the ingredients for a solid starter deck. Putting a streamlined structure in place will make your preso powerful. 

Let’s get cooking...

10 Slides Beats 50
Shorter is better. People have limited attention spans and can only handle a few nuggets of new information per meeting (not per slide). Being brief forces you to find and express the fundamental point for each topic. One topic per slide – be it in Keynote, PowerPoint, Google Slides, physical posters mounted around the room, whatever. One.

Visual Simplicity Please
We’ve all seen the 12 bullets slide or suffered the multi-variable graph featuring jargon in tiny font. These should be extinct by now, and yet – like mosquitoes – continue to annoy.

Keep it simple. One photograph or image per slide and limit text – a line or two – deployed for maximum potency.
Remember, you’re the hero of your presentation. Your deck is the helpful servant. Colorful punctuation to what’s being said – making it easy for your audience to follow along and synthesize new information.

Audience Needs First
Now, although you’re the star, this preso isn’t about you. It’s about how your audience will benefit from your business.
Everything you say and put in your deck must be framed with their needs in mind. How will you solve their problems? Save them time, money, hassles? Win them new business? Better achieve their aims?

Complete this sentence:  By the end of my preso, this customer will know that my business is the only one that best _________, improving their outcomes by ___________.

Congratulations. You’ve defined your deck’s destination.

The Model
Now here’s my 10-slide template to help guide your path to that end:

These are not slide titles, BTW. No one wants to read the headline “Intro.” Make every word serve your story.

Slide 1:  Cover Snapshot
Yep, your company’s name/logo goes here, but it doesn’t need to be the dominant visual.
Think about an emotion-sparking image to hook your audience’s interest and align the mood to your product/service. No corporate stock photos of mountain climbers, please. Dig deeper for a truer fit.

Slide 2:  Brand Story/Bio Nutshell
Remember your one-minute brand story?  
Here’s where you tell it – with passion and energy. Use storytelling to bring the audience into understanding who you are and why your company exists.

Slide 3:  Services/Products
If slide 2 explains your purpose, slide 3 showcases how you’re fulfilling that mission with your services/products.
This isn’t the place for a wholesale catalogue of your fabulousness. It’s the time to unleash the most powerful word in English:  “the”.  Doubt me?  Compare…

“Today, we are a leading weaver of alpaca capes.”
“Today, we are the leading weaver of alpaca capes.”
(Yes, garments for llamas, not from them. My pretend business, my rules.)

Maybe you’re not the leading something yet. No worries. You are “the” something.  The first one in a certain location. The only one that does XYZ in a particular way. The best one at XYZ.
Deploy your most confident “the” statement and move on.

Slide 4:  How It Works
Using the simplest explanation possible, share how customers engage with your product/service. Put the audience in the role of existing customer and help them imagine how the experience would proceed.
“Sharon, imagine how convenient it would be to order capes for all your alpacas with just one click. As you can see, everything happens from the landing page. Boom! Cozy llamas.”

Slide 5:  Benefits to Audience
Think of the three major pain-points your company will soothe for this audience.  Boldly state those three benefits – and personalize them to the specific people in the room.
Use your prior research on these prospects to customize your approach. The three key benefits may be the same for most every meeting, but tweaking how you phrase them shows you did your homework and care about THEIR needs.

Slide 6:  Better than Alternatives
No need to name your competition. But if you can make a definitive jab at a general deficiency in the marketplace, do it here. 
What’s the killer comparison between your offering and the current market? Highlight it.

Slide 7:  Proof of Concept/Case Studies
Demonstrate your awesomeness with an example. One or two, not six.
Maybe this is a quick video of your service in action. Maybe it’s a short story you tell about how you solved a client’s problem and what gains they enjoyed because of your solution. Maybe you pull out a prototype and pass it around.
Prove you know your stuff and move on.

Slide 8:  Testimonials/Client List
People like to work with people who already work with other successful people.
Spend a few seconds showcasing your track record with clients. Include a testimonial quote that folks will remember.
Even if you haven’t yet opened the doors of your new enterprise, there are still opportunities to collect testimonials e.g. “Given the track record of the founders, I have no doubts about their abilities to reinvent XYZ. They’re unstoppable.” – Admired, relevant person.

Slide 9:  One-Sentence Challenge Closer
You’ve kept them spellbound. You’ve kept it moving. Now you capture them.
Consider closing with an appeal to their self-image, a persuasive technique called altercasting.
Think about what role is central to your audience’s value system. Is it being the cutting-edge player? Is it being the best service provider? Is it being the most dogged about ROI to shareholders?

Use that information to frame a close that challenges the audience to live up to that role by partnering with your business.
“Terrence, you are always the first to bring your customers a better way forward. Are you willing to try our company as your next great offering to them?”
“Willing” is key. It breaks through resistance and moves you toward “yes” like no other word.
This technique requires homework to work. If you don’t know your audience’s hot buttons, stick with a simple close that revisits the core benefit and asks for agreement e.g. “Terrence, are you ready to save 5 hours every week on payroll tasks? Then you’re ready for us.”

Slide 10:  Thank You + Contacts
Now for a big finish.
Make your final slide as emotionally punchy as your opener. Pick an image that brings energy and smiles to the room.
Be sure to have your contact info lingering on screen as you answer questions and plot next steps with your impressed audience. 
Well done!

First published with Veromo

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Locals Embrace Tango – And Each Other – At Summertime Milongas

Laure Lion and Rob Steo dancing in Central Park
Don’t talk to strangers; dance with them
This Argentinean adage finds plenty of adherents at free, outdoor milongas (tango gatherings) happening around the Upper West Side this summer.
Every Saturday evening in Central Park, dozens of tangueros dance around the Shakespeare statue at the south end of The Mall from 6:00 until 9:30 or so. Inspired onlookers can try out a beginner lesson offered nearby at 7:30 pm. But be warned, dancers say: Once you enter this cheerful community built around somber music suffused with tragedy and heartbreak, you may never want to leave.
The appeal is immediate and obvious. Where else do you see 20-somethings and 80-somethings socializing together? How often do you make new friends yet never discuss work? Might a smartphone-free embrace be the perfect antidote to all that ails you?
“Your background, your age, your gender, your height, your bank account, none of that matters here,” says Laure Lion, a local tango instructor. “What matters is how genuine you are in the dance, how genuine you are in your invitation and your response. It can be a lesson in humility. You have to be very clear about what you want from each other.”
The very act of leading or following can be a shock to modern sensibilities. Impatient, hard-charging New Yorkers are not accustomed to waiting for directions or pausing to find the perfect space within a beat before moving.
“The only time I listen to my husband is on the dance floor,” laughs Lion. “Traditionally in tango, there are very strict roles and rules. The man is there to lead, to guide, to propose a direction. The woman has to listen so she can execute. It’s a conversation – not through words, but through the embrace, the energy and their shared interpretation of the music.”
Strangers becoming dance partners 
Bob Cuthbert still considers himself a novice having started with a free lesson in Central Park about a year ago. Since then he’s learned through the grapevine about different classes and events at the Argentine Consulate, dance studios, La Nacional and elsewhere. “People just kept telling me and my wife about different spots. Then we realized there was a whole subculture dancing tango in the city. It’s unbelievable.”
Dancers treasure the roaming milongas that pop up during the summer months, often along the Hudson River at Pier 45 (Christopher Street), Pier One (70th Street) and West Harlem Piers Park (125th Street).
At one such gathering last week, Tina Fruhauf told WSR she sought out tango 15 years ago as a respite from desk-bound studies. “I had finished my PhD and it was time to do something for my body,” she said. She soon met her husband, Pryor Dodge, through dancing. The duo now owns an apartment in Buenos Aires. “Tango instigated an amazing change in my life,” says Dodge.
“It’s a way to express yourself musically without playing an instrument,” says Neal Rakesh, who discovered tango as a University of Michigan undergrad and enjoys the never-routine nature of the dance. “It’s all improv.”
A young couple, having stumbled upon the sunset scene, stared at the whirling group for several minutes. She then whispered to him, “It’s mesmerizing.”

First published 22 June 2016 in West Side Rag

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mental Kung Fu to Cope with Rejection

No ifs, ands or buts. Rejection hurts.

Whether you’ve been brushed-off by a prospective customer, dismissed by an investor, declined by a bank or spurned by a potential employee, rejection stings.

But what separates winning entrepreneurs from also-rans is how you deal with rejection. Even prepare for it. Because rejection is inevitable if you’re putting yourself out there, taking the risks of a determined start-up. And you are.

So let’s train for resiliency with some proven techniques for bouncing back and powering forward.

 1.  Strip rejection naked

Strip the rejection down for what it is and – more importantly – what it isn’t.

It’s not failure. It’s not an indication that your business has no future. It’s not disaster-in-a-door-slam. And it’s not about YOU.

Take a breath. Strip away the ego and emotions and what do you see?

A rejection is simply one person/entity deciding your offering doesn’t fit with their plan for that day, that year, that moment.

Or, as my nan would say, different horses for different courses. Being ruthlessly clear-eyed will help you get back in the saddle fast.

2.  Use rejection as learning fuel

Every rejection is a chance to assess – not second-guess – your actions.

Transform that surge of adrenaline (disguised as panic, fear, anger) into energizing fuel for answering this question:  What can I learn from this?

Maybe your targeting needs to be more precise. Maybe your pitch needs fewer, but better, numbers. Maybe meetings at 4pm Fridays aren’t such a grand idea. Maybe you feel more confident with colleagues alongside. Maybe you feel more effective in one-on-ones. Maybe you need to reach out to greater quantities of folks instead of pinning all your hopes on one whale. Or maybe you’re chasing too many small fish and should concentrate on a few biggies.

Or maybe there’s nothing you can or should change:  they just weren’t into your offering [see #1].

Only you can assess the situation – preferably with some good intel.

Ask for feedback e.g. “What’s the one area where (my) XYZ didn’t seem a good match for helping (your) PDQ reach its goals?”  Notice the impersonal tone here; all business, just seeking to understand where the primary mismatch was.

You may not get an answer, but sometimes the answer you do get can be illuminating, even invigorating:

Well, Tricia, six weeks ago, we’d have loved to invest in your organic butcher shop. But the CEO went to India on holiday and came back a vegan.

Good to know, eh?

Tricia might’ve spent days moping about the turndown if she hadn’t asked. She can confidently move on to more carnivorous waters.

3.  Restore mojo with convo

Starting new conversations is a great way to get past rejection:

  •  Call a current, happy client just to check in and chat
  •  Have lunch with a former colleague that you adore
  •  Visit your nan or nan-equivalents
  •  Celebrate something – anything! – with friends
  •  Help someone with bigger problems than yours

You feel better just thinking about this list, right?

Positive connections like these heal wounded mojo.

Go forth, generate happiness and your mettle will be mighty once again.

4.  NEXT!

Perseverance is everything. Find new open doors (aka opportunities) and walk on in.

Persistence, however, isn’t always advisable. Returning to the scene of rejection, shoving a crowbar into a shut door and expecting miracles wastes your energy.

When in doubt, talk to other entrepreneurs. Successful ones know that rejection is an incremental payment on your dues. They can also help you distinguish between a dead-end and a roadblock. Seek out and take in their wisdom.

5.  Remain extraordinary

This may sound pretty Oprah, but it’s true:  Be strong in your sense of self.  The world shifts around us all the time. Nevertheless, your core belief in yourself must remain steadfast.

Recognize your courage here. Most people wouldn’t have the guts to venture into business, let alone hit up strangers to be their customers, investors or partners. You do.

Therefore, entrepreneur, you are extraordinary sui generis. And you’ll continue to be so long as you heed these immortal, move-on words from Winston Churchill:    When you’re going through hell…keep going!

First published for Veromo, September 2016

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Build Business with a Great Story: Tips for Telling Yours

Everybody loves a good story. 

Storytelling – and story-listening – is in our DNA.

Facts just don’t stick with us like stories do. Our brains best connect bits of information when they arrive as a strong plot driven by emotions we all share.

So, entrepreneur, what’s your story?

Emotions? Plot? What’s that got to do with business? I’m not launching a Stephen King novel.

Nope. You’re on a much more important mission.

Telling your brand story is the most powerful way you can share:
  • Why your business exists
  • Why potential customers, investors and employees should be excited about it
  • Why you are committed to its success

You want to do all that, right? A well-structured story gets you there fast.

Plot your plot

Your story’s plot isn’t an exhausting history. Or a fistful of data.

It’s a simple, interesting tale that fires up story-loving brains.  And it’s easier to structure than you might think.

Use two magical words:  “but” and “therefore”

You’re unique; so is your business. But every great story – brand, book, movie, whatever – has a twist-and-turn plot structured with the same two words:  but and therefore.


See if your story fits:

Not so long ago, XYZ was the situation…
But then THIS happened, which changed how we thought about XYZ…
Therefore, we are doing this NEW thing that is going to make people’s lives better by…

Recognize anyone?  Good.

Now let’s juice up the power.

Press emotional buttons

Neuroscience newsflash:  decision-making isn’t logical; it’s emotional.

Rational arguments may get your audience to nod. But if you want people to act – to buy from you, to partner with you, to be recommending you to their mates – your story has to connect with their gut feelings.

Think back to when you first thought about creating your business. What emotions were spurring you to act? 
  • Common entrepreneurial jump-starters:
  • Frustration, the status quo blows
  • Disappointment, this product/service should be better
  • Indignation, this situation isn’t fair
  • Excitement, more people need this great thing
  • Pride, we are the best at this, let’s share it
  • Connection, let’s build a community around this

 Having flashbacks? Excellent.

Get to the emotional core of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Your story likely involves many factors. Focus in on what your audience will relate to and what people gain from your business.

Putting it together

Let’s hear some stories. Simple plot, emotional fuel, lives bettered. Go!

OK, I’ll start.  Veromo’s brand story: 

Australia wants people to start new businesses. But did you know:  a new business owner has to complete – at minimum – over 14 forms and make over 20 decisions before launching into the marketplace?

We didn’t. Until we had to stomp that “welcome mat” for our start-ups. Aggravation 101. Days wasted navigating confusing systems. Never quite knowing if we’d actually ticked every box. There HAD to be a better way. There wasn’t. So we invented it. Veromo.

With Veromo, you can launch your new business in one day, with one form. Simple.

We’re committed to liberating entrepreneurs from all sorts of regulatory, operational and marketing drudgery. We want our customers to be free to do what they love:  actually BUILDING their business.

 Did you spot the situation + but + therefore here? Did you share our rage at bureaucracy? Is it clear why Veromo exists and why we’re going to succeed?

Problem/solution is a powerful format, but not the only one.

How about an excitement story: 

The first time I tasted my Uncle Bob’s meat pies, I wanted to give one to anyone who was ever kind to me. Now I sell them to good people (and a few grumps) all over Sydney.

Or a community-yearning one:

There are so many people doing so many cool things with new drone technologies, I wanted to create a site for drone-obsessives like me to compare notes, share videos and connect with manufacturers of the latest and greatest.

Your turn.

Be human – tell your story

Ever since we crawled out of the swamp, people have used stories to share news, alert each other to dangers/opportunities and to connect with their tribe.

Share yours:
  • Write it for your “About” page
  • Create visuals around it for when you’re speaking to potential clients
  • Make it part of your interviewing and onboarding process
  • Tell it to anyone who’s told you their tale
  • Customize it for different audiences
  • Inspire people with your passion for it

 Notice how energized you feel with every telling.

Now that’s a good story.

First published for Veromo in August 2016