Posted: 26 August 2016

Today’s talk was on communication. In the startup scene, people are going to assume that you are not a very good communicator. More so when you’re someone technical. So if you communicate well, you basically have scored some points already. How do you communicate well then? Is what you say important? Well, yes, but how you say it is as important as well. If they don’t match, it’s not convincing!


We currently communicate like this:

Hey John, I know you’re really busy, and I’ve been extremely busy myself too these few days. I need to go to the supermarket because my wife injured her ankle, and thus she can’t do the grocery shopping this week. In addition, I need to walk the dog as well. I know your time may not be flexible too, but can we meet at 4:30pm?

I’m guilty of that myself. You know, sometimes people don’t really care about why you can only meet at 4:30pm. Why we say that story before that is to try and “get some understanding from the other party”, but sometimes, the other party really just can’t make it. No matter what story you give. So, just say it!

Hey John, is 4:30pm a good time for you next week?

More often than not, if they can’t make it, they will just propose a new time.

The above example illustrates the point that we say a tonne of bullshit before getting straight to the point. In other words, we, or rather I, have lost what I have learnt in secondary school essays. Point, Explanation, Evidence. Follow this structure. Or another way to think of it is: Point, Key Arguments, Data.

Specifically, it’s the pyramid principle. Not the inverted pyramid! What this really means is start with your point (which is the tip of the pyramid), and then slowly cascade down into what backs up that tip of the pyramid.

Case in point, what do you do when an investor asks what you are doing?

I’m currently working on this, that is doing this, blah blah blah. I was previously from X, I worked on Computer Vision, I’m really good at it, etc.

Well, that’s not very good isn’t it? What’s the point?

Consider instead:

I am building X - the top Y in Singapore (or in the world)

Now that’s a bold claim, the investor may be keen to ask you to back it up.

I can be the best for 3 reasons. I have a great team. I have government support. I have a track record. Why do I have a great team? 3 reasons. I have 10 PhDs from X Top University, my co-founder has run a business the generated $X revenue, etc. I have government support. 3 reasons. EF is supported by…

Can you see the triads that are forming now? It’s a really effective way. You can have a laundry list but really, pick the top three. Even if you don’t have three, two are fine. But the structure is very important.

Personal Impact

Structure can only get you that far. It makes what you say really clear and easy to follow. The next part is really about how convincing you are. To be convincing, you need to have the right tone, vary your pitch, vary your speed, pause at the right time, vary your volume, etc. There are many factors involved. More practice will get you there.