Dear Craig,

That was not a small room you got up in front of this week. That took guts and I applaud you for going there. You and your team have accomplished a lot (more than I had at your age). And because you got up and spoke, more people know about Minva Technologies than before. That’s not a bad thing.

HOWEVER, a couple of small tweaks and you could have made a room full of allies instead of a room full of skeptics (which is what you ended up with). This is not a critique of your public speaking, by the way. We all have room for improvement in public speaking. This is all about framing.

YOUR FRAME (in my words): “Ladies and gentlemen, have I got a treat for you! Minva is a game-changing app for retail customers. No need to wander endlessly through Meijer anymore! Anyone who has our app can find the exact location of any product in the store. Customers love us because we save them time. Retailers love us because we make them more competitive against Amazon. We need to strike before retail is dead and buried. That means you, TC NewTech! Time to open your checkbooks — we need funding to develop the iOS app. Time to open your calendars — we need mentorship to get to the next level. Who’s in???”

This is a perfectly valid way to play it, by the way. You put your best foot forward. You didn’t pretend to be something you’re not. And — importantly — you asked for what you wanted.

What was the best possible outcome of you speaking at TC NewTech? Here are some easy answers:

  • You meet someone who becomes a mentor
  • You get an angel investment in Minva
  • You win the $500 prize for best pitch

I know you didn’t win the $500 prize. But for all I know you may have accomplished the first two! Still, here’s something that didn’t happen (and it could have):

  • Every person in the room leaves thinking “Even if I’m not into this retail navigation app, I have my eye on these Minva guys. I want to see what they do next.”

Why didn’t that happen? I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but for me it comes down to framing.

People challenged you in the Q&A. They brought up very legitimate threats to your business. You responded by defending your idea. Like this:

PERSON: Why do you assume retailers would want people in your app instead of their in-store app?

CRAIG (paraphrased): Duh! Because Amazon is eating their lunch! Retailers would do anything to stop Amazon!

Defending your idea is a reasonable thing to do. We should defend things we believe in, right? If you didn’t believe in the idea, you wouldn’t have poured hundreds of hours into it, right?

Sorry, the audience doesn’t see it that way. When you defend your idea (especially in the face of reasonable scrutiny), the message you are sending to the audience is ‘I didn’t come here to be picked apart by you people. I came here to be celebrated for what my team and I have accomplished (at a VERY young age, I’ll remind you). Gosh!’

Next time you take Q&A, I suggest you try some framing Kung Fu instead. Use the momentum of each question to your advantage. Start by agreeing with the person.

PERSON: Why do you assume retailers would want people in your app instead of their in-store app?

CRAIG: I’m so glad you asked that question! Makes perfect sense, right folks? Thinking like Walmart for a second, customers can buy stuff from Walmart in the Walmart app. In our app, not only can they not buy stuff from Walmart, they can put stuff from other stores on their shopping list. Whoa! At first glance, Walmart hates us, right? 

Luckily, what we’ve found working with retailers is they actually take a bigger picture view. When they see a customer using our app, they see a customer who is investing time in shopping at their brick and mortar locations. They like that. They also see an app that’s making the shopping experience smoother for that customer. They like that, too. When the customer could be sitting on their couch shopping at Amazon, Walmart sees we are a partner in keeping the retail business alive.

Still, they could decide to kill us. We don’t think they will. And if they do, the skills we’ve learned in API calls, web scraping, app design — those are going to help us for years, not just on this one app. Thanks for the question!

If you take this approach, you’re sending a completely different message to the audience: I’m having fun talking to you and we’re learning from each other by sharing our unique perspectives! Woo, TC NewTech!

I know because you and your team are students, you are open to input like this. I wouldn’t have written this post if you weren’t. Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished so far, Craig. I’d love to hear what you guys are working on in six months.

Adam Lorton

PS — If you want an amazing resource on framing, check out this video from Charisma On Command.

While you’re here…