Essential Skills for Business Development Success – Alex Egan
A big part of business development is communication; selling yourself or someone else, building relationships, making a pitch, and so on. As a professional, you should build up the skillset to truly be able to articulate what value, skills, and experience you (or your group) have. Today, we are joined by Alex Egan, a director at Kaufman Rossin, a full-service public accounting and consulting firm. Alex leads a team of consultants and advisors who specialize in helping broker-dealers, RIAs, FinTech companies, banks, and other financial services firms, address their compliance risk and regulatory challenges. As listeners tune in, they’ll hear from Alex about his career journey and how the skills he acquired prepared him for his current role as a consultant and advisor. We discuss how communication is essential to creating value for clients and the benefit of a team-based approach to business development. If you want to gain insights on how to communicate in a way that’s going to present your true self, then don’t miss out on this episode.
Key Points From This Episode:
- Alex shares with listeners about his background and unique career path.
- More about what Alex does today and how he got there; from military to consulting.
- Alex gives examples of transferable practical experiences/skills gained through his career.
- Why it’s important to be able to truly articulate what value, skills, and experience you have.
- We dive into the topic of business development and what that means to Alex.
- Insights into what makes you successful at building a business, relationships, and driving value.
- Why you should care about the relationships you develop; honing the soft skills to communicate.
- Alex shares his business development journey and process.
- We discuss the concept of business development in groups.
- His thoughts on public speaking, as a communication skill to hone.
- Tips that helped Alex develop his public speaking skill.
- Alex’s advice to someone starting out in their professional career.
[0:00:04.5] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast, helping middle market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[0:00:21.3] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we are joined by Alex Egan, a director at Kaufman Rossin, a full-service public accounting and consulting firm. Alex leads a team of consultants and advisors who specialize in helping broker dealers, RAs, FinTech companies, banks and other financial services firms, address their compliance risk and regulatory challenges.
Alex shares his career journey and how the skills he acquired prepared him for his current role as a consultant and advisor and we discussed how communication is essential to creating value for clients and the benefit of a team based approach to business development. I hope you all enjoy.
[0:01:02.3] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn, search for Connection Builders.
[0:01:10.8] AD: Alex, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. Looking forward to our conversation today.
[0:01:14.3] AE: Thank you so much Alex, for having me.
[0:01:16.6] AD: Alex, why don’t we start with you sharing just a little bit of your career path and what you do today about backing into how you got there because you have quite a unique journey there.
[0:01:25.4] AE: I often get told I have a very non-traditional background and I get asked that question quite frequently but in my perspective, I kind of felt like everything went through in my career progression sort of made sense or it felt like I was going on a particular path. So yeah, so for those that don’t know me, I started my career in the military. At a young age, I was really interested in getting the adventure side of the military.
It was an opportunity to travel, to see the world and I think I got that. I got lucky and got my first duty stationed in Germany. So I got to spend my first few years in the service in Europe and doing whatever young kid would want to do, which is on weekends when you have off, you’re going down to the train station and buying a ticket to a random city and going to Paris or Prague or Berlin, you name it and just getting a chance to explore the world.
So I really appreciated everything that the military gave me and towards the end of my military career, I think I started to panic a little bit on what the next step was going to be for me after my time in the service and I ended up settling on law enforcement which was sort of a maybe a stereotypical transition from the military to go into law enforcement and I did that right after my military service.
I went straight into the police academy, started out a small police department in Northeast Florida for a city called Palatka, that most people would not be able to pick out on a map but it was definitely a great place to be in law enforcement. I absolutely loved that job. I was on as a road patrol officer for a couple of years and then made detective and spent the last few years there doing all sorts of criminal investigations from homicides and robberies and really, everything in between.
And if you know where I am now, you’re listening to this story going, “Okay, so how do we get to where you are now?” So towards the end of that time, I started doing quite a few white-collar type investigations that were financial related or insurance or banking and things like that and some of those cases I thought were just absolutely fascinating. I really enjoyed trying to investigate crimes where I knew the person that was responsible was pretty smart or thought they were, right? And tried to get one over on the system.
I think there’s a lot of folks that don’t really understand how much harm white-collar crimes causes our economy and the average person like you and me that are you know, paying our insurance premiums or things like that, we don’t realize how much we suffer at the hands of fraudsters. So I really enjoy that work and I did that for the very end of my law enforcement career there in Palatka and I ended up moving on to the State of Florida’s Department of Financial Services, who had a criminal investigative unit.
And when I was there and now I was still in law enforcement but entirely focused in the financial services space and I was only there for a short while before I was assigned to the FBI’s South Florida Fraud Task Force. So at this point, I had moved to South Florida, we’re consider sort of the center of fraud and financial crimes, definitely action packed.
It was for that couple of years there, it was a really interesting time where I got to get exposure to all sorts of securities and insurance, similar type fraud crimes and work with people from all different types of federal agencies, all different types of local law enforcement and most importantly, the private sector, right?
All the banks, all the insurance companies, so many companies have their own fraud units or special investigative units that we would partner with to investigate various crimes, it affected a whole lot of people and I really enjoyed that job as well but I was doing that for a couple of years and some folks at the financial industry regulatory authority, better known as FINRA. For those that are not familiar, it’s the organization tasked with regulating the broker-dealer industry.
So if you’re going to be a stock broker, you’ve got to obtain certain licenses from FINRA’s firms operating in that space have to get registered with the FCC and become a member of FINRA and order to operate. So I was out of training with them and they invited me to come over and apply. So I sort of transitioned out of the regulatory side of the business and or out of the law enforcement side and went right into the regulatory side.
I was at FINRA for five years, really enjoyed that as well. You got a lot of inside perspective working on the regulatory side, you get exposure to a lot of different firms, seeing the way things operate. You get a chance to see what works, what doesn’t work and the day-to-day of things and then, at the end of that time, five years at FINRA, I was too drawn to the dark side. I felt like I had to make a jump, AKA, consulting.
That’s the professional services space that we’re here to talk about today. I really wanted, you know, at some point in my career, I was going to transition into the private sector and when Kaufman Rossin and some of my colleagues there approached me about making a transition, I knew it was the right time and a really good opportunity.
So for the past few years, I’ve been working there and I am currently a director in our regulatory compliance practice. So most of our clients are broker-dealers, are registered investment advisors, our banks, our money services businesses, FinTech, you know, crypto, others operating in a very regulated financial services space.
[0:07:13.5] AD: It’s interesting. You said to me, you often hear that it seems untraditional and it kind of does when you start the story, right? And even you start and you’re like, “Well, if you know me, you’re probably saying, well, how…” right? But when you actually tell the story, it ties together, and you see some of that trajectory and so a question I have for you and this is for anyone that might find themselves in a different industry or field today.
Looking back, looking at that kind of that career development through that, what are some practical experiences that you gained that were applicable and more than just the setting you were in at that time?
[0:07:47.4] AE: That’s a really great question and a really great point because just from a professional development standpoint or those looking to make sort of career transitions, I know this comes up a lot where people think they are pigeon hold into whatever their background is, right? Or they think they’ve been doing one thing. So when they know it’s time to make a change, they sort of narrow their search and to only looking in this very narrow area that perfectly 100% aligns with what they’ve been doing in the past.
[0:08:16.6] AD: It’s usually industry.
[0:08:17.8] AE: And I think the…
[0:08:17.0] AD: That’s usually industry tied.
[0:08:19.2] AE: That’s right, industry tied and I find and practice a lot of people are able to successfully move in different directions while still leveraging their background, their experience, their skills and if you spend some time thinking about it, you’re usually able to draw out some advantages or some skills or some things about your background that really help you in that next leg of your, you know, your career.
So I’d encourage people not to overthink it and think that their pigeon holed because the truth is that they’re not. I actually gave this advice earlier today, someone that was making a transition. I said, “Look, a lot of the…” in our current environment, especially, where you know, there’s way more jobs out there than there are people, a lot of it is you know, I don’t want to call it, spin, that’s a bad word but it’s the ability to just articulate why your background sort of aligns with this position.
The rest of it is sort of learning on the job. In general, if you’re willing to learn, you work hard and you invest in the relationships with your peers and your bosses at the place you’re going, you’re pretty much going to be successful in any environment.
[0:09:30.7] AD: I think that’s great advice and I agree, spin probably has maybe a less than positive kind connotation.
[0:09:36.6] AE: Sure, a negative connotation. You’re faking it ‘till you make it or something like that, right.
[0:09:40.9] AD: It’s positioning, it’s articulation and communication of the skills that you have, right? And that actually ties into something we’re going to talk about here in a few minutes and being able to truly articulate what value and experience you have and what’s interesting and I just, as I‘m sitting on the outside hearing your story, you learned problem solving or some level of mystery solving and analytical skillsets and decision making, determination around where to focus your effort and trying to uncover something that is unknown.
It sounds like I don’t know if I‘m describing being consultant or your previous life, right? I mean, it’s that same skillset, right? That’s what you were doing I assume and a lot of your… especially the detective work and some of that type but that’s also what you do is consultant it in many ways, right? There are different application, different area but that skillset is what allows you to be successful.
[0:10:32.3] AE: Absolutely. The ability to research is unbelievably valuable, not just research and turn over to your client a whole thousand pages of different articles or information or guidance and things. You have to be able to consolidate all of that complex, lengthy information into a short, concise communication that makes the person on the other side of that communication clearly understand something.
Can I do it or not? And then, this is why, right? And a lot of times, that’s the quick answer but the research that goes into that is much more robust and I found it was sort of the same process in law enforcement. A lot of your investigations, you’re very tedious, you’re into the weeds, you’re into the details but when it comes to presenting a case for trial for example, when you’re preparing, you can’t go through all these details and put at entire jury to sleep, right?
You’ll never win, you have to be able to learn how to articulate that information and sometimes when cases are large and complex and there’s a lot of moving parts, that can feel difficult but the better you are at that aspect, about taking all of that information and being able to explain it as one, it makes you a lot better at your job. The second part of that is, the ability to talk to people, right?
Especially as a detective, I was always fascinated by the interviews and interrogations component of that job, right? Because a lot of times in law enforcement, especially in certain types of cases and violent crimes and homicides and those sort of things, finding someone on video and their fingerprint on a murder weapon and just all of these things falling perfectly into place is quite rare.
A lot of times, the best evidence is what you obtain during your interview but getting someone to admit to the very worse thing that they’ve ever done in their entire life is extremely difficult but it can be done and it’s one of those things that you learn and you get better at and you take classes and you get practice and over time, there are people that can do it very, very well but it’s sort of the same thing that we’re talking about, it’s the ability to communicate.
Sit down with someone, be able to build rapport, make them comfortable, keep their attention and be able to maintain that conversation long enough and ultimately, get to a position where you’re getting them to admit to something, that translates a lot as well.
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[0:13:10.3] AD: So let’s take that part of it because I think that ties in really well to where to where I want to take some of the content today. Business development, building, generating opportunity, building relationships and ultimately driving value for clients and value for your firm, talk to me about that. What does that mean to you as a professional and what does it take to be successful in that?
[0:13:30.2] AE: Sure, you know, I think in preparation for today, you know you and I had briefly chatted about this topic and noted that in all of professional services, really, if you’re in a law firm, if you’re in accounting firm, like myself and consulting firm says well, any sort of professional services firms generally, not always, but generally, in order to be very successful in those types of organizations, you have to be able to bring in business, at least to some extent and this is especially true for medium or small sized professional services firms.
Some of the largest firms we talked about, a lot of times those organizations, the name can sell, right? So some folks will approach some of those biggest organizations because of branding, because they’re aware of the firm’s reputation and selling in some of those cases can be a bit easier but certainly, in medium or small sized firms, you have to be able to get out there. You have to be able to network.
You have to be able to connect with people and explain the value that you’re able to add because you may not have that name out there speaking for you, right? You have to get out there as the professional and it’s really important. We talked a lot about how, there’s a lot of people that have sort of the technical skills in this space whether it’s law or accounting, consulting, that are very good on working with clients and putting together extremely valuable deliverables, whatever that may be and whatever that looks like.
But again, a lot of the times, in order to be extremely successful, you have to be able to bring in business along with it because you can create the best deliverables and add the most value but if you don’t have the clients to start with, then the practice isn’t going to go anywhere.
[0:15:27.1] AD: So let me ask this, I’m an associate with a handful of years of experience and you’re telling me and I’m really good technically, I enjoy the work I do technically speaking and you’re telling me that I have to develop these relationships and like, why, why do I care, what does it matter to me?
[0:15:44.9] AE: I’d encourage anybody in that situation to look to their left and right and look up and look down in their organization and try to figure out where people are and try to ask the question, “Well, how did they get there?” right? So if you’re finding people in your organization that you’re aspiring to be, you know? People that you select as your mentors and those sort of folks where you see yourself in five, 10, 20 years, “This is where want to be in my career” you’ve got to ask yourself how they go there.
And I think, in my experience, most of the time, they’ve got to be able to deliver on a business development standpoint. You can be incredibly intelligent, you can offer a ton of value in what you’re able to provide but in the end of the day, if that piece is missing, it’s got to be more of a struggle. It’s very important to say, not to say it’s impossible because we all know there’s exceptions, right?
And we all know there are super technical fields where the people involved maybe are not the most sociable, what we would typically think of someone that’s doing business development. We typically, you know, put them in a box where we think they’re an extrovert and they’re very sociable and that’s how they sort of established these relationships but it’s difficult a lot of times to be able to do both and that’s really the best, right?
When you can both provide the technical aspect of it, you can add value, you’re very confident in what it is that you’re selling but you also know the process of selling as well. You understand the sales funnel, you understand the networking part and you’re able to develop business. That’s usually the recipe for at least, the fastest success in most of our professional services organizations.
[0:17:28.6] AD: I think that definitely rings very true. It’s definitely what I have seen in my own experience, if you talk to many firm leaders, that that’s definitely the consensus. What I would offer out there for people to think on is that no matter what, as a professional again, I shouldn’t say no matter. It’s not absolute, there are always exceptions to the rule.
But generally speaking, if you are an advisor or consultant, part of what you are “selling” part of the product you’re offering is really the knowledge and expertise and the underlying technical execution, the doing of the work, you may need to be skilled. You actually often times need to actually be skilled in it.
Sometimes you have other on your team that are more skill in it or more proficient in doing some of that but the real value, the real driver of value to the client is the ability to both solve challenges, overcome things, uncover something, help determine a decision-making point and very often, you hit on this a little bit earlier, very often, the key element of that is the technical knowledge enough to know what matters and know the details.
But more importantly, the soft skills to articulate and to communicate why it matters and how it affects someone and to ask the right questions, to get to that right answer and BD, often times, business development is given the sales reputation and there’s an element of that, where it is like, go out, hustle, meet new people, generate up to kind of that top of the funnel if you will and work through people and relationships and that’s unquestionably an element of it.
But winning in BD, really winning in being successful is that critical communication element. That uncovering, asking the right questions and simplifying what needs to be done to get through that process and be successful in driving value and that, that I think is really, it is where it’s most people have a ton of challenge around at time but it’s also the real core value driver as a client advisor.
[0:19:39.2] AE: Absolutely. You know, it’s important for people to remember too, because I think there may be a lot of folks that listen to this and go, “Well, I just hate selling.” Like you said, you get that sort of that BD space gets the reputation for just being sales-y, right? Like, I don’t want to be a car salesman.
Look, don’t like this, it feels fake, it doesn’t feel genuine, I feel like I’m just out there. It’s tough, it’s hard, I don’t enjoy it. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of us that are introverts. I was absolutely astonished to learn that some of my own biggest mentors from a business development perspective were actually introverts.
They really didn’t enjoy socializing with people the same way that I thought I did, you know, that I felt very comfortable on my own time just being around other people. I enjoyed that aspect and some of the people that are just incredibly good at establishing these relationships are not like that, right? They don’t enjoy that, they’re introverts. They don’t get their energy from being in big groups or hanging out with all these other people all the time.
So if that’s an important point to get across if that’s someone that’s listening that you feel like, “Look, this isn’t something I think I can be good at” it is something that can be coached and it is something that can be learned, right? Where you can do these things and actually, you’ll find that a lot of times you’ll come off a bit more genuine, you know, when you put these things in practice, right?
Because that’s a big point of this too is, most of the people, my own clients or prospects on the other side, they don’t like salesmen either, right? And if they feel like they’re sitting with someone who is just giving them a bunch of thin air, right? Then they’re not very likely to engage you, right? People want to engage people that they like and they want to work with.
So it’s not so much about learning how to, you know, wine and dine and make jokes and those aspects that you may think it is. It’s more about learning how to communicate in a way that’s going to present your true self, show the skills that you can really offer or the value that you can add to your potential prospects and do it in a way that’s clean, concise, short and helps the other person understand why it is that they should hire you.
[0:21:53.8] AD: So let me ask, what’s your journey of BD been like and ask that from a context of I think what you and I are saying, I think anyone who’s successful in BD that I have spoken with I think would agree with what we’re saying, it is about building relationships. It is about that process, it’s not the selling, if you will, specifically in professional services but when you are working through that journey and you are someone who had a lot of skillsets outside of that.
But you weren’t a sales person before or you were, right? What’s that journey been like for you and what are your like challenges you faced and how have you been successful in that process?
[0:22:27.3] AE: I guess I was always comfortable talking. In fact, that’s also my biggest weakness is I probably talk too much, right? I talk a lot and I’ve got to constantly self-regulate myself when I am a bit long winded and sort of bring it home, right? Land the plane as they say. I knew that part wasn’t going to be tough for me but like we’ve been discussing, I definitely didn’t want to come off like a car salesman.
Personally, I hate salesmen. I hate walking into a furniture store and being approached in the first three seconds before you get a chance to look at anything and when you say, “No, no I’m fine” “Well, let me get your email, let me get your…” you know, we all are human and we hate that process, right? I kept giving the, you know, car salesman example but I really hate that process.
There’s a reason I kept saying that, as I, nothing I need more than going into a car dealership and just being bombarded with salesmen. I feel like it’s just so forced and not genuine and it’s about one thing and that’s making the sale. I’d be –
[0:23:28.3] AD: Have you tried Carvana? Carvana is a miracle for that.
[0:23:31.5] AE: Exactly, exactly. So in my own journey, I knew I wanted to take a much more low stress environment when it comes to business development that it was more going to be focused on relationships and genuine relationships that are not dependent on whether or not we get engaged, right? Whether or not we’re going to end up working together but just general relationships where you enjoy being around colleagues that work in your same industry or that have a need for the same area that you’re focused in and focus on those relationships.
And overtime, the opportunities will come, right? There’s certainly a time where you’ve got to ask, right? You’ve got to bring up and make sure that it’s clear the things that you offer while you’re also learning more about the people that you may be prospecting to. So in my journey, I found it a lot easier as I started to get more and more experienced in business development to sell other people.
I know this was a topic we were going to talk about, which was sort of doing business development in groups. A lot of times when we want to talk about that value we add, when we just talk about ourselves as individuals, it can come off a bit…
[0:24:42.6] AD: Braggy?
[0:24:43.1] AE: Right, like you’re bragging or again, maybe you get away from that genuine relationships. Now, it just looks like you’re just promoting yourself, which you are. You know, you are trying to promote yourself in the organization but sometimes that can feel unnatural for a lot of people. Selling in groups is a whole lot easier where you have almost everybody and they would be tuning in these professional services organizations.
They’ve got colleagues that you work closely with and where it makes a lot of sense to try to develop business in groups, right? Number one, I feel it’s a lot easier to talk about other people and you’re getting all the value that that person adds while not coming off that you’re bragging about yourself but number two, the relationship aspect is just a lot smoother sometimes when you’re in groups.
If you do feel like you’re more the introvert, you don’t talk that much or you know, it’s more difficult for you, considering bringing along someone that you worked with that is that talker that’s like myself that you can’t seem to shut up and it’s long winded or bring them into those conversations and you’ll find that those conversations will flow very naturally as the person may transition from small talk or talking about the game or the jokes to maybe having some specific technical questions —
Where you have this perfect opportunity to jump in and demonstrate that yeah, on top of us all liking each other, we really also know what it is that we’re talking about and we’re really confident that we know how to add value at the same time. So that sort of business development tends to flow a lot.
[0:26:17.6] AD: Let me ask you a question relating to your previous life. How many detectives in the interview room?
[0:26:23.9] AE: Oh, almost always I would do by myself.
[0:26:26.8] AD: Really? Okay.
[0:26:27.6] AE: Yeah, that’s a great question, you know?
[0:26:29.8] AD: I ask it because I watch a lot of date line and there always seems to be two and what was running through my head and then obviously, this set up didn’t worked as planned there, we obviously didn’t plan this but what I was thinking in my head is tying this to BD is there is an element of when you are engaging with someone, having two different sets of eyes, hearing questions, replaying things, asking from different like it’s easier to sit and listen to a conversation than it is to engage in a conversation, right?
If there’s – if you are passing back and forth and having different perspectives in that part, there also often times is an opportunity to uncover things that might have been missed in just a purely one-to-one dialogue and just from my own experience. So I think that add here to the BD element of that, there’s a lot of reason to not make it a one-man sport when you’re out there trying to develop relationships and ultimately develop business opportunities.
[0:27:21.9] AE: You’re absolutely right and I said by myself but the truth is, you usually have at least one other person, sometimes multiple that are watching, right? They’re giving you that same feedback as you take pauses and breaks. “Hey, here’s what you said, you missed this. Try this” right? Or “They reacted to this, go back down that path again.” That sort of feedback you’re getting more in real time when you’re together.
Certainly, I hate making this comparison to all of our listeners here today because they may think like, “Oh man, when this person is talking to me they’re thinking of me like a criminal. That they are interrogating for a murder” but it’s just the communication method, right? A style that tends to be more effective. We all like to communicate with each other in a certain way, right? So yes, they would listen and provide that feedback.
Another thing is a lot of times when you work together as far as who is going to be more of a primary person to have an interview, personalities are different. The people that you are selling to is different. You are going to have prospects or clients that are very technical themselves and when I say technical, they like to focus in the details, right? They’re less interested in small talk, they want to get right to it and they want specifics.
You’re going to have people that don’t like to get into those details as much. They like to be more high level, they like to establish that relationship first and they’re more likely to make a purchase decision based on that. Well, if you have varying personality types in your group like certainly I do on my team, that’s really healthy to start with because you’ll find that certain personalities tend to just click, right?
I’ve got certain colleagues where my clients just absolutely will work in a group and they absolutely love to work with that person and when I leave, even though we were talking about something, they follow up with my colleague, right? And vice-versa, there’s clients where we have this conversation and it’s one of my colleagues that sort of leading the conversation but they choose to follow up with me because maybe we had more of that report.
Use that to you advantage, right? Acknowledge that personality types are going to be different. If you’re in a group and you go into something like this with a plan and some relationships tend to form better over others, then let those relationships, you know, take that path.
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[0:29:41.4] AD: I think a great point of that is specifically in selling a complex advisory service, right? When you’re a complex consulting and advisory type services, you usually have maybe multiple decision makers and certainly, multiple decision influencers along the way and you will inevitably in that process, the CEO, the CFO, and the COO all are different personality types for a reason based on the roles and what they’re good at and where they spend their time.
It’s very challenging for a single individual to have enough of a dynamic communication style and personality to be able to hit each one of those as effectively as they could and I think the point you’re hitting here that’s a really good element of that is that having a group, having more than one person making BD a team sport if you will, it allows you to have that dynamic range of personalities that can make it much easier to navigate the decision making process along the way.
[0:30:49.4] AE: You know what? For the decision makers in our professional services firms out there, you really also want to think about whether or not your own internal structure is put together in a way that encourages that because a lot of times, what we find is the incentive is very much individualized, right? So a lot of partners in these various organizations do not necessarily want to work with someone else, right?
Or employees don’t want to work with someone else, it becomes very cutthroat, you know? Where they’re trying to focus on their own business development efforts for their own personal gain because that’s the way that their incentive or their compensation or whatever you want to call it is structures. So for the decision makers, you really want to ask yourself the question, “Do we think selling and team environments and collaborative is really in the best interest of our organization?”
If it is, “Do we align our compensation on our incentives with that goal of encouraging people to work together?”
[0:31:53.3] AD: I could not agree with you more. We could do an entire podcast probably a multi-series episode on that topic. You have to even send them the line, humans behave based on the incentives that are put in front of them and that plays out very much in BD and it’s probably one of the grander challenges in terms of making team BD work. So Alex, let’s go down, I got one more topic I want to hit with us before we get to the top of the show here.
Public speaking and presenting, thought leadership, content, it is something you and I have chatted about a little bit. Share, just give me some of your thoughts, what have you done, what have you learned?
[0:32:24.8] AE: Sure. I found that if there’s one skill that’s been transferable through my career path, it’s been public speaking. It always seem to serve me well in a variety of different capacities with a variety of different organizations. It goes back to that topic or the theme of this whole conversation, which is just communication. It is extremely worthwhile for those that are maybe earlier in their careers to try to make that a focus.
Even if they’re later in their careers, it’s never too late to put some effort into improving the way in which you present in front of others. Now, for a lot of people, I think public speaking is like the number one, you know, anxiety that people feel, right? The fear of public speaking I think is usually the top three when people survey. That’s not necessarily the most comfortable thing to do but it is extremely important and it is extremely valuable.
Not just in professional services but really, in any sort of role in any sort of organization, it can add a lot of value.
[0:33:29.4] AD: Now, how did you develop your skill? What’s something that has helped you in developing your public speaking skill?
[0:33:35.2] AE: So I actually always found it fun to utilize humor, right? As I would get up there to speak about any particular topic that was going to be, you know, it always feels like a stressful situation, I always found humor was a way to sort of relieve that tension and make the rest of the conversation feel much more natural. So that includes doing interviews with, you know, suspects in a law enforcement capacity.
Putting someone at ease with a joke or something like that to sort of relieve some of that tension makes the rest of the conversation flow a little bit easier and I’ve done the same thing in corporate environments as well, where there feels like it’s stuffy like a high pressure, there’s a lot of things that you’ve got to communicate. You’re worried about putting people to sleep, utilizing humor in that capacity has served me well.
I actually did it so much that I ended up pursuing standup comedy for fun on the side, where I sort of would get a lot of positive feedback from some of the training and things like that that I would do to large groups of people where I would incorporate comedy throughout the presentation. I always found it was a way to keep people engaged on an otherwise boring topic. I mean, let’s face it, if you’re working in accounting and law and consulting, even when people are in the same industry none of us are going to be surprised if we look out into the audience and see somebody start to nod away.
It is not exactly the most entertaining occupation, right? But there is a way to keep people engaged. There’s a few ways to do it and I really enjoyed doing it with comedy. I would go through presentations where I would hand out goofy prizes, things like – well, first off, I would build up the prize to the point where everyone was really excited but they were also paying attention and learning about otherwise boring topics.
But I would build up the prize to the point they were expecting keys to a new car or at least an iPad and then I would give out something like a frozen burrito or a box of waffles, those sort of things and I would bring it back and make you know, silly stories about myself and my childhood and hand out other silly prizes and jokes along the way but at the end of the day, it served us both, right?
It served the audience because they were a little bit more engaged. I paid attention to what’s otherwise important topics and it served me by breaking the tension a little bit and making, giving yourself a little bit of confidence as you go through your presentation when you’re getting that positive audience feedback. So not everybody loves comedy, not everybody wants to utilize that as part of their method.
I think one of the things that you and I talked about what – there’s a few strategies that can make pursuing public speaking a little bit more tolerable for you. I think if there’s one point that I’d really want to hit, it’s that whenever you’re building up for a presentation whether it’s to a small group of people, maybe just internally to your team or to your boss or a few bosses or you’re giving a presentation to a room with a thousand people in it, always make it very conversational.
You never want to rehearse something that you’d prepared for even if it’s a sales pitch, something that you’re doing in the business development space. You never want things to come off as rehearsed or prepared. You want it to be a conversation. The same is true in standup comedy. That was some of the advice I got from a lot of comedians as well as it’s this exact same process that even though you may have memorized a joke verbatim, word for word and you know it, it has to come off natural like a conversation.
If it doesn’t, it won’t connect with the audience the same way, so you have to focus on that. So how do you that? Well, as you’re approaching a lot of these things, it’s just getting to know the key points that you are going to discuss and not memorizing exactly what you are going to present on each of those key points.
[0:37:33.9] AD: That not memorization is the critical element there, right? When you and I know from my own experience of it, when you try to memorize something, you have a script that you’re really trying to show up with a script. One, you put a lot of pressure in yourself to play by the script. There is an element of your pre-programmed, you know what you worked on, so maybe it feels like it’s easier because you don’t have to worry about it.
But as soon as something happens it knocks you off script, where do you go from there, right? I am a strong believer in talking points and in working from talking points to have a conversational flow but trying to put word for word is setting yourself up to get knocked off and have a hard time picking yourself back up.
[0:38:14.7] AE: It seems scary for a lot of people going into that because they say, “Oh my gosh, you know, if I’m not prepared then I’m not prepared.” It seems you know, that’s not natural, right? For most of us that work hard that make sure we’re ready, that make sure we get things done on time, we’re very detail-oriented. We don’t want to drop the ball, so when we’re preparing for something like you know, public speaking where we’re going to give a presentation or communicate something, it feels like what we’re supposed to be doing is memorization.
It’s getting all these key points in a way that we’ve rehearsed it, we’re going to say them that we think sounds good but that is unfortunately the wrong way to go about it and when you do take that strategy, everyone else in the room can read it, they all see it. It doesn’t come off as genuine and certainly in a business development perspective, it’s not going to help you. If you will build those converse, those interactions more like a conversation with talking points.
But also even with audience interaction, get comfortable with asking someone in the crowd or if it’s a small group, asking one of your colleagues or bosses a question that’s going to bring you into that first topic or questions along the way. That’s going to keep your audience much more in their toes, much more engaged. It’s going to feel much more natural like a conversation and you’re going to be a lot more successful, whether it’s just a presentation or it’s from a business development standpoint.
Is it uncomfortable? Yes but you have to embrace it otherwise, you take the risk of you know, just looking like so many other people where you sit down on a presentation and they go, “Let me tell you the 40 years of company history we have here at…” name the firm. “We started in 1960…” oh my gosh, you’re putting everybody to sleep, right? And a lot of people still go about business development with that attitude and it shows.
[0:40:02.8] AD: Great advice, great wisdom to share there and I think that embracing the conversational approach is really is from a communication standpoint. It’s key to relationship building but it’s key to trust building, rapport building, respect building and those are all the variables that drive the decision making process in BD at the end of the day. So I think that’s excellent advice.
So Alex, I really appreciate you coming on here today. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and your unique career path and how it has led you to where you are today but also the skillsets that you have developed and your perspective around BD and a final question maybe to leave our listeners out here, if you could give advice to someone today who is 25 years old, starting in as a professional career, what’s the advice?
[0:40:52.9] AE: You know, I’d sort of tagged onto what we said earlier in the presentation, which is looking to your left and right and up and down in your organization and trying to pick the people that you think are really successful and sort of modeling your career and what you do after them, right? Early on in my military career, I got advice when I went into leadership positions that you know, throughout your career, you’re going to see things you love and you’re going to see things you hate.
You know, the secret to leadership is just paying attention to those and making sure when it’s you’re time, you repeat those things that you loved and you don’t do the things that you hated, right? It’s not overly complex. You model after the people that you think are really successful, you try to understand why and that’s typically a recipe that’s going to land you in that same success.
[0:41:44.8] AD: That is great advice, I appreciate that and for our listeners that want to get in touch with you, what’s a good way to get in touch with you?
[0:41:51.3] AE: LinkedIn. Look, I’m available on LinkedIn. There’s not too many Alex Egan’s out there but there’s even less that you’ll see a background in the military, law enforcement, regulatory space and now, a consultant but I really am always open to connect with people on LinkedIn. I love having a conversation. If anything we said today, you know, wanted to follow up on, I’m happy to talk to anybody.
[0:42:16.4] AD: Well, awesome. I appreciate that, we’ll make sure it’s linked in the shownotes below for our listeners and Alex, again, I appreciate you coming on here and sharing your thoughts with us today in the Branch Out Podcast.
[0:42:24.7] AE: Thank you so much Alex. I appreciate you having me.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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