Lessons for Entrepreneurs

I recently watched Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and found it compelling viewing. It is an excellent production and helped shine a powerful spotlight on climate change, the challenges we face and some steps we can take to reduce the effects we are causing[1]. It painted a very bleak picture for the future of the earth unless we all act to modify our behaviour immediately.

The documentary is produced in the form of a pitch and consists of a mix of PowerPoint-type visuals with Mr. Gore presenting (interspersed with video footage).

Aside from the powerful messages it successfully conveys, it also struck me that there were a number of very strong lessons in it for those of us interested in the field of business planning and specifically, the pitching of business plans.

Unlike most business plan pitches, the purpose of his presentation was not to secure investment. However, like those pitching business plans, Mr. Gore did seek to persuade, to gain mind share and to influence behaviour. In my view, in these he clearly succeeded. I left the film convinced of his assessment and keener to play my part in helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

Another difference between the documentary and pitching a business plan is, of course, the one-sided nature of film as a medium. In a pitch scenario, the observers have a role to play in challenging assumptions, interrogating data and scrutinising every single claim. They then make a decision based on what they’ve heard. Watching a film is a passive experience where the right of reply in real time does not exist. Not surprisingly, a number of commentators and critics have claimed some bias and scientific inaccuracies (which have then resulted in counterarguments)[2]. That limitation aside, it is a great documentary which contains some powerful lessons for entrepreneurs that I believe are worth pointing out.

As mentioned, Mr. Gore’s choice of medium to deliver his message was one that many of us are familiar with – a presentation. In this he excelled and the following represent some of the main techniques that I felt really supported his strong delivery:

  • Very clear structure
  • Strong focus on factual data to support arguments
  • Lack of bland slides such as bullet-point lists
  • Powerful use of graphs/ visuals
  • Passion and conviction with the subject matter
  • Effective use of props, i.e. his use of a lift to demonstrate scale.

In short, Mr. Gore has succeeded in producing a documentary that presents a very persuasive argument that is likely to galvanise people. In fact, in the UK, it has been made required viewing in schools (a copy was sent to every secondary school in England).[3] Alongside the powerful environmental message, he has produced a master class in articulating an argument and using graphs, props and images to support his argument convincingly. These are skills that every entrepreneur pitching for investment should learn. I suggest a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth before presenting any pitch would be valuable time spent!