Friday, November 21, 2014

How many businesses could you start this week?

This week, as we celebrate and encourage women entrepreneurs in honour of Women's Entrepreneurship Day last November 19, I have to stop and remind myself what it was like to have very little.
In 1988 I left home aged 17 with about $35.
I quickly learned if I didn’t manage my money I couldn’t eat, get transport or buy the textbooks I needed that would ultimately help me work my way out of my week-to-week existence.
Fast forward 25 years and I can reflect on how fortunate I was to have access to loans.
Access to a small amount of money can go a long way to changing the future of a woman’s life. For the women Opportunity International Australia assists it can be a matter of life or death for them and their families. A loan of $100 can help them create a more secure future for their children.
As a 17-year-old, I still had options. And in hindsight I was pretty fortunate – I was able to get paid well enough in my part-time jobs, access temporary student loans to make ends meet when it got ugly, and graduate earning enough (in time) to repay my uni fees. Which I did, promptly.
Where would I have been without those student loans? Arguably not where I am now – in a position to give back to younger women, or to causes such as microfinance.
A passionate believer in the idea of helping women work their way out of poverty.
People who struggle financially are more likely to be women. The United Nations Development Program evidence is compelling:
“Many of the world's poorest people are women who must, as the primary family caretakers and producers of food, shoulder the burden of tilling land, grinding grain, carrying water and cooking... Yet some 75 percent of the world's women cannot get bank loans because they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership… When women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty.”
These comments are backed up by Opportunity’s track record. It shows women who are given microfinance loans go on to repay those loans then re-invest their earnings in ways that help break the inter-generational poverty cycle – educating their children, accessing healthcare and creating jobs for women and men.
BlueChip Communication, the business I own, donates about 2.5% of our billable time (and potential revenue) to help Opportunity International Australia.
We do this because, as a mostly-female business, and as business people in the finance sector, we can see what a game-changer just little amounts of money – hundreds of dollars – can be. Living and working in Sydney, it’s easy to forget what the rest of the world looks like. Our reality is so very different to that of Opportunity’s clients.
Australia’s top 1 per cent of earners take home around an average of just under $400,000 a year. For argument’s sake, let’s assume this average is representative and that ALL of the 180,000 top 1% in Australia earn $400,000 per annum. Let’s also assume everyone earning that much money in our country donated just 1% of their income. (For simplicity, we will say they don’t right now). The resulting pool of funds would be $720 million.
The income alone (if it was invested in fixed income say at 5.5%) would be $39.6 million a year. That’s a lot of small loans – around 396,000 of $100 loans a year!
In four years, Australia’s top 1% of income earners could help more than a million women borrow, work and earn their way out of poverty.
As a business owner, mother and Opportunity supporter it makes good commercial sense to me. This Women's Entrepreneurship Day, what could your 1% of time or money achieve?
This post was first published on the Opportunity International Australia website.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Leadership communication: three things about all great conference presentations

Attending the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) 2014 with 1899 other delegates from the financial services industry, I was struck by a few realisations yesterday. 

Realisation 1: How unusual it is to have an all-female keynote or plenary line-up on Day One

Realisation 2: Truly great keynote speeches all have the same ingredients

Realisation 3: The more information we are faced with, the more meaningless it becomes

These things may not sound like blinding insights, but they do point to some important lessons for wanna-be conference speakers, or those of us who speak regularly but sometimes fall into the trap of telling people what we know, instead of something the audience might actually find both useful and entertaining.

And make no mistake, whether you're an actuary, asset management PhD or Australian of the Year, you need to be both useful AND entertaining. That's the bit in points two and three about using narrative techniques that work well for you and your audience - regardless of the topic.  

If you disagree, think for one minute about a well-known Superannuation Board member and former Central Banker who is like a human sleeping pill. Incredibly capable, a national treasure, well respected and yet induces narcolepsy in even the most well-caffeinated of audiences.

Due credit to ASFA for putting together a diverse Day One speaker line-up, all of whom met the "useful and entertaining" test. Due credit also for having a Day One line-up where Rosemary Vilgan and Ita Buttrose were the Day One opening Plenary speakers. Both are exceptional leaders, with an informed view and much value to offer the audience. Both are also women - but it's rare (and laudable) to see two women keynoting.  

Here is the anatomy of what each speaker did, to varying degrees of success.

First: know thy audience
Ita Buttrose and Mark Bouris are paid keynote speakers, household names and leaders in their field. If it's good enough for them to study their audience, in this case superannuation industry leaders, and work hard to connect with us, it's good enough for you and I. 

I am humbled by how much work good professional speakers do to make sure they know who they are talking to and how to relate their story to those people. Ita Buttrose did not make the mistake of turning up and saying what she always says - she (or a speech writer) thought about what would resonate with us as well as serve her own purposes (promoting the cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s' disease).

It's this process of sitting in the audience's shoes, and thinking deeply about our own agenda form their perspective, that humbles us, makes for a generous presentation and help us connect with people who give time and attention to us.

Second: know your "why"
Listening to Russell Investment's indomitable Don Ezra was a delight. And that's despite the fact that I am not a 60+ year old semi-retired investment guru. Don was so passionate and warm in his delivery that he infected me with his own enthusiasm for a better way to think and behave about income in retirement. 

I'm not sure this was always his spiel, but he sounds like a man fired up on behalf of a large and growing group of people - of whom he is one, but also on whom he is a subject matter expert. 

Don is an investment strategist, now semi-retired but also, it seems to me, in the happy place of having arrived at a moment in time during which his work is both a higher purpose and source of income. Perhaps it was always this way for Don. Or perhaps he's worked hard to reach the destination.

Either way, all truly great speakers (Buttrose and Bouris included) are clear about what they care deeply about - and able to infect us with their own passion as a result.

Rosemary Vilgan had a lot more content to impart but also was crystal clear about what matters most - and that's the best possible outcome for Australians who are retired, delivered by a super system that needs to evolve. It's clearly something she cares deeply about, as should we all if we are to work in financial services.

Third: keep it as simple as you can
We all "know" that this is the age of information overload. But do we really use that when we sit down to prepare a conference presentation? Mmmm not often enough if my years of conference attendance are anything to go by.

From an evolutionary biology point of view we are the equivalent of slightly evolved apes staring, confused and aghast, into the matrix. That's sounds a bit harsh, but Google "information overload" and "evolutionary biology", or "behavioural finance choice" and you'll see what I mean. 

The short version is this:
- We live in an age where the amount of information available to us has outstripped our ability to process it
- Most of us living and working in an urban environment experience some level of overload
- The more information we are presented with (or allow in) the less helpful it becomes - and our ability to make good decisions drops accordingly

So what does that mean if you're a conference speaker? You probably consistently over-estimate your audience's ability to absorb what you are saying. And your own ability to make it simple enough to be useful.

In short, the more time invested up front making our subject matter expertise accessible, the better. 

Matt Church (an expert on Thought Leadership) gets this, so I'm very much looking forward to his session on Friday. 

Perhaps that should be compulsory viewing for more conference speakers.

Bouris, Buttrose, Ezra and Vilgan kept it at the right level - there was well thought through content, but there were also clear themes even the most overloaded brain could follow.

There's much more to truly great speaking that three ingredients. That said, even just getting these right is an act of generousity towards our audiences.

Isn't that what leadership and leadership communication is all about - serving our audience, not just ourselves?