PITCHING ETIQUETTE 101

In my short professional career, I have not had many people or companies pitch ideas to me in a formal setting. Even so, being a Communications graduate, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of conduct expected. Some of these expectations also boil down to common sense and a general sense of respect.

I am quite sure that this sort of thing is also taught in Business School. So I would think that this is a skill that 90% of the workforce should have. I will take a chance and say the ‘professionals I am about to talk about fall in the 10% bracket. Please, humour me as I bore you with the details…

About two days prior to the meeting, I received a call at my place of work. The person at the other end of the line introduced herself and went on to state the purpose of her call. She was from the marketing department in one of the prominent media houses in the country. On the surface her idea sounded real good! I went ahead to give her my supervisor’s email address as well mine, so she could request a meeting officially. The call came through on a Wednesday, and the meeting set for Friday, 11:00 AM. Honestly, we were all looking forward to this meeting. We have been trying for a while to get the media to take an informed interest on the cause and it seemed like we were finally making headway.

Friday:

Our guests call at 10:30 AM informing us that they are just leaving the Nairobi CBD. Our offices are located in Karen, the other side of town, so it would take them around 35-40 minutes to get to the office. They get lost a couple of times, and keep calling for directions. Never mind the ease of access to Google Maps these days. Finally, we see a car pull up right in front of the office. It is 11:45 AM. No apologies are made for the delay, instead when we show them into the meeting room; one of them spots a heater and asks, “Is this heater working?” It is a cold morning in Nairobi, so we offer the ladies tea and/or coffee.

The meeting starts. The team, two very smartly dressed ladies, introduce themselves and again, state the purpose of the meeting. They thank us for meeting them at such short notice, and we respond that we had sensed the urgency. My boss begins to tell them about our organization and what we do. One of them is on her phone replying to some text (I was seated right next to her) and the other one had back turned to the boss and her head buried inside her laptop bag trying to find something. I doubt they had grasped anything by the time they requested to show us a presentation they had prepared.

The presentation was painful. They had the right idea, but I think, no I know, it backfired. The first slide was meant to show us that they are up to speed with issues concerning our cause, statistics and all. Let’s just say they were misinformed. The lady charged with doing the presentation kept dragging her chair to and from the table where she had placed her laptop. It was just the four of us, so there was no table separating us, sort of like a semicircle setting. She was in the middle, so she kept going back and forth, like a kid who had just seen these types of seats for the first time. Midway through her presentation, her colleague decides to interrupt her to let her know that her tea is getting cold! Right!

They finish the presentation and drop the bombshell that they would like to partner with us, with a Ksh.4 million figure displayed on the laptop. Again, assumptions are made in a quest to convince us that we needed the airtime that their ‘CSR’ approach was offering us. So we were to brainstorm and let them know how much of the 4million we can raise by, wait for it, latest Tuesday morning. We tried to conceal our shock as we politely explained how things work and assured them that we would try and go the extra mile as to contact our partners for additional support.

I had had enough. I could not wait for them to take leave so I could tell my boss what I really thought of them and the idea. Long story short, we did not partner with them, but we did do due diligence and contacted our partners on their behalf. Waiting to see if they got them on board.

I am disappointed. Disappointed at the level of disrespect and assumptions made. Maybe we can make future performances better. Here are a few pointers to winning people to your side:

  1. Be Punctual. Always arrive a least ten minutes before the agreed time. This way, you are able to prepare any presentation materials before the meeting begins.
  1. Basic etiquette. The heater working is none of your business!! (I just had to throw this one as it is) Seriously though, your conduct, right from the handshake when you walk in, your presentation and behaviour during the meeting, will determine the end result. There was such obvious disrespect during this meeting, and the fact that the ladies did not seem to recognize this or bother to, is baffling.Until the host insists that you refer to them by their first name, do not. The pointer is usually at the point of introduction, “Hi, My Name is Trezer,” and “Hi, I am Miss Oguda” already tell you how the person wishes to be addressed. Alternatively, to eliminate any doubt, you can ask, “Can I call you Trezer?”
  1. If you are going educate experts about what they do, please do sufficient research. For instance, Don’t say Serengeti is in Kenya for God’s sake…Or that the organization is two years old while it is in fact twenty! Oh, this one’s important, GET THE COMPANY NAME RIGHT!
  1. Even in this dot.com age, I prefer a pen and paper as opposed to an ipad or computer to take notes, especially if it is a small meeting as was ours. It is less tempting to respond to texts or emails and you actually maintain eye contact. If you’re one of those big shots, do come with someone who will transcribe the meeting notes for you. Someone who will not be directly involved in the talks.
  2. If it is a last minute thing, as this one was, please please please get as much ammunition in your bag as you possibly can. I am talking personal charm and fascinating presentations of past successes.
  1. Oh, I must say this. It does not matter if your host met your perceived expectations or not. That same level of respectful tone you had on the phone should be transferred physically. Never let it be seen that you are ‘disappointed’ to be meeting someone smaller in frame or any other physical attributes that could cloud your judgment. Do your job and walk away.

You must be disciplined in how you prepare yourself every day. Don’t be careless or go into meetings unprepared. You must be serious, if you want others to take you seriously. And it all boils down to your personal discipline.

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A lesson in dreaming

I treasure children. I love their innocence and all they can get away with in the name of being ‘children’, because when a grown up does them, they are branded childish. I love the genuinity(is that a word?) in their eyes; the windows to their souls. I can tell, earnestly, when they are happy, sad, bored or whatever other feeling. Being around kids is refreshing. I started accompanying the education team for documenting purposes, film and photography. Then, unofficially, hype man (woman) was added to my TOR-Terms of Reference. So whenever the kids look bored or are unresponsive, I am there to do an equivalent of ‘ikibamba sana wapi nduruuuu’! Anyway, so this one of those times, the Save the Elephants education team, is out in Chumviere, somewhere between Isiolo and Archers post. To get to Chumviere Primary School, you will need:

  1. A strong purpose
  2. One of those cars used by drivers in the Rhino Charge events
  3. Water
  4. A state of the art backbone.

There is a British Army barrack just off the tarmac. It is the only modern building you’ll see until you get to the school. The terrain is mostly rocky and thorny, and when its not, its very dusty. There are ‘manyatta’ villages scattered every few kilometers. Sometimes, you will see an old woman with her donkey carrying a jerry can or two of water and boys tending to goats. They stop to look at you and/or your car and the young boys run after you waving excitedly. If they see a ‘mzungu’ they will shout proudly “How are you?” and run away giggling at the response, “Fine.” Only, the mzungus are sometimes too eager to show off their Kiswahili skills, they shout back a “Jambo!”

We get to the school and its just perfect. Well, not perfect PERFECT, but it certainly beats my lowly expectations. I spot a water tank somewhere, and then classrooms built of wood and oiled black. The Kenyan flag is flying high on a high metal pole planted in the middle of a circle of well-arranged white stones. A few meters away, a stone walled toilet brightly painted blue and white. Some writings on it, I can’t quite make them out. After a briefing at the headmaster’s office, we head to the Standard Six class. There are about 20 of them, more girls than boys this time. There have been incidences of banditry and cattle rustling, and most of the boys had to go help their fathers with the herds. The girls stayed back with the women folk. Staff introductions and the lessons begin. “Living in Harmony with Elephants,” they are dubbed. The education team goes round schools built around elephant corridors and carries out lessons to find out the students attitudes towards the elephants and how Save the Elephants can help in areas of conflict.

The team concludes part one of the lesson and one of them whispers in my ear “enda uwachangamshe kidogo before we start part 2”) Ha! So I step up and ask each of them to tell me their name and what they would like to be when they grow up. Cliché, I know, but I love to hear that kids still dream in this day and age. I tell them to smile while at it because it makes it even more interesting, and I like to see happy faces (…also, we need to get really happy photos for social media and the website) I get a couple of answers; from doctors (of course) to teachers, pilots and even rangers, but nothing could have prepared me for this one. “My name is Raphael, he says, “…and I want to be a farmer.”

Source: Internet

A young farmer

I say a ‘wow!’ Careful not to sound too surprised. I tell him to keep working at it. I expected all the other answers. Almost all of them had seen someone in that career once. Pilots, they had seen flying planes over their schools. They have been through enough hard times to see soldiers and men in uniform around, so being a soldier or pilot don’t sound so farfetched.

Why you ask, did the farmer amaze me so? Picture the terrain I have just described. Nothing grows there except thorns and other random weeds. The livestock eat whatever they can find. On a previous visit, lunch was githeri (A mixture of hard boiled maize and beans-a Kenyan delicacy) No one wants to eat this everyday though, but to some of these kids its life. A hope. For Raphael, being a farmer represented people and green lush farms that he’d only seen in books. A farfetched one, but a dream nonetheless. It made me happy, that he wished to explore the world beyond Chumviere. He knew that to fulfill his dream he had to work hard to get out of Chumviere where farming doesn’t happen and who knows, come back and supply green leafy vegetables home.

Aaaaah! A lesson in dreaming.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. -Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Why do snakes exist?

I was recently up at the Samburu National Reserve on a work trip. Our research camp is set on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro which separates The Samburu National Reserve and The Buffalo Springs National Reserve. As you can imagine, this is quite a bush set up, we don’t want to totally change the landscape as we are on wild animal territory. It is their home after all and have full rights to be here. The Samburu team are housed in tents and other temporary structures which a visitor would find very unsettling seeing that the wildlife here roam through the camp quite often. More often than not, elephants, some of whom we know by name like Yaeger and Sarara, graze and browse unmoved as people go about their work. I  have never gotten used to the dazing effect, watching such a huge animal mind his/her business. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to look at them in the eye, and the feeling is indescribable. You have to experience it yourself.

On one of my first visits up North, I was held captive, pleasantly so, by 3 young male elephants who were casually grazing right next to my room. I panicked and called the camp manager who told me to relax, that they would be on their way as soon as they were done. “Elephants don’t attack unless provoked,” He said. So I sat there, listening to them tug at the grass with their feet and the silent seconds when they would use their trunks to put it into their mouths. I was tempted to open the door and watch them eat, but  decided against it. Instead, I took a chair and climbed to reach up one of the windows. I looked outside and at that particular moment, one of the bulls lifted his head and our eyes met! I almost toppled over, but I held on long enough to take in this moving moment…and as fast as it had happened, it was all over. I don’t think I will ever forget this, ever! It gave a deeper meaning to my work. Sounds silly, I know.

So, as I was saying, I was up there recently and one particular incident has tugged on my heart since. A young girl, about 5 years old was bitten by a snake on her wrist. She was brought to our camp in the dead of the night so we could drive her to the nearest hospital at Archers post. She didn’t last long, hours later, she was dead. I shed a tear, I haven’t felt that sad in a long time. I don’t know what angered me most; the fact that the parents had waited for hours before taking her to hospital, choosing to use some traditional curative method in preventing the poison from spreading, or that snakes…snakes bite people for no particular reason. I mean, lions would kill you then eat you, because they were hungry. Hippos kill you when you get in between them and the water and so on. But snakes bite or spit on you, then slither away. I don’t understand and if I read my Bible in Genesis, they are the devil himself.  It makes quite a lot of sense then, that I can’t stand them, I hate them and they are my biggest fear when I’m in the bush.

A day later we hear of another kid, this time older, who also dies from a snake bite. That night a small cobra was ‘sitting’ resting near the dinner table. I am told as I wasn’t present, that people just looked at it and continued eating unperturbed. It seemed full, they said. Some suggested that they murder it but the others, mostly the White counterparts (not to sound racist or anything close) said it should be left alone. I inquired, and was told it is one of the deadliest snakes and kills with within minutes if no antidote is available. Later on, one of my colleagues meets a huge snake as he was walking to his tent. It was long gone when he came back seconds later with a group of men to finish it off. A search in the nearest bushes yielded nothing.

When one of our American friends heard what had happened, she was pretty upset. She said we had no right to kill the snakes because we were the trespassers here. That we should let them be. I know she makes sense about the territories and all, but what to do when you find yourself living in the same space with them? Should we wait till a snake bites someone then kill it? Even then, have we any right? I don’t know, maybe its my fears talking…but I don’t see how a snake can be conserved for future use 😦 Future use to kill? Ah. I know there are snake lovers out there as well as there are elephant lovers and one would argue that no love is greater than the other…actually I would in favour of elephants 😀 them being keystone species and all; but why do snakes exist? Why the can’t they sense good intention just like elephants and just leave humans alone? I wish God would just call off this snake curse 😦

I am not blind to the deaths elephants have caused, or the yields they have mercilessly trampled on as they ate to their fill…sigh! I guess I am just confused as to why the world ain’t perfect.

What do you think?

 

A year of saving elephants

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One elephant dies every 15 minutes. Do the Math. It’s serious!

If someone had told me that I would still be here a year later, I would have smacked the words back into their throat, literally. 

Flashback 20 years…

Anne Ofula was on the KBC TV screen. Her braids were held up in an elegant bun, her eyes happy. Then there was that dazzling white smile, the red lipstick carefully painted on the perfect curve that were her lips. She was the second most beautiful woman I had ever seen, my mom came first of course 🙂 I watched with great fascination and interest as she ‘introduced’ the next programme. They always ended up narrating the whole programme anyway, remember? So just like that, I knew what I wanted to be when i grew up. I wanted to be her. Whatever she was doing, I wanted it, and that  lipstick too! Mama tells me I would stand in front of the mirror after school, practising. She sometimes narrates of instances when she would be secretly listening and hear me sign out as Anne Ofula instead of Trezer Oguda. That mirror act was my thing and by default, albeit unknowingly to Anne, it became our thing. By the time the future was here, I would be ready.

Present day…

A degree in media and communications, several training opportunities and CVs in quite a number of Kenyan media houses later, I am here. No, not on KBC. I am behind my desk, in this small, beautiful cottage of an office at the Marula Manor grounds in Karen, Nairobi. Its not a newsroom. It is the media and communications desk at Save the Elephants.

Conservation communication is quite a shift from what the grown up me had envisioned as I threw my graduation cap up in the air, that hot June afternoon. However, when I was called in for the internship position in February last year, I took it, “just for the time being.” It was something, and it had been six months on the freelance vibe. I needed it, and the money. The first time I stepped into the office I told myself, “Oh, this is going to be boring!” There was a silence in the room and they all looked so sciency 😀 My loud self could not survive in these harsh conditions.

A year on, am glad I stayed. Well, it has not been all rosy; in between floating during the meetings where it’s all policy and science paraphernalia (…it gets easier and quite interesting with time though) and having to sit still for hours hunched on a computer and know that the boss is god here. I have cried out my frustrations, more times than I remember privately and publicly.  But now, now I can confidently say I am sharper, YES, sharper (…the sciency parts are still there and I do sometimes wander away to the sandy beaches and all, but not all the time). I am involved. I know a lot more, not just about elephants and their conservation but also about policies and what it really means to Save Elephants. And there is more to learn. My deskmate at work has made sure of this. I have grown-career wise and wholesomely, made friends in colleagues and most importantly, I have gatecrashed high profile weddings at these beautiful expensive grounds.

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The amazing office chics 🙂

Needless to say, my loud self survived and still does. I even have recruits!  I have grown to love elephants and attributes that bear an immense similarity to us humans. Elephants are plus size models. They are the most elegant species you’ll ever encounter. I have had a chance to be amazingly close to a herd of 150 elephants taking beautiful shots and making films. It leaves you speechless (sometimes because you dont want to scream out of fear and have them turn aggressive; you don’t want to YODO- You only die once-under their mighty trample) but also because they are a sight to behold..

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Among the elephants

They make seemingly gentle steps, but the impact on the ground for miles is amazing. Their ability to not just feel but show emotion….aaaaaah! Lets save elephants! They are our heritage and pride. Stop poaching now! Hands off our elephants! Ban the ivory trade now!  Enough, of the campaign-but seriously, Save their souls 🙂

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Samburu elephants in their matriarch led family
PHOTO BY DARYL BALFOUR

So what is the moral of the story? I don’t know…maybe I needed us to celebrate my one year anniversary. No? Ok. Then verily verily I say unto you, God does not make mistakes. He knew I was going to stay here a year, and who knows how much longer. See the Bible says in Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” And that is why my ‘to be here temporarily’ plans failed. The most amazing thing is that I am my own star here. God made sure that everything I touch turns to Gold. I am good at this! God wouldn’t let you fail where He’s placed you. You will thrive! When its time to move, you’ll move. I believe I am still in His purpose and if the journey to the fulfilment of that purpose requires me to save elephants, then that’s exactly what I am going to do. I am going to take full advantage of it. I only have one request…to my boss. Thou shalt read this post and know that I want to be here, so thou shalt award me a salary increase according to the company’s riches here on earth. We are blessed. 🙂

NB: Dear Anne Ofula (RIP)…I still occasionally sneak into the bathroom where the interior designer conveniently hung a three quarter length wood edged mirror and do ‘our’ thing. Who knows where all this practice will lead me. lol!