Melanie Little, Co-Founder of vLife - a social enterprise platform connecting support local customers with more small indie businesses - is a graduate of shiftED Academy and a member of shiftED’s Coterie, an exclusive membership group for alumni.
A home-educating, mompreneur of two from Halifax, Canada, Melanie is passionate about leveraging technology to connect people with solutions that help make the world a better place.
I had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and we talked about her work and her presentations.
Tisha: Melanie, lovely for you to make the time in your schedule to chat with me. Tell me about vLife.
Melanie: That's my favourite question! vLife is our baby. As the CEO, I’m often explaining what we do. Over the years I’ve refined it to, quite simply, “We help people find more small local businesses online.” However, if I’m speaking with a small business owner, I will shift the focus, “As a small business owner, we feature and promote you exclusively so people can more easily find you online.” I’m very mindful of the audience's needs in that regard.
We’ve created a platform, an online marketplace where you can find, support, and connect with more small independent businesses. We feature and promote them exclusively. There are a growing number of people wanting to support local, prioritize buying from local businesses. And small independent business owners are super busy. They’re trying to do marketing, they’re trying to do promotions, they’re trying to run their business. They’re trying to do what they do really well, in addition to managing all the other things. They don’t have the same resources as the bigger businesses that have in-house marketing departments and currently dominate the online landscape. So we carved out this space just to feature and promote small indie businesses exclusively.
Tisha: And as a vLife member, I appreciate the benefits! I think even before the pandemic there was a heightened awareness for spending money locally and investing in our communities. The pandemic seemed to have amplified that for a lot of people.
Melanie, tell me a little bit about your presentations and how they tie in with your work.
Melanie: Our clients, like yourself, are busy people so we need to be able to present things that are quick and easily digestible so that they fully understand our services. I do present myself in a variety of different ways but mainly videos and a lot of Zoom.
We developed a video explainer. Thanks to your very good advice that I got in the Presentation Booster Program, I was able to practice it so that it doesn’t sound scripted, which almost sounds counterintuitive - but it really works for a more natural presentation. I record videos for internal communications too. For example, when we onboarded our first full-time employee, I created a series of videos to help make their job easier.
Tisha: I just want to highlight that there is a variety with respect to the audiences and objectives and for the methodologies that you’ve incorporated in the work that you do. You touched on tailoring content for your audience and for a particular objective. You also mentioned live Zoom presentations and asynchronous videos. Melanie, we’ve talked about this before, how important it is to have a holistic approach to presenting because this is not a one-dimensional concept.
Do you have any upcoming presentations that you are preparing for?
Melanie: I do! I have a Small Business Owner panel discussion soon through CEED. One of the things I like to do in preparation for moderated sessions where you field questions, and I don’t really know what I’m going to be asked, is I try to ground myself. I try to get in there early so I can chat with the other panellists and get my bearings a little bit. I find that I’m more focused when I have the time to consider… “what do they need to hear from me?” “What kind of things would be useful to them?”
The other type of presentation that I need to prepare for is more formal, pitching for investment funding for our business. It's the opposite of a panel discussion and I will be taking advantage of our Coterie one-on-one coaching for that! We have global aspirations. We want to grow vLife and we want to be smart about doing it. To do that as a startup, you often need investment. That presentation includes a business plan in the form of a pitch deck. So, there are so many levels of preparation for that.
Also, a lot of the improvements in how we present vLlife services are from seeking out feedback from our clients. And you're a great example of this yourself! You're always reaching out and seeking feedback! That's where the gold is. Your audience will tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Even if you think it's the best idea that's really going to help them, if they don't see that, if they don't feel that, put it aside and try something new. Listen to what they want and how they talk about your business. It’s good for marketing. It’s good for when you’re presenting. Here is an example - a while back, you described vLife as a platform and up until that conversation I was describing it as a marketplace. It is not strictly a marketplace. It is indeed more of a platform. I shifted from that moment on to use “platform” in my vLife descriptions. And that helped me better articulate our value. I'm constantly presenting when I put copy together for vLife and our clients' businesses. So I can get a little geeky about word choices, I guess. But I also get excited about it because word choice makes all the difference and “platform” was golden for me, just as an example, so thank you!
Tisha: My pleasure! The audience's perspective is so important. You have this idea of what you envision as this perfect thing or where it's going to land but it all comes back to who it’s intended for. It’s important to get their feedback.
So, you came to the Coterie through the inaugural Presentation Booster Program and at the end of that some folks were still interested in continuing the journey - you’ve been there since the very beginning.
Melanie: Yes, I have, happily! You can’t get rid of me! I always thought of myself as very comfortable with presenting however there were things I wasn’t aware of. I wasn’t nervous about public speaking. I was a teacher and educator, and I was never nervous about getting up in front of a class or a group of people. I like to talk and I like to present, especially if it’s something I’m interested in and passionate about. But what I found with The Presentation Booster Program is in helping us self-examine. I was suffering from Impostor Syndrome, big time. You were one of the first to introduce that to me. And then we did the four quadrants exercise where we were figuring out how to focus on our strengths to get to the next level in our careers. It was great for helping with imposter syndrome. Also, while I was taking the Presentation Booster Program, I had the opportunity to do a TEDx talk on my other passion about how humans learn. You helped me prepare for TEDx which was the most exhilarating experience of my life. It was through your tips and coaching that I was able to present it as well as I could at the time. I was really pleased with how it went. I was nervous and I heard my voice shaking so it’s not like I went up there and didn’t feel anything. But, I feel like I nailed it!
With the Coterie, it’s great because we started with this small group and now there are new shiftED graduates joining. I’m meeting more people and learning from them as well as from you. It’s just been a pleasure to be part of the growing Coterie. I think the most amazing value though is the one-on-one sessions with you. The opportunity to work with you as a presentation coaching expert is golden! On top of that, the articles and summaries you post have been super helpful as well.
Tisha: One of the things that I value most is witnessing the transformation - the confidence and mindset people experience. Going from nervous to “I’m still nervous but I got this” is so amazing because that was my journey. I was never a born-to-be-on-a-stage kind of person so I know it can be done. Seeing people apply the strategies and get the same result is super gratifying. Also, I love the cross-collaboration of ideas that happens with the Coterie members. Supporting each other, helping each other with feedback.
What advice would you give to somebody who has some hesitation with putting themselves out there and presenting?
Melanie: Two things come to mind. One thing is to just learn to be aware of that critical voice in our head. It’s a liar. It’s not accurate. Just to be aware of some of the negative things that we can tell ourselves that undermine our confidence in the first place. Seek help and support. I can see myself presenting now at 47 and imagine how I would have presented at 37 and it would be different. I have a lot more confidence now. Give yourself the space to do the work to improve your confidence levels. And the second is practice - Practice, Practice, Practice - until you know it inside out, upside down, and backwards! So then it doesn’t matter how unconfident you are, you are still going to do better than if you hadn’t practiced. Make the time and practice.
Tisha: Music to my ears. Okay, let’s move into the rapid round of questions! First question: do you have a favourite presentation gadget or tech that you like to use?
Melanie: PowerPoint. I think in PowerPoint now!
Tisha: I love that! Mac or PC?
Tisha: Are you more comfortable presenting online or in person?
Melanie: In person.
Tisha: Do you have a favourite quote?
Melanie: It’s Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you”. I just love that. I remember reading that and it just struck me to my core.
Tisha: Ooh, that's a good one! Is there a book that you have most recommended to other people?
Melanie: From a business perspective, it would be Obviously Awesome by April Dunford. It is a great book, all about how to position your products and services. It’s fantastic, she’s funny, it’s very short and it’s jam-packed full of really smart ideas for business owners.
Tisha: Another one for me to add to my reading list! Last question, what’s on your bucket list?
Melanie: I’d love to visit Japan. I’m studying karate and my son studies karate, and it would be really fun for all of us to go to Japan.
Tisha: I think a lot of us are itching to get travelling again. Bring on the travel bucket list. Melanie, thank you, always. Really appreciate this chat.
Melanie: Thank you. This was a great opportunity for me.
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