Having a great idea is only one small step on the stairway of success. Communicating it, inwriting or — especially — in a presentation, is vital to making your hopes into a reality.
Presenting persuasively isn’t easy, but it is doable. It just requires nailing the basics so that your audience is engaged. On top of that strong foundation you’ll of course want to build great content. But the content won’t matter if you don’t present it effecively.
It’s all in the mind (and body)
If you’re sure that your pitch will suck because you’re terrible at pitching, you’re on your way to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Turn that failure into a likely success by telling yourself that pitching isn’t terrifying, and it is something you can do. Tell yourself: “I can rock this pitch”. But don’t do it while curled up in a ball. Stand up. Put your hands on your hips tilt your head back slightly and close your eyes. And say it again. And again. Hey! It’s almost like a type of pitching.
Practice makes perfect
Now that you’ve decided to change your relationship to pitching (see #1 above), you’re on your way. Next step is to start preparing. Organise your thoughts, write notes, work on your pitch deck. Get feedback. Tweak. Start over. Then go pitch crazy. Pitch to your dog, your partner, your barista. By the time the real moment arrives, you’ll be well-drilled.
Tell a story
Stories move people and facts bore them. Of course, you need to backup your pitch with market research and a strong business plan. But the focus of your pitch should be a story. Why do you love this idea, what problem will this product solve, or how will people’s lives change as a result of your work? Choose the most persuasive story. That’s your pitch (the facts are merely the background).
Check your non-verbals
Our words and our story are crucial to making this moment a success, but don’t undervalue all the other ways we communicate. Hand gestures, posture, facial expressions, and eye contact can – in some ways – carry more weight than the words alone. Before you’re in the room, identify a few key moments where a gesture will help make your point more effective, and rehearse them. On the day, make sure you seek out friendly, soft eye contact, just don’t overdo it; that’s called staring.
If you have a ten-minute slot, prepare 8 minutes of material. In fact, use no more than 80-90 per cent of your time. If you think you’ll have to talkreallyfast to get everything in, you need to do some cutting. Do they really need to know every detail of your first prototype or the entire CV of every employee? And if you finish early, good news: no investor has ever been disappointed that a pitch was too short.
Increase your comfort
Don’t get laser focused on your presentation. Your pitch doesn’t begin with your first slide, and it doesn’t finish when you say “any questions” at the end. Everything else matters too. Research the people you’ll be meeting. Dress a notch or two up from normal, like it’s a first date or job interview. And – whether you’re meeting at a cafe, office or TV studio – arrive 10 or so minutes before the start time so you can get used to the place.
Unlike a guided meditation or a lullabye you’re trying to get your listeners excited. So you’ll want to put some energy into your voice. Speak louder than you think you need to, and vary your tone and pitch. To practice, read a short paragraph from a newspaper or magazine out loud a few times. Vary your speed, your volume, plus try high-pitched, or staccato, or even sing it. Yes, you’ll sound goofy, but it’ll help you default to variety during your pitch and help you to identify the natural points of emphasis.