Throw Strikes With Your Pitches

Nothing strikes panic in the heart of many people in the same way as an opportunity to speak to a large crowd or to present to a Senior Executive.  Glossophobia is the formal name given to the fear of public speaking (or speaking in general for that matter).

While it is an extremely common fear, your ability to conquer it and craft and present a compelling story to an audience is a critical skill for any aspiring leader or Entrepreneur.  If you can’t effectively make a pitch or communicate an idea to an intimidating audience, then you are limiting your career or business success.  The great news is that conquering this fear is actually quite simple.

If you want to hit a home run with your presentation there are a few simple preparatory steps to follow that make it significantly easier:

  1. Know Your Audience
    While it might seem obvious it is extremely common for people to get caught up in the detail of the story they want to tell or the facts they have to present and forget to take a minute to consider their audience.  What is important to the person or people you are speaking to?  What level of detail can they absorb or are they interested in?  What are their professional and personal backgrounds?  What types of metaphors can they quickly identify with?  Ground yourself on a foundation of information about your audience before you start crafting your pitch and you are much more likely to deliver against their expectations.  Time is precious, don’t waste it for your audience.
  2. Identify Your Key Message
    Notice I didn’t say key messages?  Your pitch or presentation has to have one clear key message – the “why you’re there”.  You need to be able to identify the key message or point you are trying to get across in one sentence.  Anything more than that and you’re lacking the focus you need to have real impact.  Once you have your key message, compare it against what you know about your audience from step 1 to validate fit.  If your key message and your audience’s expectations don’t align, now is the time to rethink the key message.
  3. Pick Your Metaphor
    With a key message that is aligned to your audience clearly articulated, your are now ready to find a metaphor that your audience can identify with that helps visualize and personalize your message.  Just because you play beer league hockey and haven’t missed a Maple Leafs loss in the past 23 years doesn’t mean that your audience can identify with (or wants to hear) a metaphor based on Felix Potvin’s prowess in goal.  Try to identify a common thread or interest in your audience and craft your metaphor around something that is personal to them.
  4. Craft The Story
    Now it’s time to frame out your story.  This doesn’t mean that it’s time to open Powerpoint or Keynote.  If you are disciplined enough to not start detailing out slides, then by all means feel free to frame the story through slide headings in storyboard fashion, but if you are like most of us a pen and paper (or Microsoft Word if your handwriting looks like mine) is probably a better tool.  Your goal here is to simple frame the path of the story. Again, ensure you are focusing on the audience as you lay things out – a senior executive audience probably wants you to get to the point (key message) fast and avoid the tension, build-up, and reveal.  There isn’t one answer to the right structure, but it is helpful in most presentations to get the key message and “ask” out of the way up front so your audience knows what to expect, and then follow up with the metaphor and supporting messages. If your audience knows where you’re going then it’s easier to follow you there (same principle as why tour companies provide you a map even though they are guiding you on the tour).  Finally, keep in mind the key to every great presentation or pitch – keep it simple.
  5. Practice Practice Practice
    Now is a great time to practice telling the story and presentation, first to yourself, and then to someone who can help you validate that it is aligned to your audience.  (By the way – you still haven’t built a “deck”).  You should notice as you practice the areas that don’t flow smoothly or that seem to drag – better to make those adjustments now than after you’ve invested hours creating supporting slides in Powerpoint.
  6. Create Your Supporting Materials
    Notice I didn’t say “build your deck”?  Sometimes there isn’t a need for a deck at all, and other times you’d be better served with something other than Powerpoint. White papers, marketing type materials like brochures or posters, or even physical props (or a combination of these) may be better vehicles to support your message so avoid the temptation to dive right into Powerpoint without considering your options.  If you do build a presentation, be vigilant to adhere to good design principles – less is more.  Stick to a couple points per page and don’t be afraid to use images and diagrams or charts to support your point.  Your presentation deck supports the message, it doesn’t replace it.
  7. Practice Practice Practice
    Thought you were done rehearsing?  Think again.  The more time you take to practice delivering your presentation the more effective you will be in delivering the content.  If you know your content cold, then you can feel comfortable connecting visually with your audience rather than reading your notes.  Simply making eye contact with the audience as you present can have an incredible effect on the impact of your message and you can’t connect if you don’t know your material.
  8. Conquer The Butterflies
    When the time comes to actually step on stage or into the meeting room, most people start to get nervous and start to tighten up. Much as it’s hard to believe, the act of presenting doesn’t come without a bout of the butterflies for even the most accomplished speakers.  The key is to focus your energy to build your confidence rather than letting your nerves unsettle you.  I best heard it said:

    The objective is not to kill the butterflies, but to get them to fly in formation.

If you want to advance your career or build your business you will need to make conquering Glassophobia a key priority.  Look for opportunities to practice the approach outlined here when the stakes are low and build your confidence and competence as a speaker.  It will take time and practice, but the payoff can be exceptional!

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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