Monday, October 27, 2014

Practicing the Pitch

I have two clients right now that are in the midst of preparing their 'pitches' to potential investors.  In both cases I strongly urged them to not only practice their pitches but to videotape themselves while doing so. This is an unbelievably powerful tool that will help you to improve your delivery dramatically.  It is one thing for me to tell you what you are doing and need to change, it is another for you to see and hear it for yourself.

It is important that you see and hear your pitch from your audience's perspective.  Their receipt of your information is what will determine the action they take next, that is what you are trying to influence. You need to become familiar with the experience that you are providing them.  How did your delivery of your content make them feel, what did it make them think and what action did it make them want to take?  The better you are able to design and craft your audience's experience of  'you', the more successful you will be in influencing the result you achieve.

With the capability of videotaping from your phone, videotaping your practice sessions is more accessible than ever, and yet it is an overlooked and underutilized development tool.  It seems we don't hesitate to take thousands of videos of just about everything in life, but we hesitate to turn the camera back on ourselves. However, if you want to fast-track your improvement you need to do just that!

  • Got a big presentation coming up?  Tape and review it!
  • Looking to ask the boss for a raise?  Tape and review it!
  • Want to convince your team that they need to shift direction?  Tape and review your arguments!
  • Starting up your own new venture?  Tape and review your networking 'speeches' to ensure that you sound interesting, comfortable and confident! 
The following suggestions are offered to provide you with some direction as to what to look and listen for when reviewing your videotape.  Though not exhaustive, they will give you an idea of some of the biggest things that I look for when helping my clients to strengthen their presence and perfect their pitches.

  •  Do you sound mechanical or natural?  Most people, when faced with the pressure of preparing for an important speech or presentation, practice with the intent to learn their content.  A huge fear most of us have of public speaking is the desire not to forget everything we wanted to say!  Certainly practicing helps us to become more familiar and comfortable with our content, but do not make the mistake of believing the intent is to memorize it.  Become familiar with where you want your talk to go (the key points you want to cover) but recognise that there are many verbal paths that can take you there. Keeping the choice of words loose will give you the flexibility needed to keep your tone more conversational and will prevent you from freezing when one key word escapes you.  You'll simply choose another to fill the gap.  
  • Check for tics!  Do you have any repetitive nervous habits (verbal or physical) that are distracting your audience from your true message?  These could include the notorious Ums and Uhs, but could also be other repetitive catch phrases (the overuse of the word So at the beginning of sentences seems to be huge right now), small body jerks, head tosses, lip smacks, nose sniffs, finger flicks... you get the idea.  We all have them, but you aren't likely to know what yours are, or hope to control them, until you see and hear them for yourself.  
  • Monitor your pace.  When people get nervous they tend to speed up.  Everything.  They start speaking faster and, because our bodies tend to keep pace with our voices, they move faster too. This will appear nervous and anxious to your audience.  You want to speak and move with a smooth comfortable deliberateness.  Everything is targeted toward your audience.  You need to deliver your message at a speed that enhances your audience's receipt and understanding of the messages.  Too fast and you are too much work to listen to and your audience will shut down.  Too slow and you are also too much work, they'll tune you out.  
  • Give 'em time to get it.  You need to build pauses into your talk, small moments where you give the audience time to 'get' what you are saying, to catch up to what has gone before and to be fully present for what is to come.  Comedians (the good ones anyway!) know, understand and use the pause. They can't simply deliver a punchline, they must follow it with a pause that allows the audience to fully process and experience the content, to 'get it', before moving on.  Rushing the audience means that they don't have a chance to think through what you've shared and react to it.  The content falls flat. Pauses build in small moments that allow your audience to begin to feel something.  If you are looking to move your audience, don't rush your pauses.  
  • Where are you looking?  You need to connect with and draw your audience into your pitch, which means you have to look at them. As much as we have our own agenda for why we are speaking, we need to suspend it while we are speaking.  The moment that we make it all about our audience, the easier it is to remain connected.  However, when we shift our thinking to focus instead on ourselves we tend to go into our heads to do so.  This results in a physical withdrawal from our audience, which tends to negatively impact our eye contact first, with other body and voice cues following.
  • Show 'em your hands.  We tend to trust people more when we can see their hands.  Keep your hands visible and centered, holding them loosely right about belly button level, gesturing outward from there. Dropping the hands down at your sides will drop your energy, taking your audience's interest with them.  Your hands are great tools to help you to draw your audience into what you are saying and can help emphasize, clarify and strengthen your message.  Smooth, controlled movements, rather than short, sharp or jerky, is what you are aiming for.  If you are selling, not telling, then make more of your gestures from the palms up perspective.  Palms up is collaborative while palms down is directive. There is a place for both but if you are seeking something from your audience, you are in sales-mode, then your palms should be facing upward or toward each other, more than they are facing downward.
  • Smile.  When we get nervous we tend to stop smiling.  However, our smile is a powerful universal gesture than can be used to help us to connect with others and to convey our confidence.  Though you may be delivering a very serious message, you will likely find that there are still a couple of opportunities within which you can share a smile with your audience, if only when you are first greeting them and when thanking them for their time. 
Use the above points to help you to review your video.  Highlight which areas need a tweak or adjustment and then try it again.  The accessibility to video has made it easier than ever to gain important feedback on your delivery and yet few use it.  Those that do (which now hopefully includes you) will therefore have a strong and distinct advantage.  Practice and perfect your pitch and see for yourself the impact that it has on your success rate.  

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