People start their own enterprises for a variety of reasons. But whether you’re in it because you have an innovative product idea, you want to be in control of your own destiny or have a totally unique revenue model, there’s one unifying factor that all ventures have in common; at some point their success will live or die by a pitch. For this reason, it’s vital to keep skills at their sharpest to ensure every presentation is pitch perfect.
We all have varying aptitudes for public speaking. While the stereotypical image of the entrepreneur will conjure up pictures of an eloquent extrovert, completely in his or her element in these high-pressure situations, like most stereotypes it fails to cover the real breadth of personalities out there. But even if you’re not entirely at home when it comes to public speaking, there are ways to turn the situation to your advantage. Before even going out in front of an audience, something a good presenter should be asking themselves is if they’re feeling nervous. If the answer is ‘yes’ – good. It may not be the conventional perspective but suffering from a little nerves can actually be a good thing.
“Even the best presenters in the world suffer from nerves,” says Susanna Simpson, the founder and managing director of Limelight PR. “Use this as a positive.” She explains that the sensation of anxiety is related to that of anticipation – adrenaline pays a huge part in both states and means it can be easy to use the momentum of nerves to switch into viewing the situation with excitement. She continues: “Removing the fear in this way will help you to take control of the situation, not let the situation control you.”
Presentations aren’t a soliloquy; when somebody is presenting to an audience it’s important to be aware that they are engaged in a dialogue. A key presentation skill is being able to keep the audience at the heart of the process. “Know your audience and tailor yourself to who you are speaking to,” comments Simpson. While the nuts and bolts data or the overall vision may seem like the most important thing to you, your audience’s only concern is going to be where they fit into things. In this scenario, every bit of feedback is a vital opportunity for the individual presenting. “You have two ears and one mouth – use them in that ratio.”
However, as important it is to get things right, an equally important skill is learning how to manage things when they don’t feel like they’re going your way. First off, it doesn’t pay to dwell excessively on mistakes. “We focus on our own behaviour far more than other people do, which means we often overestimate its impact,” Simpson remarks. In actual fact, errors often aren’t as noticeable as you may think; largely, an effective presentation means not allowing the odd snag here and there trip you up. “If you do make a mistake, don’t let it throw you off,” she says.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a presentation plan isn’t a set of shackles. When presenting, an entrepreneur should feel able to deviate from it when needs be and not beat themselves up when they do. “Those who you are presenting to don’t know your presentation so they are unlikely to pick up on anything you miss or accidentally leave out,” says Simpson. Ultimately, a presentation that sticks too rigidly to a plan will simply end up seeming fragmented and unnatural as a result, so fluidity and flexibility are vital. As Simpson comments: “Just keep moving forward with confidence.”
Obviously, the most important part of a presentation is the end the individual is trying to achieve. Essentially, any pitch is an attempt to secure certain outcomes and it is vital that the presenter ensures these outcomes inform every step of their presentation. “Know what you’re going in for,” comments Simpson. “People often lack confidence in confirming next steps.” In these situations, being clear and direct can help an entrepreneur deliver a pitch that has the required impact. “Ensure you end with a concise call to action that you have practised and prepared in advance to make sure you finish on a high.”
But, no matter how many pointers you can pick up, there will never be as useful a learning resource as the presentation experience itself. Which is why it’s worth making the most of the opportunity they offer and reflecting at points on the lessons they have taught you. “Look back to learn more going forward,” remarks Simpson. “Taking the time to look back after three months, a year or even three years can help you improve your presentations and presenting skills.”
There are no magic formulas for delivering a successful pitch but it is worth bearing in mind that delivering an effective presentation is an art and like most arts it can be practised and refined. If they take the opportunities available, anyone can become an effective presenter and soon be winning over people with ease.