I’m writing this month’s column in a state of nervous excitement. I’m just about to go on stage and pitch Dressipi in front of an audience of industry bigwigs at Fashion Decoded, the fashion and technology event in London. It’s a big deal for us, not just because it’s a very prestigious event attended by lots of high-fashion retailers. In essence, I get just four minutes to sum up who we are, what we do and why Dressipi is the best partner for a leading fashion retailer to work with.
When you’re starting out in business, a lot of people go on about the importance of getting your elevator pitch right. At first this can feel a bit reductive. You’ve created an innovative, industry-changing business that solves complex problems and you have just 30 seconds to sum it up? But if the success of your venture depends on getting the attention of time-poor fashion retailers, you’re going to need to learn how to be concise.
And there’s nothing that teaches you how to do this like good, old-fashioned practice in front of an audience. At the moment, I’m doing an average of one public-speaking slot a month. These aren’t so much for the good of my health as part of our mission to get in front of as many new customers as possible in 2015. Each one is nerve-wracking but also an important learning experience, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, having a fixed time limit, whether that’s four minutes or 40, teaches you to distil what you’re saying down to the essentials. That’s a great way of sharpening up your message. The act of saying something out loud is a brilliant test of whether you’re making a credible or salient point.
Then, the act of presenting it in front of an audience means you get instant feedback. After the first couple of times, you soon learn to read the audience, gauging from their mood or even body language which of your points and messages hit the mark and which go wide. And of course if there are question and answer sessions afterwards these are excellent practice for how to think on your feet. Treat it like a job interview: beforehand think of likely questions and how you’d respond to them.
Nailing a presentation in front of an audience is a matter of preparation triumphing over charisma. The most accomplished public speakers may look like they’re making no effort at all but hours and hours have gone in to getting their speeches and presentations right. Steve Jobs famously spent days on end getting his keynote speeches right and he was the CEO of a company worth billions.
Ultimately, the benefits of learning how to stand up and explain what you do in front of an audience don’t just stay on the speaking platform. These experiences teach you how to pitch for new customers more effectively, get a good sense of what your clients want and understand how important it is to feel the fear and do it anyway.