"Stop. You're speaking too quickly." Larry was helping me with my public speaking, and I really needed it. "Try this. As you speak, put a long pause between each word. It'll feel awkward, but just try it."
At this point, I was thankful there were only two other teams in the room with us. Practicing in front of seven people is much easier than seventy.
"Hello... my... name... is..." Needless to say, it was painful. But I learned a valuable lesson that day: when my heart races because I'm in front of people, I speak twice as fast. Those long pauses that seemed like five seconds to me were only small pauses to everyone else. After doing that practice round, I was allowed to speed it up just a little, but the lesson was learned.
The pitch my business partner and I gave the next day was for a competition, and we had wanted all the help we could get.
Lately, I've been going to a few pitch nights here in Colorado Springs, and I keep remembering more and more of my lessons from that day four years ago.
If asked, most people will probably tell you what you should do to prepare for a pitch, but not everyone actually does it. Even if you are pitching to a small group, it's amazing practice to go through the motions as if you are presenting to a larger group.
Rehearsing is the best thing you can do with your time prior to a presentation. To make it more valuable, practice in front of people. You can whisper and lip-sync your presentation to a mirror all day long, but it won't reflect the real thing.
If you can't practice in front of others, record yourself with a camera. The things you are looking for are: What are you doing with your feet? Where are your hands? Do you look confident? Are you speaking too softly or too quickly?
The added benefit of practicing in front of others is that they can give you feedback on the content of your message. You want to make sure it is polished and not confusing.
The more information you know about your topic the easier it will be to present on it. Similarly, you want to be just as prepared for the venue. Learn what the expectations are of the pitch before showing up.
What is the attire like? How long should you pitch be? In what format should you provide your slides? Or what adaptors do you need for your laptop?
If it is a venue where it is open to the public you should try going before pitching yourself. This lets you see the common format, get ideas for improving your own pitch, and seeing what questions are usually asked.
Make sure you have the right presentation file (deck) with you. You'd be surprised by how many times people forget to grab the right file.
Keep things simple. You've been told this before, so listen this time: don't put a full paragraph on a slide. You shouldn't be reading off it, and your audience should be listening to you, not reading.
If appropriate, make sure to put in your call to action. What do you want the audience to do? Test out your application? Give you feedback on how to scale? Do you want beta users? Whatever it is, make sure it is clear.
Don't forget to repeat your business name, website, and contact information at the end.
Most importantly, relax. It is unlikely that your business is going to go bust just because you gave a bad presentation. If you are looking to raise money and are pitching to VCs, then go back to the first step: practice.
You will be projecting the atmosphere you want the room to have. If you are nervous and fidgeting with notecards, then the audience will be focusing on your antics and be stressed out for you. If you are relaxed and confident, that will come through, and the audience will respond accordingly.
These tips helped my business partner and I pitch OrangeQC back in 2010 and win the Cozad New Venture Competition. I hope your next pitch is great, and if you are in Colorado Springs, come join us for the next pitch night and say hi.