First of all it's mind-blowing that I'm even writing a post about this.
The words 'Drop the mic' are still ringing in my head.
Yesterday I did my first ever business pitch. You can probably tell from that sentence that this isn't going to be an informative 'Expert Tips' type article. I've never done a presentation, and I've never done a pitch. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm the person at the party who, as soon as I hear the words, 'Right, who's going to do the next party piece', tries to quietly look as transparent as possible.
This, instead, is going to be an article of reference for myself. It's for people like me who shake at the thought of standing up and delivering a five or ten minute presentation. I never thought I could do that, and yesterday evening I did. I want to remember every single tip I was given - from friends, family, the internet and the class - so that if I ever have to do anything like that again and my heart is racing I'll be able to rise above the fear.
Six weeks ago I was one of 17 starting the New Frontiers business programme. At the end of the six weeks I was expected, along with everyone else from the class, to deliver a five minute pitch to a panel about my business followed by a five minute Q & A. I was completely out of my comfort zone. I knew I had to do it and I knew I had to make it as painless as possible. So what follows are all of the helpful tips and lovely words of support and encouragement. It's me documenting my experience for future reference.
I've gotten so much advise over the last few weeks it's made me realise how often I must have been talking about this pitch to people! How else would so many people have the opportunity to tell me to 'try this' and 'try that'.
I'm also a firm believer in the Zen proverb 'When the Student is Ready, the Teacher will Appear'. There have been so many little nuggets of helpful information that have randomly come my way that I'm certain there was something in the universe at play here too. I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable speaking in front of a roomful of people, but for this particular instance 'the teacher' appeared, and definitely made things a little easier.
I got sent this lovely video from a friend in Italy at the beginning of February, one of the few people who I hadn't told about the pitch. It really made me remember to put things into perspective. The YouTube link he sent reminded me that the pitch was just The Sand. This wasn't the 'big deal' thing I was making it out to be. It really helped to keep my priorities in order the days before. You should watch this (if you haven't seen it already), it's really lovely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqGRnlXplx0
Tim Ferriss said in his podcast to drink lots of coffee and then go for a run, get your heart racing to mimic that feeling of pure adreneline and nerves - the feeling you will almost certainly feel right before you deliver a presentation - then practice again. Now, for a fleeting second I thought about doing this, but just in case I gave myself a heart attack I reconsidered. Plus I'm not a runner so, for me, I really couldn't imagine a more troublesome way to practice, but for any runners this trick may help.
The lady in the bookshop where I bought the prompt cards told me to record myself saying the entire thing, then play it back and listen to it on headphones on a walk. "It will be like music, and you'll be able to recite it back like lyrics you've learned from a favourite song". What a lovely lady (from Book Haven, Knocklyon), and a really great piece of advice.
These were just some of the invaluable pieces of advice that randomly (or not so randomly) came my way in the weeks leading up to the pitch.
Over the past six weeks we were given advice in the class on - Presenting the Case. Two that really stood out for me were to keep the pitch simple, I knew it was going to be difficult to remember all of the material in the correct order so keeping it simple would definitely help. And also to practice, especially in front of people.
Once I had the content for the pitch written and photos chosen for the deck I timed it to 4.30 minutes, I didn't want to get flustered and rush it at the end so I cut it a little shorter. Then I practiced and practiced.
I took the advise I was given from the programme and pitched to as many people as I could. I did my very first ever pitch to my book club a week beforehand, and what amazing cheerleaders they were. Even if on the night the pitch didn't go well I knew I had them supporting me all the way, and that was such an uplifting thought. When they gave their feedback, 'Emphasise the pause' was a tip I tucked in my back pocket.
After another practice run to my brother-in-law I was told to really practice the first few lines, get them learned and rehearsed inside out. Once I was in, he said, and you know what you're going to say with confidence the rest will follow.
For some reason doing the pitch for my Dad was the most nerve-racking! He gave me brilliant tips as I knew he would (he's so experienced at this). Slow down when you're talking about the important parts and really emphasise what's great, what's coming up in your business and what your company is all about.
And from Mary in the class - make it funny, then it won't seem as terrifying!
Some really good, very specific tips came from my husband a few days before...
"What if I fall..?"
David: Don't wear heels.
Simple, easy, why didn't I think of that?
"What if I have a total blank..?"
David: Write it out word for word on cards. Then if you can't remember it you can just read it out.
Simple, easy, why didn't I think of that?
Why didn't I think of that? Because, really, when you're feeling completely overwhelmed you can't tell the wood from the trees. Sometimes you need someone else to clarify things so you can let the 'simple, easy why didn't I think of that' rise to the surface. It turned out there really was a helpful answer to all my worries.
On the morning of the pitch, I was sent the most beautiful bunch of flowers from my sister with a card that read - Best of luck with your presentation. I know you'll do great!
Lots of lovely texts of support came in during the day. One from my Dad: Best of luck Jen with your presentation this evening. I know you will be brilliant. And it's ok to be a bit nervous. Smile your way through, it's only five minutes :-) x
And one of the best tips, a text from my sister: Lay out a nice pair of pjs and comfy socks so you've something nice to come home to!
The time came for me to leave and what I had built up in my head wasn't so scary after all. Scary the week before - yes. Scary that day - yes. But once I got there and saw and spoke to the rest of the class I knew I would be ok. This was it, there was nothing more I could do. I had prepared and I hoped everything would go to plan. I hoped I wouldn't hit the ground in one big dramatic fall. Maybe that's the way you feel right before your go sky diving for the first time. Nerve-wracking going up in the plane and then a strange calm right before you jump out - or maybe it's the total opposite! That's something I never, ever plan to find out; then again you never know...
I had two goals. I wanted to just get through it, and I wanted people to understand it. Because it was my first presentation I didn't set the bar too high.
I was the fifth to pitch and it seemed to very quickly come to my turn. Feeling nervous I made my way to the top of the room. There was a panel of four people and instead of a Dragon's Den type set-up I was relieved that it was more 'X Factor' style. Four supportive panel members sitting behind a desk. I really just wanted to do it now, and try to deliver it as well as possible. I made it to the very end of the pitch in exactly 5 minutes - to the second. It was over. Six weeks of worry and that was it. Similar to Christmas I suppose, all that build up for just one day.
It was time for the Q & A. I got lots of really helpful feedback from the panel. Someone took notes for me so I could remember exactly what was said. But there was one question that I'm still thinking about today with a big grin on my face.
One of the members of the panel asked: "Can I ask you to get me that red marker on the table?".
I walked over to get the thick red marker on the desk right beside the big screen with my last photo from the pitch still displayed.
"This one?" I asked, as I held it up.
"Yep, that's the one. Now, drop the mic - that was really, really good!"
After he said the words "Drop the mic" he may have said - "that was brilliant" or - "you nailed it". I'm not sure exactly. I couldn't remember much after I sat back down, but I do remember him saying something great. The mic drop, the signal of triumph. I had done it.
'Drop the mic' - what a lovely memory :-)
I'll never, ever forget the experience of doing my first pitch. Something I thought I would never be able to do.
Today I've a spring in my step, it's a beautiful sunny day, my pitch is over and thankfully I feel really happy with how it went.
I must still be on that elated high, because strangely there's a part of me this morning that's thinking, when can I do that all over again?!
'The fears you don't face become your limits' - Robin Sharma.
Being brave isn't the absence of fear. Being brave is facing your fears and finding a way through. My way through was to be prepared, to practice to as many people as I could, and to use the business mnemonic from the programme, KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid!