A Perfect Pitch

If the very idea of having to present something in public makes you nauseous, you are not alone. A 2014 survey by Chapman University found that public speaking is the biggest fear of Americans.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld jokes about people fearing public speaking more than death itself.

Even billionaire Warren Buffett admits in a Forbes interview that he chose his college classes based on whether it required giving presentations. (I'm sure no JHU students would ever do that!) But no matter what communications specialty area you are in, presentations are likely an important part of your job.

In a moment, I will share some tips for stronger presentations. But first, I want to arm you with my secret weapon for curing a case of the nerves to give a perfect pitch: PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. You cannot develop a skill without practicing it.

Japanese musician Shinichi Suzuki spent his life teaching a philosophy that talent is not inborn and that anyone can create talent through practice.

When asked how much someone needs to practice to become proficient at a skill, Suzuki quipped, "Only practice on the days you eat!"

That philosophy is mirrored by author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers. After studying elite athletes, musicians, and business leaders, Gladwell determined none had a "natural gift," but each had practiced their craft more than 10,000 hours, double the amount of time spent practicing by others.

Obviously you don't have 10,000 hours to practice a presentation, but you get the point. Practice separates the average from the elite. Now let's get down to the nitty-gritty details.

7 tips for better presentations:

1. Create a knock-their-socks-off

Pitch Deck.

Slides should be used to reinforce a point, not as a script. Use minimal text. Instead of PowerPoint or KeyNote, try something new.

My three faves:

2. Know your audience.

Research the people you are meeting with. Know something you have in common. Ask questions that will help you connect.

3. Understand what the audience needs.

The best presentations answer questions and solve problems. They want to see what you've come up with that can help them succeed.

4. Tell a story visually.

Use video, images, and infographics. Research indicates our brains process images 60,000X faster than text. The right image can reinforce a point, resonate with the audience, and influence decision-making.

5. Technology fails.

If you are making a pitch to an outside company, don't rely on their technology. It fails. All. The. Time. Have a backup plan, or better yet, bring your own projector. Mini projectors are inexpensive, effective, and help you control the outcome.

6. Takeaways.

Prepare a handout of key points for your audience to take with them. Don't be in a rush to leave. Answer questions thoughtfully. Also, be able to condense your pitch into 30-seconds. You never know who you'll meet in the elevator on the way out.

7. Be like Laffy Taffy.

As businesses today strive to engage their customers, take a lesson from a company that has been engaging its customers for more than four decades. Laffy Taffy is a sticky candy with jokes printed on the wrapper. Those jokes are sent in by kids, who see them in print when they buy more candy.

So when you give a presentation, take a bag of Laffy Taffy along. It's a great conversation starter about effective customer engagement. The jokes will give the audience a chuckle while helping your pitch "stick" in the minds of your audience (not to mention their teeth)!

Copyright 2015. Kristin Geer, LLC.

All Rights Reserved.

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