Last week I attended Reasons to Design, Code & Create; a conference with a festival vibe, held annually in Brighton, UK. I put myself forward to take part in a session on the last day called: The Elevator Pitch. It is an energetic session with up to 20 speakers given just 3 minutes to ‘pitch’ their story. The organisers have a zero tolerance policy on the timing, with speakers literally being cut-off if they run over. It makes for fantastic entertainment and is one of the most popular sessions at the event.
You can watch my Elevator Pitch on YouTube:
The experience took me on a roller coaster of emotion, from the initial excitement of being accepted, through to the anxiety about my presentation, nervousness and eventually the joy of the performance. Rather than just share the presentation online I wanted to offer some advice to future ‘pitchers’ and anybody that would like to present their story in a concise and meaningful manner.
- In just 3 minutes you have to take your audience on a journey that keeps them engaged. If you’re going to do this make it worth while, talk about something that ensures that you stand-out from the crowd. Ensure that it is something that you feel passionately about and can communicate sincerely.
- Do some research. There is some excellent advice on doingpresentations.com, (some of these tips have come directly from their website — thanks guys), I also took inspiration from videos of previous Elevator Pitches and TED talks.
- Its only 3 minutes! Think of this like your movie trailer, it has to be engaging, high-impact and leave the audience desperate for more.
- Make your slides beautiful. Keep them as simple as possible with clear typography and compelling, full screen photography to support your story. Consider the venue, how far could your audience members be from the screen and therefore how large should your fonts be?
- If you have a demo I would recommend that you record it as a screen-capture and embed a video in your presentation. Live demos can be awesome but it’s just 3 minutes!
- If you have to use presenter notes try to keep them as simple prompts. Otherwise, when you’re on stage and feeling nervous, it will be tempting to read the notes which isn’t as personal as talking directly to the audience.
- Practice, practice, practice. I rehearsed my presentation numerous times to get the timing correct. If you cannot find somebody that is willing to listen you’ll have to practice on your own — record yourself to add some time-pressure. At a later stage you’ll be able to use the recording for reference.
- Get feedback on your presentation style from one or two trusted colleagues, preferably people that have experience with public speaking.
- Be prepared to pivot. There’s no point in asking for advice if you’re not going to implement it. I received some feedback just 15 minutes before going on stage and was still able to change my script because I believed it would make my presentation awesome. John, the founder of Reasons.to watched our final rehearsals and gave us all a few pointers; he advised me that if I was going to talk about mental health I couldn’t talk around it, just referring to stats, I had to actually say the word depression to grab the audience’s attention. I have uploaded a screen capture here just in case you would like to see an early version of my presentation for comparison.
- Filter the feedback that you receive. Everybody who sees you present will have an opinion — you don’t have to listen to all of it! It’s your story, own it.
- In mental health I chose a subject that I was passionate about but left me exposed which resulted in me being anxious about a presentation about anxiety — the irony! But worrying is OK, it means that you care about your audience and want them to love you. Trust me, they want to love you too, they are all rooting for you.
- I use a mindfulness app called Headspace, it has a 10 minute exercise which is specifically intended for professionals giving presentations, I highly recommend it as a technique for keeping calm and staying grounded on the day of the presentation.
- Consider carefully what you will wear on the day; what personality do you want to convey and what will you be comfortable in? I never wear blue shirts because they look awful if it’s hot and sweaty.
- Have a bottle of fluid to-hand, aside from keeping you hydrated, holding a bottle gives you something to do with your hands whilst you are waiting around. Incidentally, my colleague who is a trained barrister swears by pineapple juice to keep him hydrated, stating: “It’s never let me down”
- As you walk onto stage, have your first line memorised and ready to go.
- Start slow, then slow down, (your nerves will likely make you talk faster than you did in your rehearsals).
- Leaning on the lectern with one hand will help you to feel grounded.
- Enjoy it, this is your moment!
- Don’t use swear words for effect if it is out of character for you.
- Thank the audience at the end of your presentation and end on a slide that includes your contact information — this is meant to be the start of a conversation.
- Don’t get upset when you see pictures or videos of yourself posted online after the presentation. Nobody looks as bad in real life as they do in these snapshots. You don’t really look like that so don’t let it put you off presenting again!
You can watch the full Elevator Pitch session here:
Thanks again to doingpresentations.com whose advice helped both with my presentation and this article.
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