How To Avoid ‘Pitch Fright’
Talk about landing a great job right out of college! How about working for 3M Corporation at their massive R&D Complex and Corporate Headquarters in St Paul, Minnesota! Researching and developing new hook and loop fasteners (Velcro) having just graduated college with a degree in Textile Engineering-it just doesn’t get any better!
Here I am, a bearded twenty nothing year old (whose entire wardrobe fit on two hooks) in meetings with creative engineers with dozens of patents each, “Double-Stick Scotch Tape” team members and an inventor of gold foil tape that wound up on THE MOON! Art Fry, the guy who invented Post-Its, worked down the hall! And just real nice Minnesota folks!
My first year was eventful indeed! I actually had ‘a moment of clarity’ and created a woven fastener with superior tensile strength, which turned into U.S. Patent #4454183. That’s the good news-here’s the bad news:
I Had to Give a Presentation on This New Product to the ENTIRE 3M International Marketing and Sales Team at the Division’s Annual Meeting!
Are you kidding me!?!?
I was scared to my very core. The very thought of talking in front of an audience of over 150 way smart marketing and sales people from around the world was overwhelming!
During the weeks prior to the presentation, sleeping was difficult and my anxiety showed to all of my coworkers. For you Millennials, this was back in the pre-historic days before long before PowerPoint! How about pencil, paper, typewriters and “acetates”?
My lab manager saw me struggling to put this all together and one day invited me into his office. Walt’s advice to this young engineer, who desperately wanted to do well but was scared to death, 35 years ago is still spot-on today!
First: Practice your presentation standing in front of a mirror!
When you memorize your presentation you are now “presenting to your audience” not “reading to your audience”! Watching yourself standing front of a mirror (floor length preferred) helps you practice looking forward towards your audience. You also see yourself as your audience will see you! The more you practice in front of the mirror the more confidence you will gain.
“When you memorize your presentation you are now ‘presenting to your audience’ not ‘reading to your audience’!”
Second: Practice your presentation in front of a small group.
When you are absolutely sick and tired of watching yourself yack in front of that damn mirror and/or your “significant other” is begging you to please stop-Congratulations! You are now ready to progress to a small group of friendly faces. Receiving constructive feedback, from people who are not judging you but are helping you, will make your presentation even better! Most importantly, now you are in front of a live audience.
Practice, Practice and Then Practice Some More Until You Know It in Your Sleep! Jerry Seinfeld practiced his breakthrough comedy routine for his first appearance on the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show OVER 200 TIMES!
You have paid your dues by practicing your butt off; know your presentation in your sleep, and have also anticipated the questions you will receive. You have ‘earned the right’ to speak in front of your audience!
Even the most experienced speakers get nervous before presenting. When making a presentation to angel investors you have only one shot to “Get to the Next Conversation.” Practice, listen to the advice of others and practice again. Keep practicing until you ‘feel it in your bones”. Then Go For It!
As for my presentation at the 3M International Sales Meeting, I nailed it!