The goal for a communications coach like me is to help clients identify their bad habits and replace them with better ones. Believe it or not, it’s 95% work and only 5% inspiration. Even actors – who are thought of as mysteriously artistic – admit that performance come down to just such mundane details.

Most learning in all arenas, even for adults, is about habit – in all arenas. There has been some research on the time it takes to form them, and although opinions vary on exact figures, but the thrust is the same. We know that we are experts because we no longer need to think about what we’re doing. The behavior has become automatic.

It stands to reason, then, that the process of making a better pitch, requires creating the right habits for communicating effectively. Some of the more important of these are:

  • Thinking of a pitch as a conversation (rather than talking at people)
  • Writing the most persuasive story for your (always) very particular audience
  • Telling the story so that everyone in the room feels involved
  • These all require developing another important habit: remembering why you care about what you’re saying. Too often, start-ups treat a pitch like an essay that someone told them to write and deliver against their will.
  • Last, it can’t be stressed enough — most people are in the habit of thinking about an issue or activity from their own perspective, and the biggest feat is learning to see the world through the eyes of your audience.

This is simple, really – it just requires time and the right feedback. Here are some more truths about presenting that you can integrate into your business:

  • Inspiration is a meeting point of emotional and intellectual insight. So get that 95% preparation down cold – only then will you find a way to channel inspiration into your performance with consistency.
  • Empathy is a chemical reaction – you automatically effect the people in the room by being present. If it feels natural for you to smile, do it – it’s about the most effective sales tool you’ve got. But only if it’s genuine. And acting with sincerity can be learned.
  • The best way to channel nerves is enthusiasm. The alternatives are dire.
  • You’re most effective when you find your own presenting style. But steal whatever works from wherever you can get it.
  • Become aware of the way people move, sit, and stand around you. If there is something particularly effective in a gesture or expression (or particularly undermining), write it down with as much detail as possible. It will make you more aware of your own body language.
  • Practice. Slides never sold a thing, so don’t depend on them. Pretend there’s only one word on every slide – the main idea, say “Opportunities” or “Management Team” – and then explain why it’s there. Don’t point or even look at the screen unless there is a very good performance reason.
  • Practice. The value of your performance reflects the credibility of your company. Half an hour a day. Every day. In front of someone who doesn’t know your material. Don’t say you don’t have time. If you had a big bug in your software, you’d throw all resources into fixing it. Think of your performance as the most important software you’ve got.
  • Practice. Find different emphases for different audiences, and have a few presentations up your sleeve. Make sure you can do them in automatic pilot. But don’t. Ever.

This guest post was written by Annette Kramer, PhD. She began her career in the theater and has been coaching actors ever since. Through her years in business, including 8 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, she coached managers, executives, and individuals to transform presentations and speeches into conversations listeners want to continue. Annette specializes in working with start-up pitches for investors and has worked in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. You can find out more about her at www.annettekramer.co.uk.

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