Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
“You’ve got to step up to the plate and deliver. Business is tough out there.” This was a piece of advice from one of the panel on the TV programme, ‘The Dragons’ Den’. A recent episode was of particular interest to me: ‘How to win in the den’, a guide to pitching a presentation. The panel shares their tips and advice and it shows clips from previous episodes of contestants who failed to win them over, all because of their pitches.
Their rules for an effective pitch presentation are simple. Rehearse, keep your nerve, don’t offend your audience, be enthusiastic, sell yourself, be clear and concise, and give straight answers. All very much common sense and logical, and probably each contestant believed they had done all this in their planning for the pitch. Yet the panel were amazed that some contestants appeared to be presenting their pitch for the very first time. They said some looked like buffoons, and that some believed that a technical pitch is the ‘be all and end all’. However, some nailed it and won. Their presentations were so well rehearsed that they looked completely polished. They made an excellent impression, they were passionate and they answered every question skillfully. To enable our clients to achieve this, we spend the two days prior to their pitch rehearsing. How many times can you think of when a team has worked until late in the night on the eve of a pitch still working on the slides? And then having little to no time rehearsing in front of each other?
Presentation rehearsal avoidance can sometimes be caused by ‘Johnny-come-lately’. This is when a team member arrives after the presentation has been locked down and they challenge the content. They have good intentions, but we call them ‘friendly assassins’. My advice is to have every member of the pitch in agreement of the presentation content at least two days ahead of the pitch. Then rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse. You need to know your presentation so well that your focus is on the panel, not wondering what is going to appear on the slide when it builds. Your narrative needs to be precise. A misplaced word will be immediately picked up by an audience and will influence their decision making. Having a complete awareness of your presentation and pitch will also have a hugely positive impact on your confidence.
The preparation is not complete until you have rigorously rehearsed your answers to the questions you will have fired at you. Practice how you would handle really difficult questions and also how you would handle a question, a curve ball, that comes completely out of the blue; who in your team would take ownership of such a question and deal with it in a calm and professional manner? It could be a deal-breaker and has to be answered with aplomb.
Business is tough out there, probably tougher than it ever has been. Everybody is looking for an edge; and sometimes it is a razor’s edge. Investing time and effort in your pitch can be that edge. Plan time for rehearsals, work to that plan, and then have a plan B because something unexpected easily happens.
Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse, 1786
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.
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