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Your Performance Also Tells a Story
Practice, plan, and no excuses.
Once Upon a Pitch Problem #20
New outfit, check. Haircut, check. Shoes shined or deadstock sneakers, check. Deck ready, check. Practiced pitch over Zoom and to yourself 1,000 times, check. As the applause for the last speaker dies down, the emcee announces your name, and you reach out to take the slide clicker from the stage assistant. Suddenly, you realize your hands feel as large as frying pans and you can barely grasp it. Your pulse jumps. You hesitatingly walk out and squint, blinded by the stage lights, while searching for the image monitor. You click to advance the deck and nothing happens. Your heart is now pounding. You smash every button with your monstrous skillet hands to no avail. The introductory slide is fixed and looming over you as a buzz in your ears forebode the apocalyptic horse riders of failure galloping towards you.
IRL is for reals. Dress rehearsals help performers gain knowledge about the performance environment without the risk of being “live.” Musicians hear the acoustics, actors feel the stage size in relation to the audience and the scenery, and the crew swings up the lights and adjusts the sound. As an audience member, we only see a great performance, never the unceasing management of variables by the ensemble. Pitching is no different than a performance. Practice as close as possible to the pitch situation to master the environment. Zoom is not a stage, standing is different than sitting, projecting to an audience of 10 people in a conference room is different than wearing a microphone speaking to a venue of hundreds. Practice in front of a video camera to check your body language. Get to the venue early to find a stage manager to politely ask (with a cash tip) for a chance to stand on the stage with the lights on. When you pitch, you are also storytelling that you are a leader; if you are flustered by snafus, disoriented by unfamiliar environments, or underprepared, you are storytelling that you are not the right person to bring your idea to life.
“And ever since that day . . ..” Your pitch is a story you created about your idea. There is no reason why you cannot take a stage and tell that story from beginning to end, no slides, no videos, no music, no cue cards. The deck is additive, it is never the story. No one ever attended a pitch and said, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to see that deck.” Only you can take your story away from you. Command your story, memorize the foreign required elements like addressable market, and never let the slides, technology, or a physical environment command you. Center your mind, take a deep breath, remember you are the greatest storyteller of your story, and begin.
Roll with it. I eagerly tuned into a news broadcast to watch a friend announce a major legal action that she was leading. In law school, she was a confident, natural public speaker with a powerful gaze that captivated the audience. Standing before a podium, stacked with microphones, she was calm and poised, shining in her hard-earned moment. When reporters started asking questions, she gave decisive answers. When I called to congratulate her, she whispered, “Could you tell?” I replied, “Tell what?” She paused, “Oh, Rafferty, I couldn’t see a thing, I was blind up there. I was so nervous my vision started narrowing and then suddenly, my eyesight was gone. Pitch black. When reporters asked questions, I had to turn my head towards the sound and hope I was looking at them. You couldn’t tell?” I assured her, no one could tell. At that press conference, it was her story to tell and she didn’t let anything get between her and the audience. Next time you want to blame an external force like a clicker or a video not playing or your deck font being messed up, ask yourself, who do you want this audience to meet? A leader who rolls with circumstances and performs with no excuses or some other person.
What They Said
We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough - that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing. I was afraid to walk on that stage and show the audience my kitchen-table self - these people were too important, too successful, too famous. My kitchen-table self is too messy, too imperfect, too unpredictable.
[ . . . ]
I took a deep breath and recited my vulnerability prayer as I waited for my turn: Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen. Then, seconds before I was introduced, I thought about a paperweight on my desk that reads, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I pushed that question out of my head to make room for a new question. As I walked up to the stage, I literally whispered aloud, “What’s worth doing even if I fail?” – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, pages 41-42, discussing her 2010 TED talk which currently has over 61,000,000 views.
See You on the Track
Author The First Principles Pitch, startup storyteller, board member, advisor and investor. Once Upon a Pitch is a weekly newsletter looking at one business pitch problem and offering storytelling solutions to help solve that problem.
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