Your Pitch: The matrix of expectations and opportunities

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Each presentation, be it pitch, TED talk, team meeting or any other form of public communication exists within a matrix of expectations and opportunities. What you make of it is either your triumph or failure. When it comes to opportunities you have to make the most of it. When it comes to expectations you should be realistic about them. 

I’d like to think of a scenario. A very common scenario, it’s one that’s probably happening right now, multiple places around the globe. Right as I write, right as you read, someone out there is giving a speech.

Someone is giving a talk on an idea that deserves spreading. Someone is updating a boss on the project. Someone else is trying to convince the team to undertake more challenges. Sounds familiar?

Now imagine you are this person. You want hard to succeed – using communication, powerpoint slides, words, gestures. You want the message to get through. In short, these are your expectations.

But you have some doubts. You remind yourself how you failed last time to deliver. You feel almost an aching sensation somewhere near your guts – it’s as if a heavy stone have been placed on your chest. You know that your project’s okay, but it’s kinda late, it’s a little over budget. And, but you still wanna look good, and you want to maintain that respect that you have in the office. You feel your heart skip a beat. You palms become sweating, you feel unbearable dryness in the mouth – like you’ve just returned from the Sand Storm in Iraq. This is because you want a lot and you do not believe you can do a lot. You are unaware of your presentational skills we all have. SKILLS, not talents as communication is a kill that can be honed by practicing daily with good methods handy.

When preparing your talk you are operating within some broad genre constraints. And mediocre coaches will give you just that – simple tips that are incredibly difficult to implement unless you know HOW to do it well. Yeah, you should probably keep it under 5 minutes. But they rarely tell you how to keep people interested for those 5 minutes.

I know it sounds almost reductive but a good presentation (regardless of the setting) is based on two things: Crafting a simple and understandable narrative and delivering it in an engaging way. Hence you first need a story to tell and then you make sure the story is engaging. In my work I teach people both. I help them hone their message by providing them with training based on cognitive psychology and neuroscience. I always put theory into practice and everyday I learn more to share the things I learn with the ones who need my help.

Creating a simple narrative is not easy. Why? Because when it comes to the world we live in the things we usually want to talk about are not simple. That is why you probably do not need to explain to people around the world how to eat a cheeseburger or how to breath. But if you are selling services, products and are willing to change the habits of your audience, the going gets tough. The humans understand the world by analogy and similarities. And we understand a lot more when the information is presented in wider context. Just like in stories. The brain has to understand the big picture first to focus on the details later on. Good news is that everyones brain (except from some minor cognitive differences across the globe) work the same. Aristotle might not have fMRI to support his ideas but when he presented his theories he was on point.

He said that the great message is based upon the following scheme: a good intro that paints a understandable map, a clear territory you invite your audience onto. Then the world you’ve just vividly described is threatened with danger – in short, problems. Hell is real, but you are hear to say that there is heaven – a promise land. In short, solution. And after that there is place to talk about the potential for the solution to finish with a strong CTA. Great pitches follow that pattern.

Now let’s look at the opportunities. First, you have your skills to communicate and to simplify the messages. Then you have culture with broad repository of amazing stories to use as templates and analogies. One of my favorite analogies is this one:

Pâté fois gras is a delicacy the connoisseurs around the globe enjoy. To get the goose liver fat enough to satisfy the palate French farmers force feed the geese day by day. Using fairly vigorous strokes with a pole, farmers literally stuff food down the throats of theses poor animals. When the bird wants to regurgitate, a brass ring is fastened around it’s throat, trapping the food inside the digestive track. Of course it does nothing for the nourishment of the geese who are sacrificed in the name of expediency. The same goes for education and the difference between a good and a bad teacher. A good and a bad presenter. A great and not so great salesman. The bad ones overstuff their students, clients, users and audiences. The most common mistake of the people presenting (in any given environment) is relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Tons of force-feeding, not enough digestion. This does nothing to the listeners, whose learning (nutrition) is often sacrifice in the name of expediency. We live in the world of plenty. Messages, communications, sales pitches – a bedlam. And we are scared that when we make the communication simple we will not get a nice fat liver.

But not only you ability to craft stories is what makes the opportunity greater. The setting, too. The room you will be presenting itself probably shapes some of the opportunities. Let’s say the lighting’s really bad on one side, or one corner for some reason smells and has an odd stain. But the take away is the presentation exists within a matrix of expectations and opportunities. And some of these are big and small influences. Some of these you can influence, and some of these are beyond your control.

There is no single form of successful speaking. There is no single form
of successful story. There’s no Esperanto of public speaking,
something that holds across all cultures. It doesn’t exist. But I can definitely say that core skills in pitch situations are: designing clear presentations and delivering them in engaging way. And it’s up to you to be better in both these areas. You have to make decisions about what to focus on. And my mission is to keep helping you with it.