How to use a presentation script and fully control your pitch [with steps]
“There it is. At the back. The exit. You can make it. In only 10 seconds, you’ll be safe.” the little voice in my head whispered.
I was so nervous I was pacing in circles like a spinning top.
I was speaking with a croaky voice.
Word by word, I was losing control.
This was during my TEDx Beijing talk in 2010.
Before taking the stage, I had dreamed about giving a TEDx talk that would make it to TED.com, yet now I was falling apart live in front of 100 people.
I had not practised the performance aspect of my talk.
I stayed in my comfort zone designing the slides.
And I had only stood in my room practising to the sofa.
I waited until being in front of 100 people to do the talk from start to finish for the first time.
As I sit here writing this, reliving the moment, shaking my head – what a rookie mistake.
So when people say, “I don’t have time to practice, I’m going to wing it.”
I go like 😳.
No one good at what they do does not make time to practice.
When it looks easy, you do not see the hours of practice, study and intention.
You get back what you put in, which cannot be more accurate than when you are in the spotlight in front of people with no way to pause, rewind or undo the moment.
I call pitching, public speaking and presenting a high-value spotlight moment; it can be to an audience of 1 or 10,000.
When you have the attention of the room and your ideas can grow, this is a fantastic opportunity which requires preparation and focus.
What are the things you can control during a presentation?
There are four things you directly control when you present.
01 – what you say – your content (hint: presentation script)
02 – how you perform – your verbal and non-verbal body language
03 – slide design / visual support – what visuals amplify your message
04 – how much you practice
Think back to gym class.
Before any sport, if you skip stretching and don’t warm up, you risk playing badly and injuring yourselves.
Now in my mid 40’s, I have to stretch every morning to get the day started right.
No matter your age, you need to warm up if you want to pitch with confidence and intention.
Here is one area you can improve quickly with a consistent short sequence of exercises.
Speaking flow – a combination of content and performance, how you look, sound and move on stage.
Is your presentation like a gift, or an amazon delivery box?
Are you presenting a gift or dropping a brown box at someone’s doorstep?
A gift is unique.
A brown box delivery is ordinary.
A brown box delivery is when you spend more time, attention and effort getting your presentation from start to finish.
A major tell for a brown box delivery is when you speak flatly, pause at the wrong time and look up a lot.
Instead, present like a gift.
Make it special.
A gift has wrapping paper, a name card, is revealed on a special occasion and intended for one person.
People don’t remember the ordinary.
They remember the feelings you inspire in them.
Steps to writing a presentation script and pitching it perfectly
Take these steps
- Start by writing the presentation script out word for word.
- This is to get total clarity for yourself.
- Then reduce the script to bullet phrases – reduce as many words as possible while retaining meaning and structure.
- Move the bullet phrases to a series of index cards.
- Practice with the index cards at least ten times.
- You know you are on track when you get to the point where you are only glancing at the cards.
- Record every pitch practice session on your phone.
- Listen back to each performance.
- Note down what is working well.
- And what needs improvement.
- Focus on these areas.
- Practice 2-3 times a day.
- Give yourself as much margin to practice as possible.
- Keep the index cards close to hand for the three days before your spotlight moment.
- Review them frequently.
- Spill the cards on the floor and reorder them as quickly as possible.
- Slowly practice more with your mental map of the pitch than the cards.
- Work with a particular focus on the introduction and the conclusion.
- Then the segways which link the themes together.
Structure to build a mental map
I use a mountain to structure my pitches.
A series of peaks and valleys to hang the content means I remember the themes and relationships rather than the exact words.
This gives me way more flow and reminds me to keep building the energy, momentum and tension.
Let go of the word-for-word presentation script.
Pitch a gift, not a brown Amazon box.
Reduce the content to keywords on index cards.
Practice so you have a very familiar mental map of the pitch.
What is the cost of not doing this?
If you don’t make the time, all your effort to create your spotlight moment will probably go to waste, and the only mental map you’ll have is one of regret at the missed opportunity.
Please don’t do what I did to prepare for my TEDx talk. Focus on the things outside of your comfort zone.