The PC Forum organisers had set up a free and optional consulting session for presenters with a professional speaker coach, Jezra Kaye, to help them sharpen and focus their two-minute pitch, and to work on presentation skills. I had accepted the offer. I went to meet Jezra shortly after I arrived on Sunday (March 12), a few hours before the start of the event.
I thought writing out a couple hundred words was the only preparation I needed. After all, I had given many presentations in the past and was completely confident of myself. All I had to do was to stand up in front of the audience and talk. I only had one problem, which I told Jezra. Since the allocated time was just two minutes, I wasnt comfortable with memorising my speech. (The last time I did it as a fourteen year-old contesting for school captain elections, I blanked out midway and walked off the stage without completing my speech.)
Jezra started off by quoting Winston Churchill who said something like: If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now. Jezra said that we would need to practice till I could internalise the talk every word of it.
Practice? Me? I thought I was ready! But after a couple mock pitches, I realised that she was right. I was no way close to ready. Writing the pitch was just the start. The words did not flow well. My delivery left a lot to be desired because the mind raced ahead to what I was going to say next. I had work to do.
For the next three hours, we worked on my two-minute pitch. We made numerous corrections to the text till every word was perfect and exactly in the place it should be. I delivered the pitch again and again and again. As Jezra put it, no amount of practice is sufficient. We also went to the actual room in which I was going to present. As I stood at the podium, my heart started beating faster. Tomorrow, there would be a few hundred people in there. A nervousness came over me. We practiced there in the empty room, till I became more confident.
As Jezra put it, standing in front of people can reduce confidence rapidly. So, one has to be more than prepared because one will lose a bit of energy. The occasion awes you. The pressure was perhaps a little higher on me because at the back of my mind, I also thought I was representing India. Novatium was, after all, the first India-based company chosen to present at PC Forum. I was a bit weighed down by expectations. But after a few trials, I was ready. The pitch was now part of me. I felt every word coming from within as I spoke in that empty room. Jezra give some additional tips on eye contact and the need to end with a smile, inviting people (rather than ordering them) to come for my presentation later that afternoon.
What I thought would be a few minutes of work cleaning up the text of the pitch had become a few hours of practice and mental build-out. I could see a sea change in myself from the time I started. As I walked back to my hotel room, I understood the point Churchill (and Jezra) were making. I will not be talking presentations lightly going ahead!
Tomorrow: The Pitch