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What’s the best way to practice for a pitch competition?
1. Record Yourself on Video and Watch It Back
While practicing for “Shark Tank,” one of the most intimidating pitch competitions on the planet, I found it very helpful to video my pitch and watch it back until I was satisfied with my performance. Watching on video with another person for objective feedback, if possible, is a great way torecognize and correct any flaws in your speech, hand movements, posture and more.
2. Practice With a Time Limit
The hardest part of pitch competitions is the short time you have to make the pitch. Plan for success by timing yourself while youpractice. There are two benefits. First, you can alter the length to ensure you‘re as concise as possible. Second, you can create mental “markers” so you know where you are in your pitch for each minute of the pitch. This helps keep pace when you feel nervous.
3. Write and Rehearse
As a frequent presenter, I set up time blocks in my calendar — one hour per day, four days a week for two weeks. During that time, I rewrite my presentation from scratch each time. Writing it over and over helps solidify the key points in my mind. Then I set up time blocks to actually go through it out loud and I’m ready to rock. The key to this formula is keeping those appointments with yourself!
4. Don’t Have Too Many Notes
Most slide presentations have too many notes. Try practicing your presentation with an increasingly fewer set of words each time untilyou can whittle it down to seven words or so and give a consistent presentation. Then, you are ready.
5. Practice in Front of the Meanest Friends You Have
Get people from your circle of friends who have the most difficult personalities and tell them you want them to be really mean to youwhile you present. Tell them that if they make you lose your cool, you‘ll buy them coffee or something similar. Then don’t stop practicing until you can get all the way through without losing focus. You‘ll go into the pitch competition with total confidence.
6. Practice Using a Microphone
So many entrepreneurs obsess over their slides but fail to grasp the basics of a good performance. Project your voice by speaking louder than you think is necessary. If you can, practice with a microphone. Hold the microphone right up to your chin, literally against your face. And never point the microphone at the speakers. That’s what causes that screeching feedback.
7. Forget That It’s a Competition
Rather than trying to “beat out” your competitor, remember that the point is to win the pitch for your business. If your pitch is off, it doesn’t matter who you‘re competing against, you will have lost an opportunity without any intervention from anyone else. Refine your language and messaging; be passionate about what it is you‘re trying to communicate. Lastly, be clear, concise and confident.
8. Learn From Others
In order to make it less intimidating for yourself, watch how someone else presents a pitch — there are plenty of TV shows dedicatedto this (“Dragon’s Den,” “Shark Tank”). If you can see what went wrong (or right) in someone else’s pitch, you can just as well incorporate those properties into your own.
9. Practice With Distractions
Have your kids run in front of your screen, have your Internet go out — create imperfect scenarios. You know your pitch, and if everything runs smoothly, you’re fine. But this is the real world. It’s not going to go smoothly. Every time I help an entrepreneur practice for a pitch competition, I close his or her computer halfway through and say, “Your computer just died, but please continue.”
10. Make Your Own Slides
You will be much more well-versed with your presentation if you actually make it. Surprisingly, some people have others make portions or even all of the presentation deck. Spend the time to make the content yourself, but have somebody else make it look nice if you need it. Your memory retention is higher for something you actually write or create.
11. Practice Like You Play
David Cohen of TechStars fame said it best: “Practice Like You Play.” Put yourself into the same context and setup as you will find at the competition. That means standing up without notes, do-overs or looking at the screen. You stand and deliver a pitch in practice as if the judges and investors were standing right in front of you. Otherwise, you risk practicing in mistakes and crutches.