Matt is a client of GPB. We occasionally have the privilege of including articles written by our clients, so with our thanks to him…..
Twenty Two Speed Dates in a day?
Speed dating came a little late for me. When the craze took I was already happily engaged, and now the concept seems entirely alien. That’s how I thought it would stay. But things change. Last year my board agreed daunting targets for 2015. I realised we needed a new plan. I explored business speed dating events and signed up to the Digital Marketing Forum on March 11th. I needed to understand and prepare 22 unique pitches. I estimated I could spare 10 hours to preparation…challenging…
How then could I perform at the top of my game? I had 3 Core Dimensions:
- Techniques for engaging the audience
- Staying in the zone over the “Iron Man” fourteen hours of presentation
- Getting psychologically primed for peak performance.
Here are my top five tips. I believe they can revolutionise your success in all presentations. Sounds like a big claim? Then read on.
Have around a dozen simple, memorable stories on flashcards about key aspects of your business. Weave them spontaneously together in different orders and combinations to describe your business in a highly compelling light. Include:
- Your elevator pitch
- What you do
- How you are different and better than your competitors
- Benefits to your clients of your approach
- How your industry is changing
- Case-studies that bring your pitch to life
- Answers to the toughest FAQs so you are not caught out.
You can carry flashcards with you to help you commit them to memory, then summon them up in a fashion which is seemingly off the cuff, and is hugely adaptable. This is because your memory is much more adept at remembering (a) things you have written by hand (b) things that have a story at their heart (c) things you interact with often. As such I find the flashcard format invaluable.
Engagement Tip 2: “Seek first to understand then to be understood”
It’s basic, but in both personal and business life we need to listen first. People need to feel they’ve been heard, and through listening you will also learn how you can best help. Presenting becomes contextualised: it’s not about you. It’s about how you can help them. Have you ever been out on a date when your potential partner talked at you and didn’t listen? Boring, wasn’t it. They missed a lot about you and your needs, If only they’d asked they’d have known you weren’t a fan of steak and chips. Commit this to heart. Be fanatical about it. If you’re talking for more than around 60% of the time you are almost certainly talking too much!
Staying in the Zone
Actually being your best self is one of the hardest things in a presentation. You may know all the facts, but getting over your inhibitions and fears in a high pressure scenario and presenting “in the zone” can be a real challenge. Here I have a couple of related tips from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), scientific techniques for reducing anxiety.
Tip 3: Use Thought Records
Thought Records enable you to see your fears more objectively. We all have a tendency to catastrophise: “if we don’t win this we’ll fold”, “I’m dead tired”, “this meeting is do or die”. All are comic hyper-exaggeration. It’s constructive to find methods to avoid over exaggerating “dangers” and to stop us under-estimating our ability to handle them. Here’s an example: “what if I lose my thread and simply can’t present… and just burn out there… and my boss finds out, and I lose my job, and then how will I feed the kids…” The important thing here is to recognise this rationally for what it is. It’s pseudo logic which partially stacks up to a panicked mind, but is actually a highly distorted picture. There are many techniques for dealing with losing your thread, from simply stating “I’ve lost my thread” and starting your point over again, to more subtle conversation passing cues such as asking someone else what they think. Even if you do deliver a poor presentation, what really are the consequences? In almost all cases it’s just a bad day at work. Think Premier League – even Chelsea or Manchester City lose occasionally!
If you suffer from over-exaggerating the challenges, create simple thought records which allow you to contextualise and re-assess your fears. Start by summarising your catastrophised scenario in one paragraph. Then write a more balanced assessment. For my example above, something like: “I present most days in my job, and my presentations are typically well received, the last one actually enabled us to win a new project, and even if the presentation doesn’t go entirely smoothly I can explain things quite easily back at the office. This isn’t a big deal. I can handle it.” You can format this in an email, which outlines both your fear and your counter-balancing rational assessment. When the irrational fear arises just recall your assessment; this should check any over exaggeration of the danger. Over time these emails can provide solid evidence of your abilities.
Tip 4: Belly Breathing, Progressive Relaxation and Autogenic Training
There are times when logic just isn’t enough. You still you have that sense of dark fear rising.
It’s useful to understand the physiology of this “fear”. In our “state of nature” we frequently needed to fight or flee. We needed a quick way to respond well, so had loads of adrenalin, a high heart rate, and shallow breathing… very useful in preparing for attack by a sabre tooth tiger, but it’s fairly disabling to have it in a meeting! Our environment has adapted more quickly than our bodies; today’s body can go into the flight or fight mode whether the challenge is physical or an everyday business challenge.
There are 3 techniques to control this mechanism:
The simplest is “Belly Breathing”. Take 4 -5 slow deep breaths, exhaling fully. Your belly should expand rather than your chest. This is relaxed breathing; it can quickly help calm an agitated mind. There are 2 similar techniques which are slightly more involved. The first is called Progressive Relaxation and the second Autogenic training. Read Dr Stephen Briers’ book on CBT “Brilliant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” for more.
Tip 5: Psychological Priming: You’re stronger with a purpose
Your presentation skills “castle” has to be built on solid foundations, the best of which is from your answers to “what am I here for?” and “How will my presentation further that purpose?” It’s existential, but positive answers are crucial. My answer is always: “to make a positive difference”.
This may all be a bit metaphysical for you, dear readers, but what’s great is that out of this comes our company purpose, which is: “Transforming communications for the better”. It’s big. It has impact, and it gives me the motivation to get up each morning and to do my best. I will put everything on the line, because I believe the outcome is important. If I didn’t believe this at the Digital Marketing Forum I’d be in the bar all day downing pints, and wouldn’t roll up for a single speed meeting with any vigour. The best further reading matter for this is from Viktor E Frankl’s School of Psychology, from a subject called “Logotherapy”; the defining work by Frankl is “Man’s search for meaning”. So, what happened with my 22 speed dates? Well, we’ve had 8 meetings since, and we hope for 10 in total. Yes I’m proud of that, but the proof will be in what materialises….
Matt Richards is Managing Director of TMP Magnet, a London-based full service media and creative agency. For more great tips and marketing insight follow Matt on Twitter: @Mattrichards08.