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7 Steps to the Perfect Pitch

Ah.

July 23rd, 2014.

When I sat in the main stand of Celtic Park breathing in the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that I’d played a part in bringing that wonderful event to the city of my birth.

The 25 courses we’d run in Presentation Skills some seven years earlier had been attended by everybody carrying the Glasgow 2014 message to the corners of the Commonwealth.

We’d worked particularly closely with Louise Martin, who had spearheaded the bid.

Her vital presentation in Sri Lanka helped seal the deal – and bring the Games to Glasgow.

So when the Games were over, I thought my happy memories of working with the former Commonwealth swimmer would have to remain in the past.

Until the phone rang a few months ago.

It was Louise.

She was bidding for the Presidency of the Commonwealth Federation.

Would we help her seal the deal?

You bet we would.

Now many clients come to us with a presentation all written and some Powerpoint that looks like a course in advanced algebra.

Louise came with a blank piece of paper – and some strongly-held convictions.

It was ideal.

We could build a brilliant presentation from scratch – to incorporate the message – and hit the bulls-eye.

We shared what we share with clients at our Glasgow studios and on the road around the world.

It goes like this.

Step one – paint your vision

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - Paint your vision

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. What do I want to say?
  2. Who am I talking to?
  3. So how will I put it?

Louise, myself and Trish Lombardi from sportscotland sat round our table in the studio at our Lochinch House headquarters and started to craft the speech.

Louise spelled out her goals – Trish offered a great sounding board – and we turned their thoughts and goals in short and simple sentences.

It took several hours to create a 7-minute speech, but our first draft was looking good.

Early on, Louise spelled out this message of her three priorities if elected:

“Firstly – I want to help create a Games that the best athletes regard as the cornerstone of their calendar – and that cities are queuing up to bid for.

 “Secondly – I want to ensure that the Host City Contract guarantees the grants you need to support your athletes’ pathway to the Games.

 “Thirdly, I want to see the Youth Games focus on broadening the minds and cultural experiences of young athletes to prepare them for major competition…and for life itself.”

 You see, you can talk about ‘vision’ – or you can paint it.

Louise chose to paint hers in bright colours.

Step two – simplify your message

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - Simplicity

Write your speech as vividly and simply as you can – making sure every single word is understood.

Talk in pictures.

Give relevant examples.

Step three – show commitment and positivity

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - choose your words

Only use words that are positive – and demonstrate commitment.

So any phrase with a ‘not, can’t, won’t’ in it (we call it a Pink Elephant) is banned.

Say only what is happening – and what you will do.

Banish watering down words (‘I think, hopefully, try, do my best’) and use ‘I firmly believe, I’m committed, I’m determined’ instead.

Step four – time out changes

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - time out

Once every party involved has approved what you’ve written and you’ve agreed to any changes, ‘time-out’ any further changes.

The script is the script going into rehearsals.

Our next session with Louise, two days after the first, was about rehearsal, after some major rewriting from other interested parties.

They had raised strong and valid points, most of which were adopted.

One scriptwriter was very keen for Louise’s call to action – her last line of the speech – to be:

“If you vote for me, I won’t let you down.”

Louise refused to bow to that wish – perhaps because I threatened to jump in the River Clyde if she allowed it.

“It’s a massive Pink Elephant” Louise observed.

It certainly was, and was rejected out of hand.

Step four was complete.

Step five – pace and tone

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - pace and tone

David Attenborough is one of the slowest speakers I’ve ever heard – and because his rate of delivery is so slow, he has more time to emphasise his words for maximum effect.

What’s more, the audience has time to digest every single word.

It’s vital to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse on camera, making sure the words come out as intended, with the right emphasis and tone.

So we began rehearsing – familiarising Louise with the delivery.

As I had before, I asked her to slow down just a touch, to give every word its full impact.

On camera, we ran through it several times, clocking up improvements each time.

Louise was only happy if she’d landed on the emphasis of every word correctly.

She kept going until she did.

Step six – positive body language

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - body language

Ensure your body language says you’re confident, optimistic and determined.

As with her Games Bid speech eight years earlier, she came across as composed and certain in her message.

On camera, we ran through it several times, clocking up improvements each time.

One week later, we put her back in front of the camera for a final time.

This was the final script.

This is what she wanted to be completely conversant with.

Now we concentrated on the whole package.

We had the right message – for the right audience.

It was being delivered well with the right pace, tone and body language.

It was time to stop rehearsing.

Step seven – delivery

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - delivery 2

Louise boarded a plane, heading for the Commonwealth meeting in Auckland, New Zealand – ready for showtime.

I made a call to her just hours before the presentation, to hear one final run-through.

It was excellent.

“I was nervous when I got up to speak,” Louise later told me, “because I knew how important this was.”

But she kept that feeling to herself.

Instead she told the audience that she was “delighted” to have the opportunity of sharing her vision.

The speech clocked in at just under seven minutes.

It was crisp, sharp, optimistic, practical and visionary…all at the same time.

She nailed it.

Decision time

7 steps to the perfect pitch - Pink Elephant Communications - delivery

The delegates cast their vote.

Louise had to chew on every mouthful of her lunch, waiting agonisingly for the decision to be announced.

When it was, the result was read aloud.

Louise had won in a landslide – by a proportion of two thirds to one third of votes cast.

It was almost identical to the numbers that secured Glasgow as the 2014 Games.

And yet this was different.

Louise had to overcome history.

All the presidents to that point had been male.

She had to overcome status.

Louise’s CBE is impressive – but was outranked.

The President – asking for four more years – was a Prince.

But she won because her speech stirred delegates to vote for what she was offering.

I wish her very well for the term of her office.

She’ll do a fantastic job.

And we’re proud once more to have helped.

Now if you want to win over sceptics and fence-sitters in your audience, follow the steps we’ve outlined.

Better still – come along to see us and we’ll take you down the path to achieving your own life and business goals.

Bill McFarlan is managing director of media training and presentation skills training firm Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.

graham.james.campbell via Foter.com / CC BY-SA; Dan90266 via Foter.com / CC BY; janetgalore via Foter.com / CC BY; Sean MacEntee via Foter.com / CC BY; katexic via Foter.com / CC BY; Gustavo Minas via Foter.com / CC BY; Menage a Moi via Foter.com / CC BY-SA; Brisbane City Council via Foter.com / CC BY.

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