Three undisputed truths:
1. Delivering a winning pitch will often determine the survival and success of a business.
2. People create their best work when they have time, space, and silence.
3. Proper rehearsal is critical to delivering a professional, persuasive performance.
Despite these truths, most sales and investor pitch preparation takes place at the eleventh hour, amid constant distraction and noise with minimal, if any, rehearsal. It’s no small wonder that most pitches are weak and ineffective and consequently fail.
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
There are two phases to all pitch preparation. The first is the creative process where you create your presentation and prepare your delivery. The second phase is rehearsal. Both take a considerable investment of time—days, weeks and months, rather than seconds, minutes and hours. This is not easy for time strapped entrepreneurs working in cash starved startups, but it is essential.
The greatest performers, athletes and world-class experts in every field are not “naturals.” They reached the top of their game using effective techniques and investing thousands of hours in preparation.
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, in “This is Your Brain on Music,” talks about 10,000 hours of practice being the magic number to achieve mastery:
“… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over 10 years. . . . But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
Steve Jobs, wrongly perceived by many to have been a naturally gifted performer, was reported in Businessweek to spend “grueling hours of practice” when preparing his Macworld keynote speeches. This was a process Jobs began weeks ahead, even though he had been delivering spectacular keynote speeches for years. Jobs made presenting look easy because he worked so hard at it.
Starting your preparation well in advance of a pitch allows you time to research, reflect and revise. Time gives you the opportunity to step back and look at the big picture, and to develop and refine your pitch to avoid the pitfall that Hemmingway highlights in his aforementioned quote.
Your choice is simple. If you want to create a forgettable, boring, failing pitch, simply wait until the last minute and rehash a pitch you delivered previously. If, however, you want to create a pitch that motivates your audience to take action, start your preparation weeks in advance of your meeting, and be prepared to invest days, if not weeks, in its creation.