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The most important 23 seconds of your life…

Business talk with Steve Elsom, February 2020

Have you ever found yourself ‘drifting off’ when someone is talking to you … happens all the time with me, not because I might have several things on my mind and not necessarily a sign that I find the person ‘boring’. No, it’s more about how that individual is projecting themselves, their pitch, their tonality and their delivery.

The pitch – I prefer to talk in bullet points. Short and snappy. If that’s you too, you probably glaze over at the ‘mammoth sentence’ deliverer! Punctuation applies to the spoken word as well the written word, so think ‘comma’, ‘hyphen’, ‘exclamation marks and ‘full stop’. It’ll make that opening statement much more impactful and memorable.

The tonality – let’s admit it…..some people can send us to sleep because they create no energy in their voice. A dull monosyllabic delivery does wonders for insomnia, so bring energy and life to your pitch, with key words and phrases accentuated for effect. I visualise a pitch to sound like an undulating road ….. gentle dips and rises, on a smooth underlying surface.

The delivery – Work on the assumption that it takes just 23 seconds to create an impression… in that time YOU have to make an impact. Don’t be alarmed…..23 seconds is actually a decent amount of time to talk for and create that favourable first impression. Practise talking about yourself in front of the mirror… would you introduce yourself at a Networking event? Consider use of the ‘power of three’, made very publicly famous by Tony Blair who used the ‘hidden thumb technique’, to accentuate his points. It takes some getting used to, but its effective and when ‘pitching’ to someone in these virtual bullet points….it can be very powerful.

“Pace is important....not too fast....but not too slow. Get the inflection right (the rise and fall) and accentuate key words and phrases.”

Look at your mannerisms, your facial expression, your posture…..and fine tune as necessary. Be aware of your body language…do you look and sound ‘relaxed’ or ‘tense’? Do you present with your hands in your pockets, ‘jangling’ whatever is in those pockets…….it’s a distraction and I once called a ‘time out’ and asked the presenter to either take their hands out of their pockets or empty them, as I was finding the ‘sideshow’ more interesting than their pitch!

What first impression do you want to create? Professional, positive, friendly, energetic, inquisitive……it could be all of these – 23 seconds…..give it a try when you ask yourself the question “what are you most proud about achieving in the last 12 months”? Ensure that your pace is appropriate, try not to start every sentence with the grand ‘I’, and keep eye contact….not trying to out-stare the other person, but enough to show that you are interested, keen and engaged. In a ‘one to many’ pitch or conversation, let your gaze move from side to side of the audience, stopping occasionally when you are ‘accentuating’ in a power of three, and thrive on any positive nods and reactions from the floor.

It’s not an exact science, but what I have learned is that we don’t spend enough time practising the delivery of our pitch, and we spend a disproportionate time preparing slides! There is nothing worse than ‘death by Powerpoint’ and I once called another ‘time out’ and asked the presenter that if they were merely going to read each slide…..did they want to just print them out and leave the slide deck with me! The way that you engage with the audience in a pitch is critical….don’t just read the slides and don’t keep looking at the screen or projector…..engage with the audience, and show them your personality.

The next time you find yourself with a spare 23 seconds…… why not give it go?

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...