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REDUCE A FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING BY PITCHING PRACTICE



Kirjoittanut: Xiaoqing Yang-Pyydysmäki - tiimistä FLIP Solutions.

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Authors: Xiaoqing Yang-Pyydysmäki & Jemina Laitinen

Background

When FLIP Solutions made learning contracts in the spring of 2022, one common topic and learning goal came up: Improve public speaking and performing skills. We agree back then that we are going to practise those skills in the Autumn time. That is how PITCHING PAJA -workshops were invented. PAJA is a term used in Proakatemia and means the training session based on team learning activities. 

This essay introduces what kind of practices our PITCHING PAJA -workshop included, how those practices worked and why certain practices were chosen for this workshop. Also, one of the participants, who publicly shared that has a fear of public speaking, shares experiences of how these used practices felt and how the workshop row helped to prepare a pitch for Proakatemia’s shark tank for sales days.  

 

What is PITCHING? What is it to do with public speaking?  

According to Ervasti & Turunen 2020), pitching is a short and sharp-selling speech where an entrepreneur introduces their business idea, product or service. (Ervasti & Turunen 2020, 4-5%). The main point in pitching is how to sell your idea just in a couple of minutes. Here is a scene to think about: If you end up in the elevator with one of the most famous angel investors, would you be able to introduce your business idea in just one minute? (Youtube.com) 

Even though it is easy to think of pitching just to be a perform speech on big stages and for looking for investors, it is also about how to present yourself in a short and sharp way. That skill is needed everywhere: In job interviews and applications, in sales, or just to introduce yourself to new people. How often there is a situation where someone asks what you do in life or what is your business? Are you able to introduce yourself in a presentable way or would you freeze in that situation?  

Especially an entrepreneur but also every human being in business life need skills to present themselves publicly. It can be meetings, events or selling situations. If speaking publically causes extra stress and even fear, focus can go to unnecessary things when performance and outcome from that situation are not the most wanted. That is why it is wise to practise your own speaking and performance skills.  

 

Public speaking and speaking anxiety 

Public speaking is the act of performing a speech to a live audience in a structured manner, to inform, entertain and persuade them (Barnard 2018). In the book Speaking up without freaking out, Abrahams mentioned that people rate the anxiety caused by public speaking 10–20 per cent higher than the fear of death, height, spiders, or fire in research (Abrahams, 2014). Why are people so afraid of public speaking? How to reduce the fear? 

The communication researchers list three phases that can carry out the anxiety of speaking:  

  • Before speaking 
  • The first minute of the presenting 
  • In the last minutes of speaking 

They found that the first and the second phases generate the highest anxiety during the presentation (Abrahams, 2014). Physically, anxiety can cause muscles to tense, sweat, heartbeat to speed up, blood pressure to increase, and even hard to breathe. It can be seen as a fear response in the body where the body interprets certain behaviour in a negative way. That is, how people label public speaking in their mind, they can be caused by certain or mixed reasons such as unpleasant experiences, lack of skills to speak well, etc. To explore it deeper, they can be categorized as situation-based anxiety, audience-based anxiety, and goal-based anxiety. As the names suggest, they arise out of uncertainty about the context of the speech, the background of the audience, and the possible consequences of the speech. Understanding the reasons behind the scenes can help to reduce anxiety. 

50 techniques for achieving confident, calm, competent presenting were introduced by Abrahams in his book. Here are some examples:
 

  •  Appearance builds confidence and dressing properly. Multiple studies have shown that dressing well can increase performance and deepen the impression of others. 
  • “Fake it until you make it.” Connecting audiences via eye contact can be interpreted as looking at the spot between the eyebrows where audiences are feeling interacted.
  • Approaching audiences by standing tall, with open and extended arms are signs of power and embracing.
  • Try to find something cold to hold, or something squeezable while your hands get sweaty before speaking. It calms you down and helps to relieve stress.
  • The breathing technique is a practical therapy for reducing anxiety. Inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply in the rhythm physically soothes the mental noise.
  • Improve speaking skills by recording the presentation. When you look back at the recording, you may find unconscious nervous behaviour or language used during the speech. It visualized the anxiety from the audience’s point of view. Practice becomes more targeted.
  • Rehearsal let you get familiar with the context. Practice makes it perfect.
  • Be present-oriented. For example, listening to music to live in the moment can distract you from the anxiety before presenting starts.
  • The author introduced audience-connecting techniques (ACTs). Focus on audience needs. For example, asking for participation can increase the engagement level.
  •  “Meaningful structure sets you free”. Depending on the purpose, a clear and logical structure can help you to follow the flow and the audience is easy to understand.
  • Schedule it well. Start to prepare the outline, and scripts 1-2 weeks ahead and practice.

PITCHING PAJA -WORKSHOP 

PITCHING PAJA –workshop was aimed to share and provide the basics of pitching in general but also be a place to practise public speaking and performing in a safe environment. Because it wanted to be both practical and build knowledge about pitching and performing, the paja-row were divided into two part: Planning workshop and pitching practice -workshop. In that way, both workshops had more time for actual practice, and everyone could use workshop time for writing their upcoming pitch.

 

PITCHING PAJA 1 

The first PITCHING PAJA included a pre-task, an introduction to the topic and background, and two-part workshop practices. Goals for the paja were: 

  1. Everyone knows what is Pitching and have an idea of how to create one
  2. Everyone started to write their PITCH & got oneliner done 
  3. HAVE FUN! 

Pre-task for the paja was to watch SLUSH100 2021 final pitches and take notes about them. For example: What performers did well? How was the start of their performance? What might be matters which made the pitch of Hormona the winner?  

Outcomes from the pre-task showed the importance of the oneliner of pitching. If a one-liner doesn’t cause thoughts, emotions or wake interested, it is a hard job to do the killer pitch. The other outcome was how important it is to remember to open your business idea and product so that it is easy for the audience to understand the field of business and a product, even though it wouldn’t be the field for everyone. 

Pre-task itself was a good tool for learning and introducing the topic. It also helped participants to see different styles to pitch and perform. Also, before the paja, participants were recommended to think about and decide on the topic, idea or product to prepare their pitch. The point was to make paja and practices approachable and not too stressful for people who might have fear about performing in front of people. That is why everyone could decide on the topic for the pitching to make it easygoing and practical for them regarding the future.
 

Structure of the PITCH in the nutshell

Because the main point of the PAJA was to keep it practical and learn by doing, introductions and “theoretical part” was short and sharp. A principal source for the theoretical background was the book about pitching by Elsa Ervasti and Joonas Turunen, but also a couple of different videos from Youtube.  

One structure for pitching can be seen below. Time frames are for 10 minutes of pitching performance, according to Ervasti and Turunen (2021). Because Proakatemia’s shark tank competition was coming and we wanted to practise 5 minutes of pitching, we used shortened version, which time frames can be seen in quantities. 

Pitching structure: 

  • (Intro) 
  • Oneliner 10 sec. 
  • Problem 2min (1min) 
  • Solution 1 min (30 sec.)
  • Value 30 sec. (15 sec.) 
  • (Business Potential & scalability 1 min)  
  • Team 40 sec. (20 sec.) 
  • Vision & call to action 3 min. (1,5min) 

Because of the importance of the oneliner and because it was a big part of paja’s goals, workshop practice one was to write the oneliner for the pitch. The purpose of a oneliner is to crystallise the meaning or purpose of the product or service. It needs to be short and sharp, giving the audience a picture of the service or product. An average length is one or two sentences with a time frame of about 10 seconds.

Participants got time to plan their oneliner and ask help or questions to help with the process. After that, participants shared their oneliner in front of everybody having an opportunity to practise and see how their 10 seconds work in practice. Also, it was a natural situation to give feedback to others. After the practice, participants got time to write and plan their pitch further.  

 

Workshop practise 2 

The second workshop-practise was about performing to identify what matters about performing is the most relevant to practise and develop. Ervasti and Turunen (2020) demonstrated different parts of performance as stairs of performing, which were used in paja. Those stairs represent what kind of steps are good to take and in what order while planning your own pitching or performance. (Ervasti & Turunen 2021, 87%.)

See the picture of the stairs of the performing below.   

 

Picture 1.
 

In the workshop-practise, we also talked about and practised performance skills which make performance alive, like storytelling through emotions, voice usage, verbal- and non-verbal communication, energy and connection with the audience. Those are important parts of performance besides well-planned structure and actual script. We all have some manners, like how we use our voice, what kind of posture we have, how we use our hands while talking and how we interact with others. Everybody was recommended to think about natural behavioural matters and suggested challenging their manners to bring out their “performance self”.  

 

PITCHING PAJA 2: Ready to PITCH? 

The second PAJA of pitching was actual pitching practice. Five-minute pitch on the stage of Proakatemia with the microphone. A challenge was that the first pitching paja was on Tuesday, and this actual pitching was on Thursday in the same week.

 

Learnings and outcomes from the participant’s point of view 

One of the outcomes and learnings from the pitching practice was that the first pitching paja was crucial. It guided people in preparing the pitching scripts and we realized the importance of the oneliner and structure of the pitch.  

The first pitching practice used a 10-second oneliner. It tested our pitching and scripting skills right away. It was short, stressful, but effective. Everyone received direct feedback from the audience. A oneliner is required to be short and sharp while at the beginning of the pitch to catch the attention of the audience. It wasn’t an easy task. To me, excepting thinking of what product or service I would like to pitch, more time was used on refining the language into one to two sentences.  

All our team members were the audience and judges. By watching other people’s pitching and giving comments, we reflected on them to ourselves as well for improvement. The comments I have received for this practice where I should look at the audience first, speak louder, have proper pauses, and be more confident. I have been very much afraid of doing any public speaking. Even though it was a 10-second oneliner presentation, I felt my heartbeat accelerate and it was difficult to hold my voice and speaking speed at the normal level and avoid eye contact with the audience. This is like mini pitching where 10 seconds can tell many things. However, they can be learnt and improved.  

As mentioned above, the second pitching practice was focused on performing. Everyone prepared five minutes pitch to present on the stage at Proakatemia. Our coach Taru, Jemina and one of the presenters (by turns) were the judges. From adjusting the microphone to standing under the spotlight on the stage, and seeing my slide on the big screen, everything made me feel it is not as scary as I thought although I was tense. The structure introduced in the first pitching session gave me a good base for composing slides and scripts. 

 Oneliner was not the difficult part anymore. But because I did not practice before getting on the stage, and the script was too long to remember in a short time which affected the quality of the pitch. The feedback I got was beginning and the ending was fine. Since I was looking at the script on the phone, sometimes I turned to look at the big screen with my back to the audience, and the impression from them went down. Better posture and standing closer to the audience would bring more engagement. After the pitching and evaluation session, everyone felt it was extraordinary pitching practice. We learn a lot, both from ourselves and from observing others’ performance.  

At the same time, this exercise laid an excellent foundation for Armo Project’s pitching deck at Proakatemia’s shark tank. We strictly followed the structure introduced in the first paja according to Ervasti and Turunen (2021), and Proakatemia’s values and strategies, with the number of hours scripting and practising, Armo Project was selected to be one of the product/service suppliers in Proakatemia’s next Sale Day. 

To me, standing on the stage, calmly facing the audience, and thinking and speaking normally is a big progress. The biggest takeaway is that I understand that fear and anxiety may never be overcome but how should we deal with them? There is lots of research and techniques that assist people to improve presentation skills and reduce public speaking anxiety. Whatever the theory and technique are, it is practice and experimentation that ultimately allows us to find what works best for us.  

Have I paid too much attention to how to reduce fear and anxiety and less emphasis on the original meaning of presenting? I have benefited a lot from these two pajas, from theory to practice, the results are significant and effective. Pitching is almost a must-have skill for entrepreneurs, and we all expect that we can have such training on a regular basis in the future. 

 

Practise! It will have a huge effect! 

From learning experience from paja –row shows that performance skills can be improved even in a short time together with reducing the fear of public speaking. Being aware of own natural reactions and behaviour in front of people helps to start to develop. Having tools to reduce fear and practising performance skills will also make public speaking more familiar and not that scary. Practice will have a huge effect, so it is important to put oneself in situations where there is an opportunity to do so.

 

References 

Abrahams, Matt 2014. Speaking up without freaking out.

Barnard, Dom 2018. Brief History of Public Speaking and Famous Speakers through the Ages. Read on 21.11.2022. 
https://virtualspeech.com/blog/history-public-speaking 

Ervasti, E & Turunen, J. 2020. Pitch! E-book. Kustantamo S&S. Published 22.9.2022. 

YouTube.com. How to Make a Successful Business Pitch. Published 15.12.2021. Referred 30.11.2022.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulvf3IfBAGc 

 Picture 1:  Picture based on Ervasti & Turunen (2020) book. Picture made by Jemina Laitinen

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