Your pitch serves as a gateway between every new person you meet and their contribution to your enterprise. Land the pitch, and you'll open the door to a bigger conversation that could lead to a new client, a new adviser, or maybe even new funding. Slip up, and you might not get an opportunity for further discussion.
Of course, stronger business ideas naturally lend themselves to more convincing pitches than their weaker counterparts, but there's only so much you can do to perfect your business plan. The real key to a successful pitch is delivering it in a personable, compelling, and effective way, and that requires strong public speaking skills.
If you're trying to perfect your pitch, try these seven public speaking exercises to help you get there.
1. Explain your idea to a child.
This exercise is all about conveying your business idea in as few terms and as simply as possible. Children have far less experience in the real world than adults, and need ideas simplified for them--meaning you have to remove all those fancy-sounding buzzwords and fluff sentences. The twist is that even though you'll simplify your pitch, you'll actually end up with one that carries more meaning. Use this to get used to using simple, concise phrases.
2. Practice small talk.
Small talk is your reliable segue into your pitch. Never walk up to a stranger and immediately pitch to him--instead, start up a short conversation about the weather, about the venue, or about a piece of clothing he's wearing. To get a better feel for the rhythms and niceties of small talk, practice it on a daily basis. Find someone new to talk to every day--gradually, you'll become more comfortable with it.
3. Write out your main points.
Written exercises help your mind visualize and absorb information better than speaking exercises. Your pitch might sound great in your head when you speak it audibly, but when you write it out, you might find that you're forgetting a major point, or that one of your points isn't necessary to include. Chart out your pitch's main points on paper, and use that as a platform to improve.
4. Perfect your posture.
Posture may not seem like a big deal, but it can improve your image (and first impressions) while simultaneously improving your diction and delivery. Stand up straight and tall with your shoulders back and your hands in front of you or at your sides (not in your pockets). Make eye contact with people and breathe deeply--it makes a big difference.
5. Experiment with variations.
Don't practice your pitch over and over using the same vocabulary and the same speech patterns. Eventually, you'll sound like a robot. Instead, intentionally play with different words, different phrasing, and different main points altogether. This form of practice prevents that robotic, over-rehearsed sound and makes you seem like a more natural speaker.
6. Play with your pacing.
Different people speak at different rates, but you might find that your pitch is better heard spoken slowly than quickly. Play around with different styles of pacing, and listen to which sounds better. You might enlist the help of an outside party to do this. No matter where you settle, you'll at least get different forms of practice in, further diversifying your potential approaches and forms of delivery.
7. Record your pitch.
Last but not least, use a recording device to listen (and watch) yourself speak. You'll likely find there are subtle tics or choke points that you don't notice about yourself from a first-person perspective, interfering with your delivery. For example, you might discover that you pause too long, or that you tend to shrug your shoulders after every line. Use these recording sessions to iron out these disruptions and flaws.
Repeat these exercises as necessary until you feel comfortable rolling out your pitch to a wider audience. Remember, even a "perfect" pitch can (and will) be rejected by a percentage of the people you talk to, so try not to take things personally. Keep your delivery light and natural, and seek out diverse new audiences to maximize your chances of success.