The Preparation Payoff

One of my clients is the EPFL Innovation Park (EIP). Located on the campus of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, EIP has provided start-up coaching and acceleration for more than 20 years. EIP has teamed up with several key players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem of Western Switzerland to offer entrepreneurial training programs mandated by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI). I teach public speaking for business in two of CTI’s courses.

Last month, I worked with a group of 30 entrepreneurs one evening. I went over the elements of a good sales pitch and discussed how to prepare a pitch that makes an impact.  Part of the session was devoted to giving the participants an opportunity to practice their pitches.

One of the entrepreneurs who tried out his pitch was a young engineer named Bastien Rojanawisut. He had not prepared very much for the pitch. Not surprisingly, the results were predictable. The pitch was unfocused and not very effective. The class participants and I gave him feedback, and I went over some of the things to think about when preparing a pitch.

Bastien took the lesson to heart and got to work on his presentation. The other day, he sent me the following message on LinkedIn:

I have a great story for you. During your course I “cold” pitched my project without preparing anything and let’s face it, it was quite bad. I realized that it’s not because the pitch is short that it needs less preparation. It needs a lot of preparation, maybe especially because it is very short!

It was the first time I presented something like that, unlike the traditional 20-minute things I’ve done so far. So I realized I needed practice and I attended a Pitch Competition in Lausanne one week later. I applied the 1hr/1min rule and prepared the presentation. And guess what: I won the competition against business students (I am an engineer)! I was more prepared than anyone else even though it was not enough.

So again, last Saturday I had to pitch at the CTI Boot Camp for the same idea I pitched in front of you, this time preparing four hours for a two-minute pitch. I knew it by heart. The audience was amazed by my improvements, asked me how I reached that level in such short amount of time. The coach said I am one of the only engineers in the room who actually delivered a real sales pitch.

My project is now selected as part of the CTI course. On top of that I realized how many young entrepreneurs are bad at pitching. So I just registered as a guest to the Toastmasters event in Lausanne this evening, as you recommended.

Looking forward to all the forthcoming times.

Best, Bastien

Kudos to Bastien for learning a lesson a from the first experience, working hard and completely turning it around. I particularly like his astute remark that just because a presentation is short, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need a lot of preparation. Indeed, you need a lot of preparation because it is short.

Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Preparation—and for me this includes thinking about the presentation, researching, writing, designing the slides and rehearsing—pays dividends. The opposite is also true. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Following his message above, Bastien wrote to me again and said that he had gone to the Toastmasters meeting in Lausanne. He loved it and is going to join. I wish him success on his speaking journey.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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