Two of the most pivotal, actually intertwined, aspects to consider when preparing for business plan competitions are:
- Learning from mistakes - preferably others’ mistakes
To clarify the latter, you should certainly learn from your own mistakes, but if you can learn from others’ (without having to make them yourself as a result), even better.
When it comes to practicing I can only but recommend: stage time!
Just do it.
Your pitch does not have to be perfect in order for you to start presenting, but it will certainly come closer to perfect the moment you put yourself on stage.
Keep on practicing, and practising, and practising. Eventually you will know your material really well, and now the real fun begins. You will be in the position to take your presentation to the next level.
Now you will be able to experiment with rhetoric stuff, if you will, including: intonation, pauses, gestures, and many more. Perhaps even more importantly: you will have the luxury of improvising.
Match your body language with your verbal message - make a great, congruent and lasting impression.
Work on the tone of your voice, your poise, and your body language. Work with varying your delivery. Experiment.
All of this will be possible, once you know your material really well. And often not up until then (as you will be worrying, dwelling and practicing on what you are supposed to say until you really know your material by heart). Thus, balance the effort you put on the script, the slides with the effort you invest on delivery.
Some of the great advantages with this type of preparation enable you to:
- Adapt to unforeseen things that might happen
- Handle situations with your audience
- Make ad hoc adjustments to your pitch and feel comfortable doing it
- Acclimatize to the circumstances at the event
- Feel relaxed and at ease, improving poise, boosting confidence et cetera
Thus, prepare throughly. Yet feel comfortable to improvise and alter the script.
Be rigid, yet flexible.
While experimenting, you will certainly be making “mistakes”. Unavoidable as they are, mistakes are indeed part of your learning curve and life in general. However, you do not need to make all of them. You can indeed avoid several by taking a proactive approach.
It may in fact be beneficial to view mistakes as milestones on your growing curve - that take you closer towards your desired goals. The more you are growing, the more mistakes you will probably make. This is perfectly natural, so just keep pushing yourself.
However, if you can anticipate mistakes and/or relate to previous experiences in order to avoid mistakes, that would be great. If you can learn from those of others’, even better.
To examplify, in a competition environment, going first might be beneficial, on the one hand. By delivering a great pitch, you set the standard and put pressure on your competitors. Also, having delivered your pitch, you can now concentrate on your competitors, the jurors and adapting your strategy accordingly.
Going last, on the other hand, gives you the intelligence. You can observe your competitors, their mistakes, the jury’s reaction, and so forth. You can learn from their mistakes and capitalize on the obtained intelligence.
When competing in Belgium (at the European Business Plan of the Year) I took plenty of mental notes during the pitches of my competitors: how did they do; what worked well and not; how did the jurors react; what would I do; and so on.
I adapted my tactics quite freely according to these notes, and I also did some ad hoc adjustment during the delivery of the pitch (according to the reactions of the jury and of my coach). Since I knew my material well, I felt quite comfortable in improvising and capitalizing from these changes.
Nobody could really tell that I had altered my message (other than my coach and my team mates).
In conclusion: practice, experiment and learn from “mistakes”. Observe others, learn from their experiences and your own. Know your stuff really well, and be prepared to adapt your message to circumstances. Sometimes you may need to improvise. Be rigid, yet flexible.