The middle of the term is, traditionally a hectic time for Edinburgh students. Deadlines have a nasty tendency to all gang up and strike at the same time and work levels spike to dizzying heights. What could therefore add fuel to the fire more than a formal pitch in front of business experts? I suspect that was the general feeling amongst FreshSight’s Autumn 2019 cohort when Hajira and Claire announced in Week 3 of training that Fresh Factor was just around the corner. The gauntlet had been well and truly thrown; in a week we had to have a full presentation to show to a panel of experts, who would offer us the coveted prize of a yellow rose if they felt we had a project worth investing in.
There is unfortunate truth to the adage that people fear public speaking more than death. It’s a visceral feeling to type out a speech and rehearse it, wincing at every mistake or line you forget and feeling it a) has to be perfect and b) stay that way every time you run through it. This is magnified all the more when you’re up on stage and all eyes are on you, expecting you to deliver. Even for a seasoned public speaker like myself, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t just a little bit daunting. Now was not the time for going off-piste if you forgot your script or relying on rhetorical flair. This had to be slick and professional, and we had to know what we were talking about to withstand panel scrutiny.
Undeniably, it was an exciting time in the consultancy cycle. What had been to this point a few weeks of fumbling around with research wondering if we were getting anywhere had now suddenly crystalised into a process. Now everything was clear and a path ahead had been laid for us to eagerly bound down to advance our research and make our clients proud. Trouble is, we now had the daunting task of convincing not just our peers, but actual, real-life consultants and business folk that we had a project worth partaking in.
We got to work immediately, collating ideas and trying to distill our knowledge into a workable speech. Obstacles to overcome met us thick and fast; was it two minutes per person? How should we organise it? Did it sound good when we said it out loud? Did the PowerPoint match? Were our graphics clear? It was a delicate and difficult process, bringing together the myriad strands of our research to create a neat, flowing arc to sell to our panellists. After that, the challenge of learning and perfecting our material kicked in. I remember distinctly standing in front of my mirror on a Sunday evening, making sure that every gesture, word and movement was exactly how I wanted to come across.
The pressure then mounted all the more when we knew that we would be speaking first. We knew we had to set the bar high and kick off the proceedings well. Much like the start of our project, the first few rehearsals were defined by slowly piecing things together, tweaking tech and nervously reading from our laptops to get a feel of speaking to an audience.
Then, in the afternoon rehearsal, just two and a half hours before we went live, it all came together. The presentation was on point, the necessary fine-tuning was minimal and we all had a coherent, working speech. Finally, a glimmer of hope was beginning to smoulder. Rather like if you’ve seen the early stages of a campfire, where a tiny spark sits deep under the driftwood,
ready to burst into life. The nerves were still there, for sure. Nevertheless, the feeling was growing that we actually had something good here. That we had something worth sharing with the group. The belief in our project and the willingness to do a great job began to overtake the nerves and by the time we were called up to speak, we were rearing to go. The whole event was most impressive; you feel absolutely electric in the moment you’re talking, and seeing others present reminds you that you sound a lot better live than your inner critic would have you believe. Despite some tricky probing from the panel we persisted through, and were delighted to be awarded our rose at the end of the evening.
There are a few key pointers worth taking away from that night. It’s important to remember that you often do much better than you think whilst speaking in front of others, and anyone can get good at presenting with enough practice and encouragement. If you believe in yourself and what you’re presenting, that goes such a long way to creating an engaging and powerful pitch. Finally, don’t be afraid of the process of preparing, redrafting and building your confidence piece by piece; it often turns out just fine in the end.
I would like to thank the panelists for taking the time to hear us out and offer advice, to all those involved in organising the evening and making it a success, to the wonderful management team for coaching and guiding us and of course, to my fellow consultants, for all the work put in to our projects and presentations. It was a joy to hear what we’ve all been up to, and best of luck for panel!