Don’t be nervous, pitch like a pro

Whether pitching for new business or presenting to new clients, you have to get it right. Here’s a great guide by Clare Curtin. 

Dry mouth, sweaty palms, heart racing, brain freeze, a series of what ifs; a technical mishap, an unexpected question, a tough audience.

Any of this sound familiar before a presentation? Fear not. Practice the guidelines below and become ‘pitch perfect’.

First and foremost, PowerPoint is simply a tool to help deliver your story or provide visual aids for the audience, it is not the presentation itself and nor should slides be used as a security blanket for you the speaker. 

I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had time to prepare a short one – Winston Churchil.

1.    ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’ Benjamin Franklin

Yes, back to that adage, and why? Because it’s true. Preparation is essential. And by ‘preparation’ I don’t mean ensuring your slides are in order and handouts are printed. I mean right preparation. Who are you speaking to? What are they expecting or requiring from your presentation? What key points do you want to get across? Are you able to do this within the time afforded to you? What visual aids are available to you? Where is the podium positioned, where are your audience positioned? If you prepare correctly, you will deliver a strong message. 

2.    ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ Andrew Grant

The audience wants to like you; they want to be engaged by you, they will give you the first 1-2 minutes to do just that – don’t miss out on this opportunity. You need a powerful opening so that your audience is waiting on the edge of their seats to see what you have to say next. A strong opening portrays your credibility, demonstrates your passion about the topic and gives the impression that what you are about to say is worth listening to. Start with an astounding statistic, a captivating quote, an enthralling story. 

3.    ‘The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and to have the two as close together as possible.’ George Burns

True. We have short attention spans when it comes to sitting and listening to a speaker. Create a clearly defined, concise and to the point presentation. Potential audience attention is greatest at the opening and then again when they hear something like ‘and so to conclude’. This is human nature. So, if you have 20 minutes for your presentation, finish in 15/17. It is much more effective to have the audience wanting more (of you) than to feel that they have had more than enough. 

4.    ‘My job is to talk; your job is to listen. If you finish first, please let me know.’ Larry Blumsack

When designing a presentation, you should include a couple of points or opportunities to have interaction with the audience, ask them questions, engage with them. Let them feel as much a part of the presentation as you are. Build a rapport with them, try looking at individuals rather than scanning the group. Maintain eye contact, even if it’s just with three or four people, dotted around the room, and while retaining that eye contact, smile. Engage with your audience like a human being instead of a speech/ presentation robot. If using visual aids, like slides, there can be a tendency to face the screen. Never turn your back on your audience. 

5.    ‘Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.’ Old Native American proverb  

Great presenters tell stories that captivate their audience and that their audience won’t forget. It is important that you don’t tell a story for the sake of telling a story, it is essential that the story illustrates the key points that you are discussing. This makes it all the more memorable. 

6.    ‘Practice makes perfect.’ Gregory Y. Titelman

It does. Most people spend hours preparing a presentation but very little time practising it. When you practice your presentation, you can reduce the number of times you utter words like, “um,” “well,” and “eh.” 

You also need to give some thought on how you want to deliver your presentation, do you want to memorise it, use bullet points on cards, or read from a script? Or perhaps a combination of these methods. For example, it is suggested that you memorise the first and last three minutes of your talk so that you can speak flawlessly and without notes. Notes may be suitable for segments of your presentation that you know very well, for example, relating a personal story. 

Finally, speaking from a script might be appropriate when you have quotes or other important points that you want to make sure you communicate accurately and comprehensively. You can make a smooth switch to written text by saying something like: “I want to read this quote to you verbatim, to ensure that I don’t alter the original intent.”

presentation nerves

The structure of a presentation. Have a beginning, middle and an end. 

Key considerations:

•    Who is the audience?

•    What points do I want to get across?

•    What do they want/need from the presentation?

•    How much time have I got?

•    What visual aids are available? PowerPoint, projector, flip chart? 


•    The introduction should grab the attention of the audience. A statistic, a question, a quote or a story.

•    Welcome the audience.

•    Explain what your presentation will be about: the aims and objectives.

The Middle (outlining your argument or developing your story)

•    Focus on two or three main points and allow everything else to support these.

•    Don’t try to pack too much content in or you will talk non-stop, and the audience will switch off with information overload long before the end.

•    Use graphics or slides to illustrate key points. 


•    Briefly, summarise your main points.

•    Answer any questions.

•    Thank the audience for listening. Maintain eye contact with the audience and smile. 

•    The end should be on a high or positive note – not tailing away to “well that’s all from me, thanks for listening”. Try returning to your opening statement and pulling the story together. 

“There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”

presentation nerves

Don’t be nervous about being nervous 

Above all, please remember, people, worry too much about nervousness. Nerves are okay; it’s a natural body response that can help and improve your performance. It can give you more energy to perform, just channel that energy correctly and breathe and you will be okay. The audience expects nerves, and sometimes that vulnerability can make you more human and likeable. 

If ever in doubt, remember Mark Twain’s famous words: “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”


Clare Curtin is a consultant at the advanced presentation training firm Concur Consulting.