Tatiana Birgisson stood in front of a room of dozens of Silicon Valley investors, national media and others and effectively explained how she turned a tea brewed in her Duke University dorm room into the Durham-based beverage startup MATI Energy.
The five-minute pitch helped her to win the Judge’s Choice award at the Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day competition and a $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case.
But public speaking hasn’t always come so easy for Birgisson, 25. In 2012, her mind went blank and she froze during an entrepreneurship pitch at Duke.
“I refused to get on stage when they called my name,” Birgisson wrote in email. “Everybody in the room was looking at me, and I just couldn’t get up.”
Birgisson overcame that stage fright “with preparation, confidence in my product and a love for what I’m sharing,” she wrote.
Below is Birgisson’s advice on preparing for an important pitch. These might be helpful for those applying to participate in Case’s Rise of the Rest tour stopping in Raleigh-Durham on May 5. (Deadline to apply is April 20.)
▪ Practice, practice, practice “like 100 times,” Birgisson said.
Birgisson held three practice sessions in front of her American Underground community members. She used their feedback to hone in on what she believed would result in the best pitch. She practiced the revised presentation five times in front of three key mentors and dozens of times on her own.
“Without speaker notes, slides, or anything,” she wrote. “I’d practice in my head from memory. I’d practice in front of a mirror. Again, practice.”
▪ Use clean, simple but effective slides. Birgisson made one or two points per slide. She also had three to five additional points she could choose from based on how she felt at the moment.
“This resulted in a more sincere pitch and one where I wasn’t afraid of getting everything exactly right,” she wrote. Some may choose to memorize the pitch, but Birgisson said when she uses that strategy she becomes monotone and tends to freeze up.
Birgisson’s boyfriend, Jake Stauch, started filming her with an iPhone during practice pitches.
“He realized that I thought I was smiling and energetic when I wasn’t coming across that way,” she wrote. Then they would watch the pitch on their television.
“So embarrassing but effective,” she wrote. “Eventually, I figured out how to become the presenter that I imagined myself being.”
▪ Smile and breathe. To fight nervousness before the pitch, Birgisson jumped in place for one minute, which helped her to calm her nerves and breathe more. She also focused on smiling, which she struggle with, and breathing.
“You can use breathes and pauses (silent, of course) for dramatic effect,” she wrote. “….My speaker notes even have ‘PAUSE’ written in them so I can practice where to slow down.”