This past weekend​ I was in Huntsville TX for ​the annual celebration​ of ​Texas Independence Day​ and ​Sam Houston​‘s birthday, which fall on the same day. At the ceremony, officials give speeches at Sam Houston’s grave, which is within walking distance of Sam Houston State University. Traditionally, the university president and the president of the student body speak. They both spoke about ​honor and how the role it plays at the university is connected to Sam Houston​.

A Speaker’s Nightmare

Yikes! This is everyone’s nightmare. They stand up to give a speech and the person who went before them said everything they were planning to say. The student body president handled it gracefully, saying, “I also am going to speak about honor,” with a smile. Luckily, her speech was very different from the university president’s; it just had the same starting point.

Unexpected situations when you are speaking and pitching will inevitably come up. It is how you handle them that people will remember.

Be Prepared

The best way to be prepared for the unexpected is to practice and practice again. That way if you have to, it will be easier to change your presentation on the fly. It made it seem counterintuitive, but the better prepared you are, the easier it is to improvise because you have a foundation.

This practice and preparation is a key part of introducing yourself with ​your personal cocktail pitch ​and pitching with ​your project cocktail pitch​.

When you know your subject backwards and forwards, you immediately feel more confident and are harder to throw off balance. In each situation, you can make slight adjustments or a big pivot if you need to.

Make it Feel Like a Conversation

Even if you are giving a presentation or speech that is formal so you can’t interact with your audience, you can still make it feel like a conversation. Do exactly what she did. Go off book. Look out into your audience, smile and acknowledge that elephant in the room. “My speech is on the same subject, but I am going to talk about it a little differently.”

Another way to pivot is to make your pitch personal. Either personal to the audience by relating your speech to what they’re going through and why they’re there. Or being vulnerable and sharing something about yourself.

Practice and Pivot

Let the two P’s guide you the next time you have to pitch, present, or speak. And don’t forget to have fun!

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