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  • Writer's pictureRasmus Basilier

Reflections on a Successful Workshop

This is for all workshop creators out there. This is a run-through of the last pitching workshop I did. Feel free to borrow as much you can to improve on your own workshops.

The conditions

Last week I was tasked with creating a pitching workshop for mostly untrained pitchers in an innovation challenge event.

The event was a physical/digital hybrid, and I had one hour for my workshop.

Teams of three to four were organized in five different tracks, and would eventually have to deliver a three-minute pitch in front of a live audience and the track sponsors.

There were twelve live teams in total plus two digital teams.

The Workshop

I started the workshop by giving an extremely brief explanation of my take on what the core elements of a one-minute pitch are. I did this by showing off my amazing pitching skills by asking for a random object by the audience that I then pitched by improvisation around the core tenants:

  1. Big picture

  2. Problem

  3. Solution

  4. What it means for me as a customer (what's in it for me)

  5. Call to action

I also showed these five points on my slideshow.

After this probably two-minute-long introduction to the subject, I quickly got the teams working on their own one-minute pitch. I gave them five minutes to both prepare their pitch and record it with a smartphone or laptop.

A five-minute timer appeared on the big screen

Some teams were slow to start, so I made use of the local mentors to get the teams moving, plus my own presence, moving from table to table.

After the five minutes, only some three out of twelve teams had recorded. I then gave all teams another 90 seconds to finish their pitch so we could move on.

Note to Self: separate the preparation from the action. People will generally avoid action if they have the option to use their brains instead.

Note to Self Two: The digital teams would have needed a separate person to make sure they understood what was needed and follow up on their progress. They were mostly left to their own devices during this workshop

We are now ten minutes into the workshop

As the 90 seconds passed, I told the teams to look at their pitch and search for highlights and weak spots. I gave them some five minutes for this, no timer ticking. I listened to the discussions of the teams and cut when I felt they had all listened to their pitch and had some interesting comments.

After this I quickly tasked the teams with recording their second pitch, using the same structure as before, just doing it a second time. This time adjusting the pitch according to their findings in the first recording. They were given five minutes for this task again.

We are now 20 minutes into the workshop

When they were done, I let them review it for two minutes just as the previous one. After that, I commented on how much of a difference the second one was from the first one. My key insight here was:

Practice makes perfect. I made sure to repeat this mantra during the workshop.

Note to Self: I could have asked the teams to raise their hands if they thought the second one was better than the first. That would have been more interactive and would have given me a good chance to ask a team what went wrong if one team did not raise their hands.

Without allowing them to review this second pitch properly, we move on to the real pitch, the three-minute version.

This time, compared with the one-minute pitch, I actually went through the steps, point by point, to illustrate the usefulness of every point.

  1. Tagline (Hi! We are XXXX and we are the Uber of hospital visits)

  2. Problem

  3. Solution (quick explanation)

  4. Value to the customers (more deep explanation)

  5. Business model (how do you make money)

  6. Competitive landscape (competitors OR market size)

  7. Team

  8. Traction (customers, sales)

  9. Ask (what do you want help with?)

Note to Self: Have a ready example that uses a common reference point, such as Spotify, Instagram, or Beats (the things that almost all participants use on a daily basis and is an exciting software or hardware).

In this run-through of the structure, I did not have a great example and the presentation flow was hurting because of that.

Note to Self Two: The pitch structure that I was presenting was designed for a business pitch. But most of the teams had challenges that were unrelated to business models and more interested in a solution that would lock in with current business - not so much how it generates revenue on its own. This could have been solved by adjusting the pitch structure and clearly showing two different alternatives, depending on if there is a clear business case or not. Traction was also a very hard one for them to get numbers on since they only had some six hours to actually hack the problems.

After the quick explanation, the teams prepare their real three-minute pitch. This time I did separate the preparation from the recording, giving them five minutes to prepare. The large timer was on the screen again, next to the pitching structure.

We are 30 minutes in, halfway

After the five minutes of prep, I gave them oceans of time, ten minutes (!), to sharpen their pitch and record it. This time I was using the coaches more actively and also pushing harder using the microphone that "you now have only two minutes left to prepare - remember that the pitch takes three minutes to record".

Then, instead of letting them review their own pitch, this time I had them migrate in between the groups from different tracks (so that no spoilers were given to 'hostile' teams from their own track). Technically, one person with a phone left every team, and the rest of the team stayed at their table. They were given five minutes to show their video to the other side and receive some highlights and points of improvement. The big key was that the new spectators could say if they understood the solution or not.

The specific reason behind this was two-fold. One was obvious; to get new eyes on your pitch because they see things that you overlook. The second was to create bridges between the teams, opening the door for future co-operation in listening to each other's pitches.

50 minutes in, only ten minutes left

After all the flurry of activity, I finished the presentation by giving clear examples of what good slides are like. Basic stuff like pictures, big numbers, human faces, and simple infographics.

60 minutes, the workshop is over.

Own reflection

Except for the points already mentioned in the note to self, I'm quite happy with the tempo and energy I was able to generate in the room and with the teams. The day was long so this gave them a needed energy boost to get their mindset right to deliver a good pitch.

For you reading this, you might find that there are a million things missing in the structure or the up-tempo way of doing things in this workshop. You are probably correct in your assessment, but let me clarify my reasons.

The main goal was to get the teams able to deliver a clear message and dare to present on stage. The best way to go about it is by actually doing, as I've talked about in a previous post.

The corona limitations also made the workshop options somewhat more limited, since we generally avoided f2f contact, even if masks were used.

Thirdly, I tried to design the workshop to be equally useful for a digital team, which also had an effect.

In retrospect, I would have loved to get more pitch repetitions in there, but I'm not sure how I would have managed to make them go even faster considering reflection is an important part of the learning loop [test - reflect - adjust - test again].

Final comments

If you are making your own workshop and would like to get it more action-oriented, send me a message on LinkedIn and let's talk.

As a reader, what do you think? Would you have changed anything to make the workshop even better?


The slides from the event

The workshop recording from the event itself

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