Years ago, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. I had shown my rotating label technology to the largest beverage company in the world, Coca-Cola, and they were excited about it. So excited in fact, that they quickly wanted to schedule a follow-up meeting after they saw it. I could barely believe it! They invited me to fly out and demonstrate my idea to more people and talk about sharing the technology. And that's how I found myself in Atlanta, Ga., enjoying a casual dinner with a bunch of executives. It was surreal.
At the time, I didn't have much experience pitching my ideas. And I certainly didn't have any experience pitching my ideas to a company the size of Coca-Cola. Unfortunately, I was totally ill-prepared. In my defense, I wasn't scheduled to give the presentation. But at dinner that night, my passion and excitement for my idea was palpable. After hearing me talk about it to other people at our table, the executives asked me to share my innovation with the group the next day. I accepted, of course.
Believe it or not, you too will be given this opportunity one day. I'm sharing this story with you with the hope that you'll be better prepared than I was. I didn't ask the right questions. To be honest, I didn't even know what the right questions were! To my great horror, when we arrived at the Coca-Cola campus the next day, I discovered my presentation was going to be held in an auditorium. An auditorium. Everyone was wearing suits! It was very overwhelming. As I began talking, I realized that people sitting in the back of the auditorium couldn't see my technology. I didn't have the right materials. I didn't even know how much time I had.
Unsurprisingly, I flopped. Someone kindly helped me off stage. I was mortified.
You can prevent this disaster from happening to you by asking the right questions.
First, who is your audience going to be? How many people are you going to be pitching to? Who are those people? Is it a sales team or manufacturing team? If you have this information, you will be able to tailor your presentation appropriately. For example, how many samples should you bring? Will you need a PowerPoint?
Always make sure to inquire about the physical space you'll be presenting in. Will you need a microphone? Should you use a screen? Will you be able to practice beforehand? How long will you have? Don't make any assumptions. Ask!
Having this knowledge should help you in several ways. If you can practice your presentation, this will ease your nerves and boost your confidence. But there's always the possibility of a last-minute change, and you can't let that throw you. So don't get too comfortable.
Looking back, I was really embarrassed, because I felt like I had no idea what I was walking into. And truly, I didn't. That experience, though painful at the time, helped prevent me from making the same mistake ever again. After reading this, you won't have to flop. Just ask the right questions and be prepared.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.