PortXL’s first digital event SHAKEUP is approaching and we can’t wait to introduce you to the special guests we have lined up. One of them is pitch coach Frank Smallegange. Together with PortXL Acceleration Manager Grace Paranjape, Frank will explain to companies how to present an innovation challenge that excites in order to attract promising opportunities for collaboration.  

How did your journey start as a pitch coach?

I was trained as a chemical engineer, I have worked in IT services and as a hobby I started doing improv theatre. Then I combined those activities and that made me become a pitch coach for tech start-ups. I know how to present in front of an audience and I am not afraid of the technical stuff.

Do you still attend improvisational theatre regularly?

Yes, I teach improv as well. That’s the lovely thing about my life: in the daytime I can be talking about hi-tech and in the evening I would be directing interactive children’s theatre. Both are frighteningly similar. (laughs)

You coach tech start-ups in how they need to present their solutions. For this workshop at SHAKEUP, you will be coaching organisations on how to pitch their innovations challenges to those same start-ups.

I work on giving a message more impact and that can be a tech message, but it can be anything really. Most of the time these challenges are quite technical as well. The goal of the workshop is to show what kinds of challenges PortXL is good at. That will be Grace’s part. My job will be to have companies present their challenges in exciting ways. The idea is to make a challenge sound urgent; it has to be done now and we need to feel that it should be possible.

Increasingly we find ourselves talking to our computer screens during business meetings. What are some of the main differences to you between presenting online and offline?

The big difference is that you speak to large audiences, but you don’t see them. It’s a one-way conversation and that’s what makes it so tiresome. You get too little feedback and every sentence you say becomes a small presentation. I believe that every meeting becomes a series of speeches, because dialogue is very hard online.

For companies intending to present their challenge, what is the best way to structure their speech so that people comprehend it?

A chronological sequence is always easy to keep track of; once upon a time, there was this and then that happened. But make sure to stop in the middle of the story, because we don’t live happily ever after. We are at the darkest moment, in the belly of the beast – in terms of the Hero’s Journey – and now we need the hero to solve the situation.

It’s funny you mention the Hero’s Journey. We have just published a podcast with two of our PortXL Alumni, Hjalmar van der Schaaf and Martijn de Ruiter. There the Hero’s Journey came up as well and we realised how it is still a useful and engaging story structure to use. Turning your customer or partner into a hero, that triggers people, because everyone is experiencing that journey on a personal level.

The hardest part is turning your customer into the hero. Our first inclination is to be the hero ourselves. The question becomes: what’s our role in the customer’s journey? To me, PortXL represents the role of the mentor in that journey.

Learn how to deliver an urgent and exciting speech to potential collaborators in the session with Frank during SHAKEUP on June 25th. Listen to the podcast with Hjalmar van der Schaaf and Martijn de Ruiter here and skip to the 23:50 mark, exploring aspects of storytelling as mentioned above.