From startup pitches to public speaking

Hichem is one of the twelve finalists of the inter-company public-speaking competition organized by Orange with the final held at the Olympia, Paris. Facing him are two other Orange competitors and nine competitors from Vivendi, EDF and Sanofi.

As an engineering graduate, he joined the Orange Graduate Program where he made an impression with his critical thinking abilities. Now the operational marketing manager for the business branch at La Défense, he intends to get back to his initial interests: AI and more specifically edge computing.

The public-speaking contest? As a specialist in startup pitches, Hichem had decided to organize a competition until he found out about the public-speaking competition while browsing the intranet. He saw it as a sign.

Determined to see if his pitching skills would carry over to this format, Hichem was above all motivated by the challenge and the desire to learn, as the participants are supported by public speaking pros.

Hichem tells us about the four stages of preparing for this one-of-a-kind competition.


Finalist in the competition

Sharing my ideas, persuading, generating interest, gaining confidence when I speak, better embodying my messages... I signed up thinking "I have nothing to lose" and, in the end, I have gained a lot! Through to this competition I have developed my communication skills, an essential quality to move up in business.

Silence is golden

There are twelve participants talking about six topics. We didn’t choose the topic or our position – for or against. It was chosen at random three weeks before the competition. On March 1, it’s the final and my topic is: are rappers the new poets? And I have been assigned the affirmative position.

Before doing any work, I went through a stage of listening to the people around me. I asked my friends, family, and colleagues, to get their opinions on the topic. It was a very interesting stage that helped me to take a step back from my initial opinion.  

By asking people I know, I wanted to understand their belief systems and values. What I was most interested in were positions that opposed the one I have to defend. So, in this case, people who think that rappers are anything but modern poets. I had to know what was stopping them, to build arguments focused on negative emotions such as reticence, fear, etc. In marketing, you would say I was looking for their pain points.    

Inquiry and counter-inquiry

Then, I needed to get to grips with the subject. As the topic was chosen for me, it is a subject I’m not familiar with. So, I had to learn a lot to get a good grasp on it.

I studied using books, documentaries, YouTube videos. And for this topic in particular I listened to rap albums, which really isn’t my favorite type of music.

I was looking for rock solid arguments to build my presentation for a position I don’t personally believe in and it was an interesting exercise.

I realized that most of our opinions are not rational, they are driven by our emotions. And then we look for arguments that support our decisions. Doing this exercise forces you to identify flaws in the logic. You investigate to prove and to disprove, you call all the “obvious truths” into question and work on your critical thinking.

It enabled me to gain some perspective on my own projects, how complex systems like society and even the world work.

Ethos, pathos, logos

Then it was time to put everything together. There are two types of argument: those to persuade and those to destroy my opponent’s arguments.

Then, I looked for a common thread to avoid just listing my points from start to finish. I tried to find the logic that would link the arguments together.

Because it was a topic that didn’t appeal to me at all, I prayed not to get it because it is a very “bottom-of-the-funnel” topic, very restricted. Rap and poetry aren’t everybody’s thing.

Luckily, we were supported, and the coaching helped me find an opening.

To persuade an audience, you need three ingredients: surprise, emotions, and persuasion. It’s not all just pure logic.

So, when I was establishing my guiding theme, I based it on these three things: ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Logos is the arguments, the facts, the logic. This is also where appeals to authority come in.
  • Pathos is the emotions you feel yourself and that you share with your audience.
  • Ethos is how my audience perceives me; I have to establish my credibility.

All of this forms the common thread that goes beyond the rational aspect of the presentation. Luckily, it’s what the coaches taught us to work on. I was supported by an actor from the Cours Florent and a public-speaking expert who gave me feedback on my posture.

Five minutes to persuade

In such a short time, everything has to be just right.

The coaches taught us to think about the three dimensions of a speech: what we say, how we say it and our body language. You have to find the right balance.

I am learning my text by heart so I can concentrate on the moment itself and embody my speech.

I have to make it seem like I’m improvising, that everything is spontaneous, when actually my body movements, the pauses, where I look, changes in my tone of voice, the flow of my speech... nothing is left to chance. The challenge is to look natural.

The other challenge is to provoke reactions. It is up to us to lead the exchanges with the audience to make them laugh, afraid, sad, etc. in order to create empathy.

I was given the opportunity to learn these techniques from great speakers and actors.

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