You can only ever do your best but make sure that it is. Ensure that you deliver well and connect emotionally. There’s a great quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Enough said really. But do recognise that people make decisions based on a mix of rational and emotional factors. It’s not always possible to understand why you lost a pitch and sometimes it’s pointless trying to find out why (and in any case you may know) although it’s always useful to ask for feedback. You may have brilliantly addressed the rational element of the decision that the client must make. But the client’s choice will depend on a whole raft of emotional factors too – how well you understood them, whether you spoke their ‘language’, the extent to which you made them feel confident and valued and so on. It’s not always down to price either.
When you do your research, you will hopefully understand something about your client’s personality and also that of your immediate pitch audience. Adapt to personality types. Body language is important too in a pitch scenario and you need to be sure that yours is not aggressive, threatening or subservient. Similarly, people will watch how you hold yourself, how you stand and wonder why you keep hitching up your trousers or fiddling about with a piece of jewellery. Everything you do is observed.
Ensure that you feel and look confident. But be aware of cultures, expectations, manners and anything that your audience will expect you to know – from the right way to address people to who’s hand to shake first. And even sometimes for how long it should be shaken. If you need to get practice in looking confident and delivering in a confident way, then maybe get some coaching. The TED video involving Amy Cuddy on presentations is a good guide too. As are Vince Stevenson’s excellent videos on the College of Public Speaking website.
Some cultures expect a ‘them and us’ seating arrangement. If you can influence the seating style, then try and avoid all of you staring at all of them. Every member of the pitching team will need to introduce him or herself and explain their role. Don’t allow overload here. It’s both boring and confusing. Keep this information relevant and simple. In some cultures, an expertise and credentials opening introduction is expected. In other cultures, a less formal and more personal introduction is the norm. Either way, keep what you say accurate and brief.
If you don’t listen, really listen, then you’re likely to fail. Sometimes it’s very easy to want to fill in any gap with what you feel you need to say, but if people in the room are speaking then you must listen. You can of course manage someone who is taking up valuable pitch time but do that with huge care and sensitivity. The rule of thumb is to not just hear, but to listen.
Almost lastly, although it’s probably the most important aspect of pitching, do tell stories. When people listen to a story to which they can connect – emotionally and practically, a whole host of cognitive functions take place. There’s a dopamine release, neural coupling and mirroring to name a few. So, during the presentation, use stories, anecdotes and short case studies to bring the material or your proposition to life. Do not go on and on, do not bore and don’t tell jokes for the sake of it. Stories also offer a great way to simplify complex ideas – through the use of metaphors or analogies. And most topics in any pitch can be set into any story shape.
Finally, control time keeping and the pitch ending. You need to ensure that you use the allocated time for presenting and questions but you absolutely must finish on time. And before you finish there should be a strong summary reinforcing the key points of your proposition and making it abundantly clear why the client should choose you and what you have to offer over anyone else.
Is your pitching ability holding you back from selling your products or attracting funding for your business? In the course of just one day, Elaine Powell can help you to deliver a powerful pitch for any context.