The Art Of The Pitch

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The Art Of The Pitch

You’re in a dark, smoky board room. Across the mahogany table sits a group of stern-looking business people in stiff suits. One takes a long drag off their cigarette. Another has a stare that seems to pierce your very soul. You stand before them discussing the latest business trends of the global market. Facts, figures, and jargon spill out of your mouth like water through a faucet. You are in a sales pitch.

Sounds familiar, right? When we think of pitches, scenes out of Mad Men or Wolf of Wall Street come to mind. But when you think about it, we’re always pitching. It’s asking a coworker for a favor. It’s discussing the next step on a project. It’s convincing your spouse that the life-size Chewbacca statue you bought wasn’t a waste of money. (It was on sale, honey. ON. SALE.)

When it comes down to it, pitching is all about persuading your audience to feel the same way you do about your ideas.

About That ‘Art’ Part

Pitching is more art than science, and like art, a pitch can be turned into a masterpiece. Now you’re probably thinking, “Art is subjective!” True, but I bet we could spot the difference in quality between a Picasso and my hand-drawn crayon doodle.

There are some rules that the greats follow and amateurs don’t. In this post, we’re going to discuss those rules to take your pitch from fridge art to a work of art.

The Essence Of Selling Is Emotion

People are emotional. I don’t mean tearing up after seeing someone ate the last of pizza (which I’ve definitely never done before). I mean we value the feelings, experiences, and connections we have with a speaker.

When we think back to the great – and awful – pitches we’ve seen, we remember how the speaker made us feel long before we remember the details of what they said. If the speaker motivates or gets us excited, then we associate those positive vibes with the speaker’s message and are more likely to respond positively. If it makes us cringe…well, not so much. People listen to passion first and logic second.

Know Your Audience

You may be the center of attention while you’re pitching, but everything – E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. – is about your audience. People want to work with others who truly get who they are. If you’re able to empathize with their struggles and goals, you’re going to connect with your audience.

Be Yourself

What do you love? Is it learning the effect of government regulations on the health care industry? Is it building lasting relationships with clients? Maybe it’s something as simple as Chick-fil-A and their oh-so-delicious sandwiches. (Is it time for lunch yet?) Anyway, the gist is to be yourself and bring your passions into the pitch. The audience will respond to your authenticity and genuine excitement. Here are some best practices for being yourself.

  • Don’t be ‘that guy’: ‘That guy’ is over-the-top, showy, and inauthentic. We all know a ‘that guy,’ and they come off as a bit of a sleaze.
  • Humor vs. jokes: Planting a joke can fall flat. Being in good humor can get you a few laughs without feeling like you’re bombing at a comedy club. 
  • Thoughtfulness: Be aware of how your audience is responding to your pitch. If you noticed they’re asleep and drool has started to pool on the table, jazz up your pitch to keep their attention.
  • Punctuation: Know when to get big or quiet down to emphasis your points. Sometimes you’ll NEED TO TALK LOUDER TO SHOW EXCITEMENT. Other times you’ll need to speak softly to deliver your point.
  • Pause: This. Doesn’t mean. Talking. Like William Shatner. It means embracing the occasional pause for dramatic effect (one of resident word nerds tells me that’s called a caesura).
  • Facial expressions: Smiling puts everyone in a good mood. It’s simple, costs nothing, and can make a difference in your delivery.
  • Ask questions: Asking questions engages your audience and encourages participation – as long as it’s relevant. Quizzing someone on what the state beverage of Nebraska is (it’s milk, by the way) probably won’t help sell your idea.
  • Movement: Embrace the stage. Know where you’re going, and use your space. A little movement can make you look confident and in charge.
  • Eye contact: Make it. Be sure to look at new member of the audience every few seconds so they feel like you’re speaking directly to them. 

Staging The Presentation

There are literally entire books covering ways to stage a presentation. Since this blog is rapidly becoming one of them, we’ll keep it simple. Take ACTION.

  • A: Start by grabbing their attention.
  • C: Capsule, or summarize your pitch in two to three sentences.
  • T: Develop a theme that holds it together.
  • I: The information. Gather the data, strategy, ideas, and work.
  • O: Be open and listen. Know what’s going on in the room.
  • N: Next steps. Start with the end in mind. What is the audience walking away with?

Pick The Right Team

Who’s your A-Team? Who’s your Hannibal, Face, Murdock, and Mr. T.? They have different names on a pitch team, but you get the point.

  • Planners: Who is thinking of the ideas and challenges?
  • Opener: Who can woo the room right out of the gate?
  • Tech Expert: Who gets the tech in order and can troubleshoot if (by if I mean when) something goes wrong?
  • Subject Matter Expert: Who is the expert and go-to for any questions that pop up?
  • Closer: Who delivers that last line that leaves the room on a high note?

If you have a team, think about who can fill those shoes. If you’re going solo, figure out how you can approach each role to kill it on your next pitch.

Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.

Not many can wing it. Even the iconic Steve Jobs took three weeks to prepare one of his coveted pitches. Rehearsing is the best way to ensure everything goes right. Drilling the pitch over and over again makes it feel like second nature. And if you have a fear of public speaking (it’s America’s most common fear, so you’re in good company), rehearsing can turn your mortal fear into a mundane part of the day. Rehearse your pitch – watch yourself succeed.

Good luck, and have fun!