The Pitch Doctor Paul Boross debunks the mindset of pitching
The word ‘pitching’ is entering everyday business vocabulary, thanks to TV programmes like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. But where does pitching fit into the range of activities for today’s professional, and how can we understand the psychology of pitching in order to do it more effectively? In short, we can define a pitch as any professional interaction where you present your business, your products or your services to someone and ask them to make an investment or a buying decision as a result. Therefore, from a psychological point of view, we have two main elements; the communication of the pitch, and the decision made by the audience.
What this adds up to is that if you want to improve your pitching skills, you must not focus on your own behaviour. Trying to be more impactful, or more powerful, or more compelling is a huge mistake. What you have to focus on is that the pitch is a relationship.
Pitching is absolutely not a ‘hard sell’, and often we imagine market traders shouting their bargain prices at disinterested passers-by. If you take this approach, you’re not going to be successful, unless your business is a market stall, of course!
My point is that the pitch must always be appropriate to the audience, giving them the information that they need to make a fair and informed decision.
We could talk about all kinds of clever tricks of language and non-verbal communication, but the reality is that successful pitchers don’t concentrate on convincing everyone they meet – they focus on meeting the right people first, and delivering a consistent pitch that they can refine gradually over time, based on real feedback.
I’m going to break my advice down into the points that I help professionals with most often, because these are the areas most likely to get in the way of your next pitch.
Being nervous is a good sign, as it means that you’re connected with what’s really going on, and it’s certainly better than arrogance. Don’t worry about breathing exercises or icebreakers, as the most likely cause of anxiety isn’t what’s happening but what you’re imagining – or fearing – will happen. Change that mental image to something neutral; an audience who are interested in what you have to say, willing to listen and able make a fair decision.
Focus on the right goal
Ask your colleagues about their goals for pitching and they might say, “To win the deal”. This is a completely unrealistic goal, because you can’t control the client’s decision, and you can’t control your competitors. Instead, refocus on a goal that is totally under your control, such as “Get my message across and check that the audience understands it”.
To a professional audience, nothing is more frustrating than someone who hasn’t done their homework.
The internet is overflowing with information about companies and individuals, and to even spend ten minutes researching your audience’s business, competitors, history and goals is an investment that will tell your audience that you’re interested in them and you have tailored your pitch to their needs.
Ask for what you want
So many people say that they are pitching to inform the audience or to help them. That’s not true. You’re pitching because you want something. You know it, and the audience knows it.
Having the courage to ask for what you want will earn respect from the audience, and having the common sense to realise that the audience is giving you their time because they already know what you want shows that you respect them.
Make your pitch and then shut up. So many people repeat themselves or continue selling, becoming more and more desperate and making the audience more and more resistant.
The silence is not yours to fill, so keep quiet and let the customer think over what you have presented to them.
The pitch begins long before you stand up, and it ends long after you have left the room, as your words continue to echo in the customer’s ears. A follow-up letter is an absolute must. Keep it short, one page maximum, and use it to reiterate the main messages of your pitch. Sign off by clearly and concisely asking for what you want.
Remember, a pitch is a relationship, and so you can apply the same rules of psychology as you would for any other relationship. Have a goal or a sense of purpose, be clear about what you want, give the other person space to decide for themselves and deliver on what you promise.
Get those four things in place and everything else will take care of itself.
The Pitch Doctor is Paul Boross — and he is passionate about communication. Drawing on a career that has seen him move from primetime TV and stand-up comedy to transatlantic development deals, media consultancy and motivational psychology, Boross has worked with such power players as the BBC, Google and MTV, training executives from the worlds of business and media in a range of communication, presentation, storytelling, performance and pitching skills.
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