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A Quick Lesson in Pitching and Presenting (Face It, You Can Do Better)

Media coach Bill McGowan outlined what makes a good presentation and the pitching pitfalls entrepreneurs should avoid.
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Every entrepreneur has to pitch their product or company at some point. Sometimes they have to when they least expect it. But what is most important that they say the right thing at the right time so they can make that sale or close a funding round. Teaching people how to do this is Bill McGowan's specialty. CEO and founder of media training company Clarity Media Group and two-time Emmy Award-winning corespondent, McGowan has worked with thousands of people on their presentation skills--including Jack Welch, Sheryl Sandberg, Kenneth Cole and Eli Manning. In his new book, Pitch Perfect, McGowan outlines the do's and don't's of pitching and how to master the art of persuasion. 

In an interview with Inc.'s Abigail Tracy, media guru McGowan talked about his book and shared tips on how entrepreneurs can best present themselves. 

Your new book focuses on how people can craft pitches or presentations so that they get their messages across the right way, the first time. What is the best approach for entrepreneurs to successfully pitch their company or product? 

I think every business today needs to have some kind of narrative around the culture of their business because it has such a big impact on how people view a business. What we are trying to do is get people to move away from saying things like 'we have a collaborative culture' or 'our culture fosters innovation.' It’s the illustration of these points rather than just thinking that making the point is sufficient.

People probably come into contact with this storytelling material almost every day or several times a week--stories that are revealing and help illustrate what they want to promote about themselves or their business. People should jot these stories down as they happen day to day and realize that they make, fabulous material for speeches, for presentations and for media interviews.

The night before a speech or presentation is not the time to be trying to wrack your brain thinking of a way to illustrate a point. 

So how do you suggest they illustrate these stories? 

They must make sure that they have a declarative, concise way of articulating what is distinctive about their proposition. They have to get outside of their own head. It is really not all about the entrepreneur, it is about who the end person is who is going to be using his or her product or interacting with his or her service.

I think too many entrepreneurs spend months and years developing something and end up in this mental silo--most of them need to be reminded that the real value of what they have created is the value that exists to the customer. They have to see it from the standpoint of the customer. This mental shift is really, really important and entrepreneurs have to spend enough time thinking about how they are going to articulate the practical use of this product by the end user. 

What keeps an audience enagaged and interested? 

If you had to boil it down to one thing, it would be to display enthusiasm for the value of the information that they are sharing. I think that sometimes business people get on a panel and they re in a position where they are saying something maybe for the five-hundredth time and it starts to become very routine.

It’s vital that they somehow summon the enthusiasm that they had in the very beginning each time that they talk about it and to really have that on display showing that what they are telling or sharing is really useful, really valuable and to not be apologetic in showing that enthusiasm. Most people just sort of mail in their content. 

What if you lose the crowd's attention? How do you get it back?

It's something we call a drumroll line. A drumroll line is a way to warn your listener that you are about to tell them something of consequence--you want to collapse your storytelling and cut to the punch line really efficiently.

The drumroll line could be something along the lines of 'here is probably the biggest impact our product will have on people who use it' or 'here is why I think that what we have built will distinguish itself in the marketplace.' It is a line that tees up your biggest thought. You need to give your audience a warning that you are about to give them your big thought as opposed to just sort of wandering into that big thought without warning. 

What are your tips for panel events?

I think that one mistake that a lot of people make is that at most they research the moderator or ask for the questions ahead of time, but don't do enough research on the other panelists. Typically most of these people have gone on the record as having a particular point of view or an answer that they give when some common questions come up.

I think it is best not to put yourself in a situation where you have to come up with something spontaneously and if you know in advance what they are likely to say, you can more easily riff of it, develop an intelligent counter position or amend the thought in a way that puts a good light on you. 

What advice do you have for people who find themselves on a panel where another panelist is monopolizing the conversation? 

This is a big problem and not many moderators know how to keep tight control over equally dispersing the floor time of the panelists. I think that they have accept the notion that not all the conversational traffic has to flow through the moderator. Its not a matter of 'speak only when you are spoken to.' If they have an idea that is triggered when one of the other panelists is talking, they should wait for an opening to be able to wedge themselves in to add it.

People shouldn't allow the moderator to get control of the floor back and perhaps push the panel discussion in a completely different direction because they could miss an opportunity to bring up that point. 

 

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 3, 2014

ABIGAIL TRACY

Abigail Tracy is a staff reporter for Inc. magazine. Previously, she worked for Seattle Metropolitan magazine and Chicago magazine.




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