Shark Tank is unlike most pitch environments. It is structured for maximum entertainment value. As a viewer, you see a 10-minute snapshot of the process and are led to believe the limited interaction between Sharks and product creators is a fast and brief encounter. In reality, the meeting is several hours, with rapid-fire questions making it a challenge for even the best presenter or negotiator.
I recently spoke with the creators of Sunscreen Mist, Tony Fayne and Josh Kaplan, whose appearance on Shark Tank aired May 8, 2015. They described their experience with Mark Cuban and the other Sharks and why they ultimately didn't listen to Cuban.
Active Listening Is Required of Both Parties
Listening is a difficult skill to learn. Anyone can be a passive listener--sitting in a room, hearing others speak, observing the conversation. Being an active listener, however, takes practice in order to understand what is being asked, add meaningful content to the conversation, and follow the discussion.
The guys think their product didn't receive investment because the Sharks didn't fully understand the concept. They feel that as the product was explained, each Shark had his or her own set of questions and concerns. Tony and Josh were never able to completely address each Shark's individual concerns and hesitations.
The Shark Tank experience creates a frenzy for airtime, and the Sharks can get caught up in making sure they are heard, which affects their ability to truly listen.
Understanding Your Audience Is Key to Listening.
Any time you present, knowing and understanding your audience allows you to craft a direct and meaningful conversation. You identify your listeners and cater to their individual personalities and needs.
Tony and Josh believe one of the key mistakes they made was failing to target a specific Shark, which put them at a disadvantage. If they had targeted one Shark as a strategic partner, they would have been more successful in the tank.
When you are in a similar situation, think about your ideal listener and craft your message for that one individual. Yes, you risk losing others in the audience, but you are pitching and presenting for a specific purpose. The more specific you are with the purpose, the more successful you will be.
Listening Requires Space
To facilitate listening, you must control the speed of the discussion. Slowing the presentation, allowing room for your audience to catch up through meaningful pauses and the pace of your words, provides needed space.
Tony and Josh say they were trying to address multiple questions all being asked at once, leaving them unable to tackle any particular point successfully. They never gained control of the conversation in a meaningful way and needed a technique that would allow them to slow down the conversation. Had they been able to slow down, process the questions, and address their audience in a controlled manner, their pitch might have better hit its target.
How They Did Listen
While Tony and Josh were unable to secure an investor, they say they did listen to some of the Sharks' recommendations.
During the pitch, the pair was encouraged to make modifications in the size and power of their product--both have been completed. There was also a concern the product wouldn't able to meet the needs of the general population due to cost and location. The pair is trying to appeal to a larger audience by making their product smaller and more accessible through partnerships that facilitate accessibility.
Would they go back into the tank? Absolutely, but with a different strategy than the one they used before.