I just came back from a week long assignment helping a client company re-focus and rehearse a new sales pitch.
We discovered a handful of ways to boost its appeal. Here they are in no particular order.
It's Hard to Read the Label When You're Inside the Bottle
They assumed that their clients knew what Taxable Municipal Bonds were. Not only did the clients not know, but some of the people giving the presentation disagreed on what Taxable Munis are. This makes a sales pitch dicey, because you don't want to bore the people who do know or embarrass the people who don't. I recommend saying,"Just to remind you..." and then give them a brief description.
Be Warm and Competent
Under pressure, we can become serious, then deadly serious, and then plain deadly. Professionalism does not have to be solemn and funereal. Research by Dr. Amy Cuddy at Harvard says that 80% of how we are perceived is based on the perception of two qualities: warmth and competence. If our demeanor is cold and competent, we put ourselves at a disadvantage. I guess Little Orphan Annie was right: we're never fully dressed without radiating a little warmth.
Document Client Questions and Train People on the Answers
No matter if you pitch alone or in a group, you owe it to yourself and the company to debrief what happened in the meeting, and include the questions you received. Record all questions in a file on the company intranet and circulate the best answers among all those who present.
Don't Talk Through an Imaginary Phone
Some presenters spoke in a loud, stagey voice, as though they were speaking to Zurich from New York. When I pointed this out to them, they said it was because they often pitched over the phone. It made them appear aloof and lacking in, well...warmth. When they adjusted their tone to the size of the room, the difference was astounding. They were connecting and conversing, not lecturing.
Clean Up the Language
Grammar counts, and so does language that evokes an appropriate degree of confidence. I heard phrases such as:
"Like I mentioned..." (as I mentioned)
" Taxable munis kind of drive how we construct the portfolio." (Taxable munis drive).)
"Our process is pretty unique." (No such thing as pretty unique. It's just unique.)
"The investment team is comprised of seven people..." (The investment team comprises seven people.)
"We feel our process is rigorous. (Our process is rigorous.)
"We feel that we manage risk particularly well." (We manage risk well.)
Clean Up the Non-Language
"Ers" and "Uhms" are a normal part of talking, but when they crop up in every crevice of the sentence we are speaking, they are deadly. To weed them from your speech, learn to focus your eyes on one listener at a time. There is a correlation between "Ers" and "Uhms" and unfocused eye movements. I'm not saying it's a cause and effect, but looking away makes you more likely to "Er & Uhm," which clutters the clarity of your ideas.
Speak Like a Wedding Invitation
A wedding invitation is the most elegant written document because the text is embedded in white space. A wedding invitation is not busy and distracting; not crowded or chaotic. It stands out because it is framed by an empty space. We can speak more eloquently, and make our ideas more vivid, when we pause effectively. In speech, pausing is white space: it is silence. Silence gives your listeners a chance to relax and absorb what you say.
Write Sentence Headlines That Express a Point of View
What's a better slide headline? "Market Share?" or "We Can Dominate the Market?" That's right! The second one is better because it's a sentence, (which is a unit of thought) and it has a point of view-it's a claim. It's trying to persuade you to do something. "Market Share" is a topic: it's dry and inert. It has no intellectual content. "We Can Dominate" gets your brain working and your blood flowing, especially when the presenter proves that it's possible in the body of the slide.
Introduce the Next Slide While on the Current One
The transition from one slide (or page) to the next is a moment at which you the speaker must quickly focus the attention of the audience. For instance, with the current slide up, you might say, "Now that we've reviewed our process, let's take a look at our performance." Only then should you advance to the next slide, when you've pointed your listeners in the right direction. This helps them round the corner prepared to encounter your next point.
Dialogue is Better Than Monologue
Just because it's called a pitch or a presentation, it doesn't have to be a monologue. Do everything in your power to get them to talk before, during and after the pitch. People feel stifled by a monologue. They judge the quality of a meeting on whether or not they had a chance to talk. Just don't ask them at the end of every slide, "Does that make sense?" or, "Any questions before we move on?" Anything repetitive can get annoying.
I invite you to try out these 10 techniques and let me know if they were helpful.