By Lindsay Tanne, co-founder and COO of LogicPrep.
In our office, "pitch" is a banned word. I'll admit: As the co-founder of an educational consulting company, I used to say it when talking about the college application process. But when you work with high school students, the idea of "pitching" yourself to a university can ring pretty hollow. When I started to notice the cringing it cued among my students and their parents, I knew we could do better.
The hard part is that "pitching" is exactly what my students are doing -- and what they should be doing, for that matter. The application process is a chance to sell yourself. The issue, it seems, isn't the process; rather, it's the word.
So, if we're not actually pitching, what are we doing? As an applicant to a university or job or as a company seeking new business, if we ban the word "pitch," what words do we use instead?
In our office, we encourage students to eschew the idea of "pitching" themselves and to think instead about building a narrative. Put another way, each student is creating his or her personal brand. This word choice initially stemmed from a greater need for authenticity, and the idea of a narrative inherently carries this connotation.
For a story (narrative) to work, everything has to be connected. In any interview or initial meeting, it's important to make your trajectory clear to your audience: How did you get here? How did one interest or passion lead to another? When I interview candidates, I always start by asking them to "tell me their story."
The very way in which they narrate their lives -- how they organize events and connect them -- is immensely telling about how they view their place in the world. Similarly, when meeting with prospective clients, I almost always share the origin story of my business to provide context and create a connection.
While this was never a deliberate decision, we never use the word "pitch" to describe an initial meeting with clients. Our first encounter, instead, is a "consultation." This has always felt like an obvious choice, since the purpose of this discussion is to give advice to students and their families about the educational milestones ahead of them.
While it may not feel as obvious in all settings, the same principle holds true during the first meeting in any business. The moment that is often described as a pitch or a sale is ultimately an exchange of information, and as a business owner, you are best served by thinking of it that way. Make sure your prospective customers leave feeling better informed than when you first met.
No one wants to be "pitched" to, but everyone can appreciate knowledge. Empower your customer to make a choice that will best serve him or her.
Whereas "pitch" implies the act of throwing something blindly out into the world, "catch" suggests an exchange of energy or a snug fit. Most importantly, in the end, both parties should feel that they've had a successful outcome.
While I haven't yet taken to using this word in conversation, I think the idea of a catch provides a helpful framework. It reminds us that any relationship is about fit, which is why all interview or admissions processes should consider it.
When I evaluate candidates, I always pay as much attention to how they answer questions as I do to what they ask. We also hand out an FAQ sheet during all initial meetings and encourage prospective clients to ask questions, building time into every conversation for this exchange of information.
Sometimes, questioning the vocabulary of our standard application and business practices forces us to think about the very nature of those practices themselves. Words are not just words: rather, they're meaningful indicators of culture and intent.
Lindsay Tanne is co-founder and COO of LogicPrep, an education company that helps families navigate the college admissions landscape.