Pitching is one of those things that some of us love and and some of us hate. But, we all know it is a necessary part of startups and economic life in general. Here’s something many people don’t know – everyone is good at pitching, everyone is doing it everyday, and in fact, it was the very first thing we did the moment we were born. Yep, the first thing you did as a human being was pitch. Here’s how it went:
You were born into the world scared and alone as you exited the womb. You desperately wanted to stay alive, and immediately went into pitch mode. You cried for your mother to hold you, cuddle and warm you, to provide your first taste of breast milk. You put on your most adorable sad face, and used the only assets you had at your disposal – facial expressions and noise. You didn’t even have any words, but you made an immediate connection through passion and fear and hope – you connected. And it worked – you are here.
It goes further than that. You probably pitched a few times already today – proposing what to have for dinner, which movie to watch with your partner, or what to do on the weekend. You may have pitched to a work colleague on which place to get a coffee in the morning or what time to go and why. Proposing ideas, suggesting activities, it’s all a manner of pitching. And once we start to pay attention to the fact we are constantly pitching, then we can start to understand our own technique and bring it into the more formal circumstances. The best type of pitching we can do, is to bring our casual daily approach – the same approach that helped us survive in life up until now – into our business life. We need to take our natural style into those formal pitch moments. When we do this we become more endearing, believable and affable. The trick is that we need to be our natural selves. We need to embrace our natural style and personality – that same one that helped you make friends.
If you want to learn to pitch, then the best thing you can do is pay attention to the pitches you’re already doing. Take note of yourself and then take your existing informal method to places where it matters formally. You’re already a gun pitcher, you just need bring your subconscious behaviour to a conscious level.
A colleague who is in a startup pitch competition for an accelerator sent me this question:
Steve, In your experience, is it better to pitch first or last in a series of afternoon presentations?
I answered him in two parts: There is a theory that says if you’re last, you’re only competing against the one they’ve already chosen to win up to that point. But, honestly – it matters much more to be awesome & not worry about the uncontrollable things.
I guess with most projects we have the same choice on where to focus, on superstition, or super performance.
I do a lot of public speaking. When I am presenting to a large audience there isn’t a presentation where I don’t spot a person who has actually fallen asleep. Now you might think I am crazy admitting it here, but I know it has nothing to do with me. In fact, I’ve had people fall asleep and after the talk others come up and tell me it was the best presentation they’ve ever seen. Every experienced public speaker also knows this to be an inevitable reality when they hit the stage – even during the performance of a life time. The weird thing is that anyone speaking always spots the sleeper – we must have some kind of genetic disposition to finding closed eyes, even in a sea of people.
So, what to do about it when someone does fall asleep during your presentation?
Rule Number 1: Remember it has nothing to do with your talk.
We need to remember the the reason people fall asleep when sitting, standing and not lying down is because they are exhausted, not bored. Some things to remember on this point: They have probably had young kids screaming late at night and didn’t get any sleep. They might have had to catch an early flight to get there for the day. They might have been up socialising at the conference to the wee hours of the morning. They probably haven’t had any fresh air all day being stuck in hotel conference rooms. They have a stomach full of heavy food. The venture capitalist has probably sat through 24 other pitches back to back that day. And they probably had some other factor which made them exhausted. Boredom leads to imagination, distraction and people talking among themselves, not sleep. The evidence will most often be the 99% of people loving your talk, while at the same time this person sleeps. I can remember 2 times I fell alseep while listening to two of my favourite public speakers; Steven Wright the comedian who I absolutely love and Will Ferrell during his broadway show on George W Bush – You’re Welcome America. Which both were absolutely hilarious. But both times I happened to have jet lag, and the jet lag won.
Rule Number 2: Don’t obsess over them – ignore it.
No it won’t go away if you ignore it. But your performance will go away if you don’t ignore it. Remember it is not their fault, or yours, it just is. The presentation is for the person nodding their head, looking you in the eye, the person on the edge of their seat. They deserve your full attention and continued focus on the job at hand.
In the end, what we need to focus on is what we can control, and rarely is this issue something in our control. Sure, if an entire room disengages, go back and work on your speaking craft, get better. But the most important thing we can realise when dealing with people and audiences is this: we are not the only force impacting peoples reactions to immediate world around them.
In the super terrific web series Comedians in cars getting coffee, Jerry Seinfeld (the host) was asked what he thinks has more value in comedy:
A funny story which is suitable for talk show
A small bit more suited to a stand up session
Jerry had an unequivocal answer. He said; ‘A bit is gold’. He went on to say it was superior in every way to a longer piece that requires more explanation, and that’s why you leave long stories for the talk show. The gold bits need to be left for the stage – where it really matters. It’s in this episode we can hear Jerry tell the tale.
It’s the same when it comes to marketing copy or web copy or pitching for a startup. There’s a temptation to not want to leave anything important out. To give all the details so the person can work out the important bit about the project. In some ways it is a form of justification of what we’re doing. A basic fear of the simple. Almost as if we are short changing the audience if we give them less. The ironic thing is that we almost always want less. When it comes to branding and marketing, just like comedy – sound bites are gold. They are customer winning, they are pitch winning and they are life winning. The longer story is inferior.
The added beauty of the soundbite is that the receiver creates the longer version. So soundbites work harder with more people. They tell themselves whatever story they want to from there. They add the layers they want according to their perception. The sound bite is the seed, and the recipient is the soil.
Organise the worlds information
Change the world 140 characters at a time
A computer on every desk in every home
Yes we can
If people can remember our soundbites, that’s all they need to know.
I was in a business pitch which I thought went particularly well. My colleague and I were both quietly seeing this thing come to fruition after many months of development. After the meeting I was clearly excited and pointed out that I thought we’d nailed it and the deal would get done… He then pulled me up and said.
“Over my entrepreneurial and corporate career I’ve been in at least 150 of these meetings when it’s easy to think that it’s a done deal, and until it’s signed or the money is in the bank I don’t get too excited.”
This got me thinking. Of course, he was right. In most cases, the large majority in fact, the deal just doesn’t happen. That’s life in the pitching game. But if we don’t get excited by the possibility, and live in the moment, we are robbing ourselves of the journey. We are taking away 50% of the joy that goes with the unknown. Not just the result of winning, but the joy of anticipating the win before it happens. And if we fail, then it was all for nothing, and we miss out on all the pre-decision positive emotion.
The feeling that goes with a future which looks bright, is just as valuable as the reality of making it so. We ought embrace it.
Here’s 3 cool videos that have landed on my desk top that are worth sharing for different reasons.
1. A great advertisement which I’m putting in the anti-social media category. Taking a simple human truth that is top of mind for many of us as we blindly forge ahead into the world of big brother. I really do feel like we might see a lot of people moving against a digital public life soon. Is this the start?
2. Another more subtle advertisement from Quiksilver. The thing a like about this is that it moves deeply into the mind of the surfer. It unlock how emotionally attached to surfing we are. And for those who have never been inside a tube – it looks very similar to the visual in the film below.
3. Is of the art of presenting to an audience. It is the late Steve Jobs who knew how to use theatre to sell. Here he demonstrates the first ever laptop with wifi way back in 1999.