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When starting or running a business, most people will tell you that a quality pitch to investors or potential partners will sell your venture itself. The investors, partners, and potential clients will line up if you have language skills and can tell a unique, compelling story and explain financial returns. So the story goes…
That thinking is misplaced.
The most extraordinary concepts in the world won’t sell if no one knows about them. It’s on your shoulders to go out and talk about your ideas and concepts – as much as they speak for themselves. Your pitch is the power behind the process of letting people know about your company or projects.
Most people think that a pitch is something to fear and avoid at all costs. It’s those unknown moments when the world can collapse on you.
The pressure to convey everything about your hard work in a few simple sentences — or in a few short minutes — can bring people to their knees (literally, when they’re doubled over in fear). It’s basically public speaking and only a rare handful of that kind.
However, the truth is simple. Powerful pitching is a skill you can learn, just like good writing. The main difference is that it can take years and years to become a proficient writer, but it can only take a few hours to become powerful at pitching.
As someone involved in hundreds – if not thousands – of pitches worth millions of dollars, I know how true this is. I’ve been on both sides of pitches to (and from) industry, production companies, studios, investors and major television networks.
I always thought it was about how good my public speaking skills were. The real truth is that the talking piece is just one aspect of the bigger picture.
Different elements of a pitch deliver great results, and it’s not just about how well you perform during the presentation.
You may have a lot more control over a pitch meeting than you think
I started to focus on the other parts of pitch meetings and saw our company’s success rate increase dramatically. We now have more than 11 TV shows approved by major networks and approval from more than 50 networks around the world to be our affiliates. For every 15 TV shows we pitch, about 11 are approved, which is much higher than the industry average.
This broader view doesn’t just work in the media industry — my insights apply to any industry, as I’ve seen repeatedly when coaching people on everything from phone accessories to artificial intelligence.
Today I want to walk through three easy ways to listen with your eyes and improve your pitches. Paying attention to one of these secrets will help you move your big meeting closer to the direction you seek.
The full list is much longer than three items, but if I take these three from my book, One sentence aheadis an excellent starting point for jumping out the door after a meeting.
Related: The secret to pitching your business plan in just 10 minutes
1. Pay attention to the body language of the people in the room
Are they distracted looking at their phone or notepad or documents? This shows that they have too much on their mind and you need to be quick and short to get their attention. Are they slumped in their chairs, showing that they are relaxed but possibly not interested? If so, you need to have a powerful attention-grabbing distractor to get things going. Do not immediately start with your rehearsed pitch.
Most people are so focused on getting their point across about their concept or business that they forget the simplest of all pitching “rules” – think about the other person more than yourself.
2. Notice how the person on the other side of the table breathes
Yes. You read that right: breathing. Who cares about that as long as the person is there?! I know you think that, but the reality is that people tell you a lot about themselves by the way they breathe. Do they only breathe through their mouth? Or their nose? How ridiculous is this, you ask? I can hear you yelling at the screen or thinking out loud in your head as you want to stop reading my words… and yet… aren’t you curious where this is going?
I notice every detail about a person when I’m talking to them, and it gives me clues on how to steer the conversation. You’re the one making the pitch, so it’s to your advantage to be able to steer everything. If another person is in the “decision-making chair,” their seat matters the most.
So back to breathing. When someone breathes fast, they’re in a hurry… physically maybe, but also mentally. That means you have to get straight to the point. If they’re breathing slowly, they’re a thinker and they need to digest things… so talk more slowly. Look for signs that they understand your message and then move on. It’s like a dance.
3. Look at people’s shoes
If you’re a woman reading this, you know what I’m talking about. If you hear high-heeled shoes clicking and clicking down a hallway, you’ll know that the shoe’s small rubber tip has come loose (or worn), and you’ll hear the metal spike as it hits the ground. So annoying. But also a clear indication of the type of person they are. They either work too hard or have too hectic a schedule to fit anything else in…OR they don’t notice the noise (seriously?), which means they are NOT a detail person…OR it means they don’t care themselves often enough. If that stiletto is quiet, you better be polished. They are.
What does it matter, you ask? Well, you should. Your job is to understand the driving forces of the person you are pitching to. If you don’t know what motivates them, you don’t know how to pitch them. If you don’t know how to pitch them, you probably can’t sell them for your project. And in the end they have something you need, otherwise you wouldn’t be there.
So if you listen with your eyes during a pitch meeting, you start to hear – or gather – a huge amount of information that you might otherwise have missed.
This concept is vital for boosting your confidence when you walk through the door. If you think there’s a chance that you have some control – however small – it helps to eliminate a piece of the unknown. You want to be in control as much as possible during the meeting.
If you focus on one, two, or all three of those things, remember that each will help you better understand the style of the person you’re pitching to. Knowing what drives someone else will bring you closer to getting someone to take up your project.
The more often you do those things, the more people will appreciate your attention. They will appreciate your professionalism because you talk to them in a way they want to receive. The result? They will pay more attention, making them more willing to work with you.
The best thing about this whole concept is that you can increase your control over the pitching process by being well aware of the people in the room and how best to communicate with them…. no matter who is on the other side of the table, even if it is a prominent VC or investor.
Related: The 5 surefire steps to presenting your story to the media