Seema Menon, of Toastmasters International, reveals how to pitch ideas in an attention-grabbing, effective way to boost both your career and your confidence
There is a lot to think about when pitching an idea. The skills involved are ones that we need to keep improving as some of us need to pitch to people daily while others will find themselves pitching at important points in their careers. The reality is that if your pitch isn’t right, the person will say no, and you’ll lose their interest. So, what do you need in a pitch to make it successful?
Hold the pitch
Hold back initially – rather than launching into pitch mode, begin with a ‘dynamic change story’ (DCS) using one of the prominent transformational disruptions that are happening in the industry. It must be an attention-grabber and alert them that if these changes are not embraced sooner or later, the organisation will suffer. Once its significance has been clearly highlighted, you’ve generated interest and they will be more likely to listen carefully.
Like a movie, the DCS must have intrigue, buzz, excitement, relevance and a little fear (if change is not adopted). At this stage, you’re gently shaking them out of their comfort zones. Having gained their undivided attention – it’s time to pitch.
Transition to the pitch
Imagine you are hungry and doing food shopping at a supermarket; you project your present hunger on to the future and end up buying a whole lot of stuff. In cognitive terms, ‘projection bias’ is the tendency to project current preferences onto a future event. The idea of a DCS is to create a projection bias within the person you’re pitching to so that they are hungry for the pitch and want to hear more. Here’s how:
Go with one idea
Most pitches inundate the client with a multiplicity of themes and ideas. Even though the pitcher may have many brilliant ideas it is necessary to discipline oneself to pitch a single, enticing idea. This single idea must make a difference to the client and the pitcher must have this conviction.
Cut through confirmation bias
When two professionals meet there is often an attempt at conversational dominance; impressions are created and challenged, rapport is built (or not) – cognitive transactions are going on both explicitly and tacitly. Human beings can categorise others in less than 150 milliseconds and so, over a 10-minute pitch, just imagine how many judgements they are making. Clients then compare these impressions with their pre-existing ideas and knowledge. This is known as ‘confirmation bias’.
People, generally, have certain presuppositions and cognitive biases – they come to the meeting to validate their biases and are busy acquiring proof to supplement their thoughts. Your pitch, therefore, has to cut through this and make it interesting enough for them to consider a new idea. In other words, the pitch must make the listener temporarily suspend his/her pre-existing notions about the pitcher.
The pitch has to create expectancy or hope in the person about where they could be if they adopted your idea. The pitch must answer the key question: why should the client adopt the idea suggested now? What difference will it make to them if they buy-in right now? And why would waiting be a mistake?
Point out what’s being missed
The iceberg that struck the Titanic was almost invisible. Continuous melting had given it a clear, mirror-like surface which reflected the water and dark night sky. This type of iceberg is called a ‘blackberg’. It is possible that the crew were looking right at the iceberg from a distance and didn’t see anything unusual. Introduce the blackberg in your pitch.
The blackberg is the risk everyone is missing. Now suggest how the person’s organisation is going to suffer if they don’t deal with this and make the changes you are suggesting.
Manage the momentum
It is important to maintain momentum throughout your pitch. If possible, leave questions to the end, but if this is not feasible then provide quick explanatory answers and move on – you can come back to them for a fuller explanation later. You don’t want to let questions distract the client (or you). Often the answers to such questions are already part of your pitch – it’s just the potential client jumped in too soon. Ensure you keep control of the pitch – and don’t let others side-track you and take you from your path. A good pitcher keeps retrieving the control despite the attempts, through questions, to alter its course.
Once the idea has been pitched, it needs to be emotionally enhanced to induce buying interest or a movement forward to the next phase of buying.
Getting to the close
Urgency is a form of persuasion and it precipitates action. Provide examples of organisations that are flourishing thanks to embracing a similar idea to yours.
People buy emotionally and justify rationally – therefore, the end of the pitch must not make the person logical or rational; on the contrary, it must heighten their emotional intensity.
Remember that whether you are new to pitching or are experienced, skills can always be honed.