It’s a fact that we fear public speaking more than death and when it involves giving a make-or-break pitch to potential clients, your boss or a potential business partner, it can feel like your fate hangs on your words.
Because not all of us can give a pitch like Don Draper, we went to Michael Parker, a pitch coach with over 20 years experience at Saatchi & Saatchi, for some no-nonsense pitching advice, from new book It’s Not What You Say, It’s The Way You Say It.
1 | Break It Down
If your pitch is structured as one long, daunting monologue, you're more likely to get stuck at key points along the way. Parker recommends breaking your pitch down into several chunks of 2–4 minutes, that way you can deliver a collection of stress-free mini-speeches.
2 | Remember The Greeks
Aristotle was an early proponent of the importance of “ethos” - meaning the character of the speaker, and saw it as essential for success when it comes to persuasive speaking. As Parker puts it “if your audience doesn’t feel you’re one of them, they won’t listen.”
To get the audience on your side you need to establish a rapport in the opening minutes. Maintain eye contact, shake hands and lean forward when seated, or move towards them when standing to create intimacy.
3 | Go In Swinging
A strong start is perhaps the most vital part of any pitch, and one that will be remembered long after you’ve gone. To make your first impression really count you need to make your opening short, easy to remember and – most importantly – easy to listen to.
According to Parker “there should be nothing too clever and no jokes.”
4 | A Winning Start Means A Winning Finish
After you’ve made a strong first impression you need to outline – with clarity and authority – what you’re going to be covering, in order to relax your audience and keep them on your side.
As Mark Twain once said, “the secret of getting ahead is getting started”.
5 | Memorise Your Signposts
A basic rule of giving a good pitch is to try and avoid tripping yourself up. You’ll have planned out what you want to say beforehand, but to stop yourself going round in circles, or skipping ahead, you need to memorise the words that signal a change of direction, helping the whole thing to flow.
6 | Be Inspired
A dull pitch is a bad pitch. If you’re going to wow your bosses or clients and get what you want, you need to be inspired and enthusiastic so that they react in the same way.
To do this, you need to look at whatever you’re pitching and find at least one aspect of it that gets you fired up. Concentrate on this and your pitch will suddenly hum with vitality.
7 | Tell A Story
Parker notes that “nothing is as powerful in a pitch as a good story.” We’re not saying you need to begin each pitch with a personal anecdote about how you’ve always wanted to go to Laser Quest for your office Christmas party, but if you can, it helps to work a short story into the pitch.
This not only gives a sense of your personality, making you more memorable, but it also taps into our ancient affinity with stories and helps you tap into the emotions of your audience.
8 | The Longer You Go On, The Less The Impact You'll Have
As Parker rightly points out, a TED talk is 18 minutes long, speed dating is five minutes long and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address lasted less than three minutes. We’re not saying you need to rattle through your pitch in under 180 seconds, but do keep it brief.
Bear in mind that the person you’re pitching to probably has a lot more people to listen to that day and they may not be as into the subject matter as you are. If your boss starts fidgeting, it’s probably a good time to start wrapping it up.
9 | Take A Breath
Professional voice coach Caroline Goyder claims that “pitches happen in the pauses”. Parker elaborates to say that during a pitch you should, "Pause to breathe deeply. Pause for thought. Pauses will make you appear confident and they help your confidence.”
Pausing every now and then will also help your audience process each point you make, leaving you with a higher chance of success.
10 | Remember, It’s All An Act
One way to take the pressure off yourself during a pitch is to think of it as a performance in which you’re playing a character (which you kind of are). Basically, it’s all about turning your pitch into an experience that will stay in the minds of the audience long after you’ve left the room.
“Think of Steve Jobs introducing the latest innovation from Apple," says Parker, "Imagination and staging can add pizzaz.” And remember to practice as much as is feasible: “With rehearsal you will become more natural on stage and more spontaneous, creating an interesting, engaging experience.”
It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It (Vermilion) is out 4 December