I have to do a lot of pitches in my line of work.
In the past, I used to equate pitches with presentations. I’d prepare a huge deck of slides, rehearse the important points until I could confidently rattle them off, and then sit back and wait for the magic to happen.
There was just one problem: It didn’t seem to work.
The presentation would go seemingly flawlessly. The flow would be seamless, I’d have all the facts and figures at my fingertips, and when the presentation ended we’d all smile and shake hands. But when it came time for the other party to actually take action, they all seemed to get cold feet.
What was going on?
The Problem With Presentations
I always thought that pitching = presenting because that was what I saw at conferences. Some confident guy would step up, click through a bunch of PowerPoint slides and make his dazzling, rational argument about why you should hire his company or use his software.
TV reinforces our preconceived notions of pitching. Channel 8 always shows the presenter delivering a well-thought out argument, ending with the entire meeting room erupting in applause. (This is total B.S. Nobody claps after an office presentation. Nobody.)
This is the problem with most presentations: The other side is usually inherently skeptical of your argument.
Think about what you’re asking them to do: Change the way things “have always been done”, change something that seems to be working fine, and put their faith in some young punk who’s showing them a couple of fancy graphs.
Think back to the last time you had a conversation with your insurance agent. While he was talking confidently about why this is the “perfect” plan for you, you only had one thought in your head:
“How are you screwing me over?”
Pitching: Letting The Other Side Take The Lead
In his excellent negotiations book “Never Split The Difference“, Chris Voss walks through a great technique known as “calibrated questions”. These are questions designed to get your counterpart to “examine and articulate what they want and why and how they can achieve it.”
- What about this is important to you?
- How can I help to make this better for us?
- How can we solve this problem?
I won’t go too much into the technique (read the book to find out more!), but after trying it out in a couple of meetings, I’m convinced that it’s an invaluable tool in anyone’s arsenal.
Why? Because getting the other side to articulate answers and solutions guides them towards your conclusions.
In other words, I’ve learned that effective pitching isn’t about sounding smart or having the best slides. Instead, it is about putting aside your ego and helping the other side convince themselves about the points you’re trying to make.
After all, people aren’t as rational as we think. If you want the other side to truly buy into your arguments, you’ll have to convince them that it was their idea in the first place.
I’m by no means an expert at this technique – but it’s definitely something I’ll be paying close attention to in the coming months!
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