Natural born pitchers

You’re pitching ideas for as long as you can remember. You pitched the idea of owning a PlayStation to your parents. You pitched the idea of having your honeymoon in Iceland. You pitched the idea of buying a new coffee machine for the workgroup to your boss.

For sure, you haven’t been successful with all of them but I bet that when you really cared, you succeeded. You wanted it so badly that you gave it your all. You just didn’t give up.

More importantly, you were able to empathise. You were finding the reasons that matter to them. You were, in fact, looking to make it easy for the other person to say yes rather than forcing them (which often wouldn’t even have been possible) or persuading them (which often wouldn’t have worked, anyway).

This is one major aspect of pitching that gets lost when we don’t care as much. Then, we don’t try as hard to make it easy to approve. We don’t try as hard to walk in their shoes. As a result, we expect them to figure out why it’s also great for them. We leave it to them.

At least two take-aways here:

  • It’s much easier to pitch when you really care. So, if you don’t care as much, it most likely pays off to work on the idea first before pitching it.
  • It’s invaluable to walk in their shoes. They are so much more likely to approve when it’s easy for them to say “yes!”.

(PS: registration for “The Art of Pitching”-sessions opens soon. Subscribe to get notified and secure a special rate).

It’s the 1% I’m interested in

Turns out that the 1% were, in fact, golden. The 1% that music publisher Dick James was referring to in the movie “Rocketman” turned Elton John into one of the bestselling musicians of all time. Shortly after, he accounted for 4% of record sales worldwide.

Of course, the 1% wouldn’t have happened without the 99%. You need to get the shit out of your head in order to get to the gold. You need to do the hard work. Yet, if you’re willing to invest the time and effort, as Dick James concludes:

“You never know. One day, you might have enough for an album.”

The Servant Speaker

The common way of presenting is the selfish way. It’s all about what the presenter wants. She wants the audience to buy her product, to approve her project, to donate for her cause.

The overwhelmingly dominant way to get there is to praise the product, the project, the cause. She tells us how awesome it is, how gorgeous it looks, and how much better it is than the previous version.

About the only thing she doesn’t tell us is why this is for us. Why should we care about the new AI powered steering wheel? Why would we want a camera that has even more megapixels? She expects us to chime in when she cheers for her product when she didn’t even spend a minute on listening what we care about.

The servant presenter has a different approach. She makes it 100% about the audience. She makes us feel welcome and heard. Because she did hear us. She did the hard work of understanding what matters to us. She cheers for us. Not by praising us but by acknowledging us. By understanding what’s important for us.

So she starts with why we should care and develops everything from there. That, by the way, is why she didn’t even think about increasing the megapixels, in the first place, but instead improved night vision. It’s why the servant speaker doesn’t talk about storage but about carrying 1000 songs in your pocket.

The servant speaker wants to make change happen. By caring deeply for her cause and for her audience, she makes her audience see and feel why that change is important. And as a result people will buy her product, approve her project, or donate for her cause.

Read the The Servant Speaker Manifesto.

We’re online, but we’re human

Sometimes, things heat up in meetings – especially when important, existential questions of the company are at stake.

Today, when we all meet online, things get even more difficult. When opinions drift apart, it’s easy to misunderstand what others try to say. The subtle subtexts of communication are rather muted over video: Gestures, facial expressions, the tone of voice – all these signals which we easily decode in interpersonal settings are much harder to recognise on a small screen. A single misunderstood word can quickly lead to a heated discussion when subtext is missing.

In online settings it’s vital to remember that we’re all humans, that nobody’s perfect, and that we’re all in this together. Everyone tries to do their best.

Being empathetic helps greatly: Did she really mean it that way? Was it maybe just poor wording? Might she even be right with her perspective? In times like these, everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

A few other means to keep it human: Always be polite. Let others finish before you disagree. Avoid destructive criticism and keep your comments constructive. Good ideas thrive in a constructive, forthcoming atmosphere.

Here’s a suggestion for your next meeting, online or offline: Start by saying something nice to someone!

Honestly now, what did you spend your youth dreaming about?

There are at least a hundred good reasons why a Porsche would be a better car than either a Mitsubishi or a Nissan. The opposite is true as well, of course. Yet, I believe that never even once has a Porsche been sold for any of these reasons.

One reason for buying a Porsche is “because you can”. You are now in a position that you can make your youth dreams come true. And that’s what some people do when they buy a Porsche. At least this is what Porsche’s ad suggests.

If you belong to the group of people who resonate with this kind of message, what this ad does for you is that, from now on, whenever you see a Porsche, you’ll see someone having made his or her youth dream a reality. And Porsche hopes that you go on to ask yourself: “Why didn’t I?”

Often, it’s not the good reasons that make us buy something but the real reason that’s grounded in emotions and desires.

Keep it simple

Pitching was complex before. These days, it has only become more complex.

Transitioning most of our communication to online meetings brings in new sources of distraction. It’s hard for people to stay focused when they listen to small rectangular videos of people instead of interacting with them directly.

In these times, it’s more important than ever to keep it simple. To make your words easy to understand. Because only when people understand will they be able to relate. And only when they can relate to your words will they want to stay focussed.

Yet, there’s one important distinction: Simplifying your words doesn’t mean simplifying your concepts. By all means, make your concept as elaborate as is necessary. But speak about it in words as simple as possible.

John F. Kennedy did the same thing when he committed an entire country to flying to the moon. This was one of the most complex projects of all time. Yet, he managed to put all of this complexity in a nutshell using these simple words:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Changing the game

In many pitch presentations, there’s a struggle between how people perceive the decision maker’s status and how they want the decision maker to perceive their own status. It can’t both be higher status, yet that’s what many try to balance.

When someone asks for an investment, the natural reaction for most is to perceive their status as lower. After all, it’s the investor’s decision to invest or not. So, people act accordingly. It shows in the way the decision maker lets you wait. It shows in the way people let the decision maker handle the agenda. And it also shows in the way people prepare their story: they will try to please the decision maker.

They do this by playing a high status game. By praising their product, their team, and their achievement, by painting glorious pictures of market potential and future profits. They try hard to raise their status. Or rather, they try hard to give the impression of having high status.

Because what they actually do is cement their status. People acknowledge the other party to be in charge precisely because they try so hard to please the other party. The struggle is this: How can you acknowledge the decision maker’s status without lowering your own?

By changing the rules of the game. You don’t convince the decision maker but make her see. You don’t praise your idea but tell the truth. Because – if you’ve done the hard work of actually making a great product – all you have to do is paint a realistic picture. So that the decision maker doesn’t have to be persuaded because she will decide to do the right thing when only she can see it.

This is the art of pitching: resonate with what the decision maker believes and make her see what’s the right thing to do.

(On March, 4th I’m launching a new service to make that happen for you. Check out the site to get notified about the details.)

One more thing

It’s been a great presentation so far. Time’s up. But: You can say one more thing. What will it be?

Will it be a thank you? Or something that’s off script but right from the heart? Something you didn’t dare to say before this nudge? Or a restatement of your core message? Will it be the most exciting thing you intentionally spared for last because you were planning for that one more thing? Or something memorable? Inspirational?

What will it be?

And what if you prepared everything that you say with the same attention to detail as this one more thing?

Oh, and one more thing: I’m about to launch a new service designed to teach you the Art of Pitching. In an intense session, we’re going to craft the story of your next pitch.

Keep it small

Meetings have a bad reputation as time wasters. That’s not going to magically improve when we transition to online meetings.

It’s even harder to coordinate who is speaking. It’s even harder to keep track of progress because everything we write down has to fit onto a small screen. No flip charts, whiteboards or other media that you can all maintain simultaneously in a face-to-face setting in order to visualise what’s being said.

At the same time, it’s much easier to get distracted while sitting in your home office. If it’s not your turn, if what’s being said is boring or repetitive, your mind is much more likely to be attracted by things lying on your desk than it would be in a face-to-face meeting.

Keeping the number of participants small has been a great way to increase the efficiency of many meetings before. It’s even more valuable online. In a small group, It’s easier to organise whose turn it is, it’s harder to tune out and it’s much easier to focus on a goal as fewer egos have to be balanced.

On the other hand, a big advantage of online meetings is the ability to record it. There is no need for attending a meeting “just to be in the loop”. You can always watch the recording later.

Thoughts on commodities

Is your product a commodity or is it something special that people will go the extra mile for and pride themselves for having done so?

Electricity surely is a commodity. Salt as well – unless it’s the Amethyst Bamboo 9x. What about the mobile phone? Approximately 4.8 billion people own a mobile phone today. Has it become a commodity? Or the iPhone. Is the iPhone a commodity? It’s been sold roughly 1.5 billion times. Can something at that scale not be a commodity? Well, apparently. At least for some people it’s far from a commodity. It’s a device that millions of people look forward to hearing news from. People don’t do this for commodities.

There’s also the other extreme of 1:1 service. Can individual 1:1 service be a commodity? Can a service which promises a solution to your individual problem be a commodity? Apparently. Because millions of people each week get their individual teeth problems solved with a highly standardised service. In essence, although it‘s your individual problem and noone’s teeth are just like yours, the process to cure them works across quite a range of people and given that everything else is the same, you wouldn’t notice any difference.

Of course, everything else is not the same. The service may be human or robotic. It may be a nice environment or an ugly one. They make you wait an hour or treat you on time. They smile or they don’t. You feel welcome or you don’t. You may feel like there’s nothing more important than you or you may feel like everything’s more important than you.

So, where do you fit into this spectrum? Is your product a commodity? Or is it extraordinary? How about the experience of interacting with you? Do you make them feel special? Is it a 5-star service that you provide?

Keep in mind, though, that a 5-star service in itself can be a commodity as well. The perfectly polished, yet soulless hotel suite that you would exchange in a heartbeat for the warm and welcoming 2-star room of Grandma Elaine’s family operated hotel, is not much more than a premium priced commodity for the rich. Whether your product is a commodity or not has much more to do with how you yourself treat it than with the product itself.

How you communicate your product has a huge impact on how people perceive the product. Is your choice of words bland, boring and interchangeable or do you have a distinct voice that speaks to the hearts of your customers? When you speak to us, do we feel like in this moment nothing’s more important than us? If you’re gone, would we miss the personal tone of your brand story that resonated so well with our own values?

Everything is not the same if you don’t make it the same … if you dare to find your own voice … if you dare to show your passion … if you dare to make a difference.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz