Were you born with the blood of master deal maker? If not, you’re just like the rest of us, and you’ve discovered that to sell your big ideas, you have to get the small things right.
It’s time to admit: we are cursed to believe that we’re better than we actually are. It’s this overconfidence that causes so many million-dollar pitches to flame out.
Here’s the good news: You can get a lot better at making pitches and presentations by avoiding some common pitfalls.
Here are some things to watch out for as you prepare your next pitch:
1. Don’t tell your listeners, “Stop me anytime if you have questions.”
When you welcome an interruption, it signals to your audience that you don’t have a short, tight presentation, and that you’re about to go into a meandering ramble that will not be focused and on point. It says to them that you have no confidence in the explaining power of your presentation. What you can do: Plan instead to have a short question-and-answer period near the end of your presentation.
Also you lose ‘ control‘ when you hand over the power of interruption. Your Pitch & Presentation (YOU) should decide the questions, the pause and the pace, where, how and when
. 2. Never apologise (or display neediness)
Everyone has a day where things aren’t going your way. You might feel like you have to say:
“Sorry we’re late.”
“Sorry we don’t have the numbers ready yet.”
“Unfortunately the brochure isn’t done.”
“We hate to admit it but the engineering staff didn’t get the demo uploaded.”
Instead of apologising, focus on delivering a really spectacular pitch using what you have, and forget about what you’re lacking. Why be unapologetic? Is it doing any good?
Is it doing harm? Certainly!
Because being apologetic frames you as needy, and that is a swift and deadly deal-killer.
3. Do not quote famous people (Stephen Hawkins, Warren Buffet), or famous dead people (JFK, Ben Franklin), or magazines, newspapers and other sources (NY Times, Wall Street Journal).
It’s a Classic mistake to try and hijack the credibility of others for your Pitch. Why? Because the audience knows that you’ve cherry-picked this quote or reference, and that you’re reverse-engineering some unrelated quotes to make it work for you.
What you can do instead: You need to be the wellspring of your content – you are the expert. The authority. The Word. You need to be framed as the highest expert in whatever you a pitching. You need the control. It’s your deal.
4. Limit any handouts.
The more written material you rely on to explain your ideas, the weaker your presentation is. The best in-person pitches are human-to-human interactions with limited supporting visuals. Speak directly to your audience; do not ask them to look at paper or read slides instead of listening to you.
What you can do: Limit slides and handouts to visuals that reveal new, simple and interesting thoughts, or that show design elements. For example, the US Air Force kept the design of its new spy blimp a secret, describing it only in words. Result? The $275 million program got cancelled. Now they’ve released the images of the project, which are so cool and provocative, everyone wants the spy-blimp program back.
5. Avoid getting problem and solution backwards.
Too often you see the person introducing WHAT they have, and explaining the problem it solves, or WHY they made it. This is the reverse of solid pitch structure. Great pitches begin with the big idea, and proceed to a statement of the problem, and only then introduction of the solution. This is an organic story structure that will enable you to get past the blocking filters of the buyer.
6. Don’t ask rhetorical questions.
“You’d all be interested in making more money, right?” “How many of you have lost reception when you entered a parking garage and missed an important text or call?”
It may be tempting to set up a “yes” response, but your audience recognises this as a cheap trick to establish “rapport.” Rhetorical questions annoy your audience. Imaging yourself at the receiving end. What do you think of people using these? Yes, It lowers your status.
Asking rhetorical questions is a failed technique that trivialises your content, infantilises your audience and lowers your status.
What you can do: Provide real insight on your subject that let’s the audience know you’re an expert they can rely on.