I enjoy pitching the same way I enjoy interviews - I admit I am a little strange in this regard. For me, it is the challenge and prospect of new business or a new business relationship that is a big motivator. But what if you are one of the many for whom pitching is somewhat of a nightmare? A process that leaves you flustered, anxious, nervous and ultimately wishing you didn’t have to do it? Well, you are not alone, various studies and statistics show that you are more likely to have this reaction to pitching than not. So what can you do about it? Here are my 5 top tips that might help...
1 - Homework
A simple place to start, but I am always amazed how many people rock up to a new client pitch without having completed any homework. I am assuming you have the basics of who you are meeting and their title, but what of the company/project at hand? If you are meeting a company for the first time, what is the latest news about them or their industry – who else are you meeting and what is their background? How far progressed is the project and what are you and the client hoping to get from the meeting? Know and practice the important information you wish to get across and take some examples if possible. You don’t need to take vast amounts of material or info to each meeting, but perhaps take a i-pad with some digital information saved as a presentation, for example. Don’t leave preparing your pitch material to the last minute, and if you are not happy with it, change it. Make sure the facts and figures stack up and can be validated.
2 - Logistics
Now we know who you are meeting and a bit more about them, take a few minutes to work out the best route to get there. Google it. Leave with plenty of time to spare and if needs be, station yourself around the corner a good 30mins beforehand in a coffee shop or somewhere close-by so you have time to relax and read your notes. If you are unclear of how long it will take to get there, plan your journey and allow enough time for mishaps. Don’t compound a potential problem by being late and rushing, it will inevitably spill over into your meeting.
3 - take your time
So, you have arrived early, know who you are meeting and are armed with all sorts of useful information. You have practiced your pitch and have a number of different questions, answers, relevant statements up your sleeve. You’ve greeted the person(s) you are meeting and are sitting down ready to introduce your team, company etc. Take. Your. Time. Take a deep breath and a moment to compose yourself and talk clearly and slowly. When we are stressed one of the resulting effects is the rate at which we talk. Our brains go into overdrive, frantically searching for words which we tend to rush and garble. Slow it down and control your pace. Give yourself enough time to think about what you are saying and how you are saying it. Your audience is far more likely to understand what you are saying and receive the message you are conveying, if you are clear. Keep it concise and try to avoid nervous rambling.
4 - Take notes
Taking notes has a number of advantages, not least having an accurate and ready recap of the meeting and being able to quickly look up the key follow-ups later. It also provides a form of comfort to your audience that you are recording and therefore listening to what they are saying. Don’t keep your head down and scribble away for the whole meeting, though… make regular eye contact and ensure you are keeping up with the content of the meeting and not concentrating on how to spell something correctly or getting every last word that was spoken down on paper. Use your notes as a recap for the next steps or for the follow-up. I never go into any meeting without a pen and a notebook, even if I write nothing more than a couple of words, it doesn’t matter. I have the ability to catalogue the important details if I need to.
5 - Follow up
You aced the meeting, getting all your important USPs or points across. You agreed the next steps and the objectives to complete. Now follow up. Not immediately having left the room, perhaps in the next 24 – 48 hours (depending on what timescale you are working towards) and make it relevant. You might wish to thank the person(s) for their time, or simply recount and confirm what actions are now taking place. Depending on the type of meeting, you may wish to consider something a little less formal for your follow up. Don’t just leave and never respond, whether you felt it went well or not. Equally, don’t also use this as free-reign to start bombarding your potential client with emails and calls, incessantly chasing the business.
The great thing about pitching is the more you do it, the more confident you become and the better the result. I admit I do have to remind myself to shut-up at times! You don’t have to be a top salesperson or super confident to pitch, being credible is just as important. Speaking with authority on your subject when you know your stuff is a powerful tool to winning work so don’t think for 1 minute you can’t do it. Of course you can.