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Pitching for Business in UK plc

The Apprentice is back on television in the UK, and with it comes the inevitable media focus on entrepreneurial business skills and, in particular, the art of pitching.

Almost every episode of the popular, business based cross between a reality program and a game show features the contestants having to make a pitch.

They pitch for business, pitch for orders, pitch ideas and they pitch to keep their jobs in the boardroom showdown at the end of each week's task.

What does this say about the bigger world of business in UK plc?

For a start, pitching is something that everyone in a business needs to do at some point – even if it's only in their interview and annual performance appraisal. Most staff have to pitch ideas, pitch for resources and pitch themselves for promotions.

And one thing that I can say, having seen thousands of pitches first hand, is that UK plc's HR department needs to invest in developing our collective pitching skills if we are to compete on a world stage.

Does this mean that staff in other countries outshine us? No, definitely not. I believe that our front line business men and women are easily amongst the most professional and capable in the world. But to compete, you have to be more than good enough. You have to be better. Much better.

As The Pitch Doctor, I make a living helping people to refine their pitch. I help them to focus on their key message, connect with the audience and get their message across. So what are the most important tips that I can offer you, and the contestants in The Apprentice, to make sure you make the most of every opportunity to pitch?

Here are my Seven Secrets to a Successful Pitch, taken from my book 'The Pitching Bible', available from all good book shops and published by CGW Publishing at £14.99, ISBN 9780956535825.

Secret 1: It’s All About Them

Apparently, a fear of public speaking is one of the most common problems in the world of business. According to one survey, people fear it more than death.

There are many, many techniques that you can learn to overcome any fear of presenting, but you don’t need any of them. You just need to master the first secret.

Think about the worst presentation you have ever seen. Did you find that the presenter just read from the slides, didn’t interact with the audience and droned on even though no-one was listening? Did the presenter appear ’self conscious’?

All of these problems arise from the same source: the first and most fundamental mistake that people make when pitching is that they focus on themselves instead of on the audience.

Secret 2: By The Time You Start, It’s Already Too Late

When does a pitch start? Most people say the pitch starts when you show the first slide, when you stand up to speak, or even when the audience walks into the room.

They are wrong. The pitch starts the moment the audience buys the ticket or the moment your audience first commit to listening to your pitch. It is then their expectations start to form, and that is the point from which you must be able to influence them.

Secret 3: Steady, Ready, Pitch!

The audience has to be ready to listen before you start speaking. Get their attention and build rapport with them. Avoid ice breakers, because they actually distract from the topic of your pitch and break this rapport. Pausing before you begin is a sign of control, so take all the time you need.

Secret 4: Dream The Dream

Your pitch, your idea, was created in a dream world. In order for that dream to become a reality, you need to draw the audience into that dream.

Drawing the audience into your dream with rich, vivid, emotional, sensory language allows you to convey far more than you ever could describe in facts, figures and ‘benefits’. Bring your pitch to life and let your words carry the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells of success.

Secret 5: Mind Your Language

While 93% of your message may be conveyed non-verbally, there is no doubt your language conveys the raw information your audience needs to make a decision.

For example, traditional sales training advocated selling ‘benefits’ rather than ‘features’. A nice idea in principle, but let down by poor execution. The traditional ‘feature means benefit’ model of presenting something is actually the wrong way round. By the time you’re half way through describing the feature, the audience is already thinking about the benefit. Otherwise they have no interest in it whatsoever. When you finally get round to the benefit, it will be different to what they had in mind. Even the most subtle difference will break rapport with your audience. Do that enough times and you’ve lost the connection altogether.

Try ‘benefit because of feature’ instead, and you’ll win more pitches.

Secret 6: Say It Again, Sam

No doubt you have heard the old presenter’s adage “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them again”. Get your message across in as many different ways as you can, and realise all of the different communication channels you’re not using: the way you dress; the way you walk into the room; what you say in the invitation email. All of these communicate your intention, and when they are aligned, you multiply the power of your message.

Secret 7: The End… Or Is It?

Every rock star understands the importance of an encore. It’s the thing most concert-goers rave about. Some performers make the audience wait for up to an hour before being reluctantly coaxed back onto the stage for one more song…or two…or 10.

I wouldn’t expect your audience to be shouting “More!” at the end of your pitch, but they should certainly be feeling it. So, what’s the encore to your pitch? Do you send a DVD with the video highlights? A copy of your presentation for them to refer to later? A thank-you email or call? As an absolute minimum, you must send a follow up message.

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