Pitching for Investment - an interview with Lorna Sixsmith and Paul Boross
Lorna Sixsmith has interviewed me recently for the Tweak Your Biz.com blog, about my book and about my views and experiences of pitching as it relates to getting investment for your business. Here's the interview for you...
1. I read an article recently that suggested that women win fewer pitches than men as their self esteem can be lower and they value themselves and their companies less. Would you agree? ( I'm afraid I can't find the link to the article - it was some time ago that I read it)
I feel that each person should above all else be themselves and play to their own strengths regardless of age, gender, background or any other characteristic. I have to admit that I have seen a lot of women pitching in a very tough way that many people would describe as 'masculine', as if they feel that to succeed in a "man's world", they have to behave in the same way. I've also met people who think that the way to get on in business is to behave like Lord Sugar on The Apprentice. Speaking from personal experience, I haven't found that women generally value themselves any less than men, maybe if anything, men can tend to be more competitive and perhaps that comes across to some clients as greater passion and desire to win, which is certainly a decision factor for many people.
2. Watching the Irish version of Dragons Den this year, it seems that if a dragon shows an emotional response to a pitcher, they are much more likely to invest. What are your top tips for connecting with a dragon?
That's definitely true of any pitch, or any decision in fact. An emotional investment is very difficult to backtrack on, and psychologically speaking, people will go to great lengths to remain consistent to early commitments. Robert Cialdini has conducted a lot of excellent research in this area. I would even go so far as to say that any extreme emotional reaction - love or hate - is better than none at all. Again, speaking personally, when I receive cold calls offering me great deals on mobile phone upgrades and the like, the one objection that really stumps the sales person is when I say that I just don't care enough to make a decision.
My top tips for connecting are very simple. There's no point trying to contrive body language or eye contact because the 'fakeness' of it will drown out any positive messages that you're trying to put across. Therefore, the most important thing is honesty - honesty and openness will connect you with other human beings more than anything else. So if you're nervous, say so. If you're scared, say so. And if you really want their money, say so! The simplest way to make a genuine emotional connection with anyone is to openly show your genuine emotions to them. Use personal stories and references, and when rapport develops, don't hide from it behind a table or piece of paper.
3. As an ex-teacher who completed a teaching practice in a particularly difficult school in the UK midlands, I learnt by a baptism of fire how to assert my presence when walking into a classroom. However, are there different ways to take control of the space with different groups?
There certainly are and I have worked with many teachers in a similar position, along with professionals who had to face protest groups, the media, investors and other 'tough rooms'. There are many ways to approach this, all of which boil down to one very simple idea; that arrogant pitchers think they own the place whilst confident pitchers know that they own the space. Very simple, subtle behaviours often work best; walking into the room with a clear intention signals your presence and sense of belonging whilst using the space available and getting close to the audience signals that you're not hiding from them. Let's face it, in your heart, you know exactly what to expect. Some people think that they are helping themselves by imagining the worst, but that creates internal fear which screams to the audience that you don't deserve their attention. Similarly, imagining the best creates over-confidence, which signals arrogance. Both are a big mistake, because your focus is on yourself and your imagination, not on the external reality of what the audience is really doing and feeling.
As you hint in the question, each group is different, but the key is never to take the space by force, merely to assert your right to be there.
4. What would your advice be to someone trying to set up an appointment for an investment pitch?
Firstly, never, never ever make grand promises about what a once in a lifetime opportunity this is. They will hear that on a daily basis, and it's a guaranteed turn off. Investors aren't godlike wizards, they are ordinary people like you and I who have simply learned to value their time. You will demonstrate that you are worthy of their time by valuing your own, and one of the most important ways to value time is to get straight to the point. After all, are you looking for an investor or a friend? Here's an example; "Hello, my name is Joe Smith and I want to arrange a short meeting with you to pitch my business idea". It's simple, it sets their expectations and most importantly, it's what they want! Don't think of investors as having something you want, as in a big pile of cash, think of them as potential business partners. You have what they need; you are their core business. So why wouldn't they want to hear from you? If no-one ever called them, their business would fail! So pick up the phone, don't expect it to be the right time for everyone you call, and just keep going. Remember, when you make that phone call, you're not trying to sell your idea, only to secure a meeting. But always be prepared to make your pitch there and then on the off-chance that you get through to the decision maker on your first attempt.
5. If you were to choose 5 single tips from your book for a successful pitch, what would the top 5 be?
In no particular order:
The pitch begins the moment the audience buys the ticket, so you are able to influence the outcome of the pitch long before you stand up and open your mouth. If you don't influence the audience early, someone else already has.
When you write your pitch, start with the overall structure and then fill in the content in layers. When you arrive at your pitch, you'll almost never have the amount of time that you were promised and by layering your content you can very quickly adjust the length of your pitch with absolutely no impact on the message that you want to get across, and the audience will be left feeling that your pitch will be 'complete', whether it lasts one minute or ten minutes.
Keep an 'elevator pitch' in the back of your mind at all times because you never know who you'll bump into. Remember that the purpose of the elevator pitch is NOT to cram your entire pitch into three minutes, it is to 'sell' the pitch itself, like a trailer sells the movie. The purpose of the elevator pitch is to make the recipient think, "hmm... that sounds like it's worth an hour of my time". Therefore your elevator pitch should be as short as is necessary to create curiosity and a desire to find out more.
Never take questions at the end of your pitch - always take a couple of minutes to close your pitch after the Q&A. If you finish and then take questions, you hand control of the pitch back to the audience and their lasting impression will be that the pitch fizzled out when they ran out of questions. When you close the pitch, you control when the questions end and you have the chance to include the answers in your summary.
Follow up. The pitch does not end when you walk out the door. The audience will continue to reflect on what you have said, and of course on what your competitors have said too. Write a personal, relevant and specific follow up letter and post it that same day. emails are easily sent and easily deleted, but a letter carries more weight because it stands out. You might even consider hand writing it to add an extra personal touch and get it to them sooner. The letter should mark out the key points of the pitch and most importantly, reiterate your sincere desire to work with them. After all, who would you rather give your money to, someone who's not really bothered, or someone who is genuinely looking forward to working with you?
6. Seeing too many pitches can render a person 'pitch blind' as you say. What are your top recommendations to a person to ensure they stand out amongst so many pitches?
I can only answer that question if I know what the other pitches are! If you think your competitors are using PowerPoint, leave your laptop at home. If you think they are making dry, business oriented pitches, give yours a personal angle. We crave novelty; more than that, our senses are wired for novelty. When our brains perceive something different, it stays with us. Now that's not a guarantee that your client will favour your product or idea, only that it will be memorable.
7. You point out that 'the reason for your pitch is you, the focus is the audience', which as you say, many people tend to forget. Remembering it should increase their chances of success as well as diminishing any fears of public speaking. What do you suggest for ensuring that a person pitching stays aware of any changes in the audience's reactions during the pitch and how should they change their pitch accordingly?
Well, if your focus is on the audience, this will happen naturally. However, I think that most people get 'lost in the pitch' from time to time, so I find the best advice is to make sure everything you say is brief and to the point and ends with a question to check the audience's understanding or acceptance. Asking the question puts your focus on them and answering it gives them a way to verbally or nonverbally let you know how they're doing. Does that make sense?