Perfecting Your Pitch

Perfecting your pitch | BCBusiness
A good pitch advertises the merits of the person as well as of the idea or proposal, according to UBC professor Thomas Hellmann.

How to bring persuasion and charisma to any presentation

Making a pitch isn’t limited to startups and salespeople; getting the green light on your pet project might mean delivering a pitch to your boss, just as securing funding might mean honing a 30-second delivery to your friendly neighbourhood banker. UBC Sauder School of Business professor Thomas Hellmann and Lance Saunders, executive vice-president and managing director of advertising agency DDB Vancouver, share the crucial aspects of a killer pitch.

Know Your Goal
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re talking in circles. Hellmann says too many people don’t ask themselves what the desired outcome is before delivering their pitch. If you’re a tech startup, for example, “the end goal of a pitch is to enable a second meeting with the person that you’re pitching to,” he says. If you’re an advertiser, you want the client to sign on the dotted line. Saunders asks himself the same three questions before every pitch: What do you want them to know about yourself and your services? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do?

Show, Don’t Tell
Saunders emphasizes making the audience feel something. “We make our decisions based on emotion,” he insists. “That’s not advertising speak; that’s human psychology.” Affecting your audience on an emotional level comes from demonstrating your prowess with enthusiasm, not listing your skills and accolades. “It’s that old chestnut: I can tell you that I’m the funniest comedian that you’ve ever heard, or I could tell you a joke and you can take away that I’m funny,” says Saunders. He singles out Steve Jobs as the penultimate charismatic pitch person, and breaks the late tech mogul’s presentation philosophy into three key areas: informing, educating and entertaining.

Make an Authentic Connection
According to Hellmann, a good pitch advertises the merits of the person as well as of the idea or proposal. “I tell people not to be fake,” he says. “Being honest or truthful is very attractive, and that’s a good pitch. People are more interested in meeting with that person.” Being authentic underpins what Saunders considers the most important aspect of a pitch: making a connection. “A good pitch is one where it’s very conversational,” he says. “You’re talking with each other rather than talking to someone or talking at someone.”

One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Rather than using one blanket pitch, tailor your approach to each audience. That will forge stronger connections than delivering a rote spiel, hopefully sparking meaningful dialogue. “It’s not about being a chameleon, because you are who you are,” says Saunders, “but you have to tailor your presentation or the facets of your business to what their needs are.”

Mind the Details
Drop the jargon and avoid the technical minutiae, advises Hellmann. At UBC, he says, “we have very technically minded students who immediately want to talk about their unique differentiating technology and get lost in the detail.” Pay more attention to cues from your audience than to the points on your agenda: are they bored? Intrigued? “You have to be able to improvise,” says Saunders, adding that some of his best pitches have happened when he’s thrown the slides out the window and catered to the client’s inclination in the moment.