How To Pitch

Next week I am doing a talk/lecture to students in Ireland working on Dare to be Digital. I asked a group of professionals who pitch and are pitched to for their suggestions.  They were very generous with their time and ideas.  This is what they had to say.

How to Pitch

What is a pitch?
• A presentation is like a journey; where do you want to end up? Where would the audience like to end up? If it’s the same place then that’s a good thing!

Preparation
Prepare your self
• be confident and knowledgeable in your subject
• Prepare an idea which is as well tuned into the commissioning brief – i.e. what the commissioners have asked for in the first place.
• Practice, practice, practice – nobody was born a good presenter; bullshit and waffle won’t work!
• You are selling yourself- you CAN deliver.
• Be ready for Q&A:  Dream up all of the nasty questions that they could ask beforehand and rehearse the answers to a group.  Try to mimic the environment and atmosphere as best you can. 

Prepare the Concept
• Know the market place – i.e. what the commissioners have commissioned in the last two or three years – there is nothing worse than being pitched an idea which was offered or even commissioned in the past few years – it shows that the person has done little or no research.
• Remember you are selling solutions, not technology. What is your key selling point, how do you differ from your competitors?
• Try to be unique – as well as offering what the client wants/needs, introduce something original & innovative that will benefit their business

Know your audience
• know your audience and their needs
• What drives them (price, reliability, status etc)?
• In the games development subsector the pitch will likely be to a mix of technical, design and business people.  Understanding the language that they speak is pretty important in order to communicate – “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  It is particularly useful if you know something specific about these people and the business – what projects have they been involved in, what is their business background, etc.
• The buyer is looking for you to solve a problem. Do you know what the problem is? Can your product or service fix it?

The Presentation
• The first minute is critical: Essentially, this is the elevator pitch.  Getting the proposition across in one sentence is vital with the rest of the first minute focusing on how the proposition solves a problem / meets a clear need.  If the panel doesn’t believe that there is a clear need and that you might have an answer within one minute, they will switch off.
• You have about two minutes to win over your audience.
• Can you write the idea on the back of a post card and make it clear what you are selling?  Test it with someone outside the industry.
• Keep it short and sweet – the conversation is the most important part. You can usually tell from the questions a commissioner asks you which direction they would like to take…….although some times commissioners can also use this to see if someone is really convinced about the idea themselves…….
• Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you’ve told them.
• Be passionate about what you talk about; talk about what you’re passionate about. “Personally I like to see real passion, risk (if it is appropriate) and lateral thinking.”
• Don’t try to baffle with science/jargon
• No jargon
• Pitch benefits NOT features – you might be interested in the JAVA scripting intricacies – they certainly are not.
• How will your idea affect their business?
• Show them the money – nothing grabs attention like showing them the amount they save with your idea or the extra they are going to make
• Try and talk in reality and not hypothetical. In other words do not offer something that you have no ability to deliver.

Timing and Tools

• 10 minutes only in the first pitch: Spend just enough time to get the proposition across.  Use a visual aid, but avoid online demonstrations (always save demos locally and test them thoroughly beforehand).
• Proper use of media to display ideas
• Bring material to the meeting – a DVD, a pilot, a concept.
• Do not use animation on any Power Points – this is a distraction.  
• Don’t read word for word from notes or a PowerPoint – use bullets as a guide.
• Do not give out the hand-outs at the outset – they will start to read them and not listen fully to the pitch. 
• Keep it short – these are busy people make sure to ask how long they have and stick to it!
• Keep it simple, stupid (KISS)

Presentation is not just about talking
• Listening to the questions carefully shows that you are not simply “waiting to speak” and are able to engage.  This is an opportunity to show courtesy – deals are usually struck between people who feel they can work together – every chance to show a positive personality trait should be exploited.
• Listen – not just to the words but to what the vibe in the room is.
• Ask for Something: A startling number of people have a great pitch, which has taken weeks to prepare but forget to ask for something.  What is it that you want?  What does success look like from the pitch? 
• Finally – Don’t let failure ruin you: Unfortunately not every pitch works.  If it is a clear “no” be very courteous, thank them for their time and exit.  Crucially, learn from what has happened and build this into the next time – were the right people there?; did I follow the above steps correctly?  But most importantly, learn to bounce back.  Belief in the core proposition and the ability to handle rejection positively are fundamental attributes.

Credits
This is not my work.  I took advice from people who have real experience on both sides of the Pitch.  So credit where credit is due and thanks to:

Brian Lamb – gerrymcgovern.com
Fergus Keeling – BBC Northern Ireland
Paul Haslam thewebbureau.com
Paul Robinson – DETI NI
Russell Moore – fireimc.com
Stuart McLean – levelseven.com

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