I’ve been pitching for business for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the more challenging aspects of running a business and helps build muscle in crazy organizational skills, making sense out of chaos, dodging curveballs, and bringing together five minutes of clear thinking (read as insight, idea, storyline, and measurement) delivered in 20 minutes that win the business. It’s an adrenaline rush with the exact dopamine effect of a 100 likes on Facebook in 60 seconds. It’s thrilling and addictive.
However, recently, for once, I wasn’t the one pitching. Last week, I’d been invited to the RETHINK HIV Grand Challenge as a mentor. Ten organisations, agencies, and NGOs were going to pitch to win a $250,000 grant to use innovative technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to help raise awareness of HIV/AIDs and drive behaviour change. I was one of two mentors who were going to challenge and prepare them to pitch to win, in a three-day boot camp in Udaipur. Proper grown-up stuff.
Here are some things I’ve learnt, being on the ‘other side’ for once. Some are new but most reinforce what we all already know:
Pick a focus
Whether we’re pitching or running a business, stand for something. Differentiate yourself with expertise and capabilities, not positioning statements. It’s tempting to sound like you can be a one-stop solution for the client, but they’ll respect you more if you’re clear about what you’re good at. When we say ‘No’ comfortably, we give power and credibility to our ‘Yes.’
Stop talking about yourself
Stay in the client’s world. They don’t care about your parent company, the dots on your map, and the number of clients you work with. They want to hear what you understand of their audiences, and are dying to discover something new that will help them look at their problems in a new light. An ‘Aha’ moment that makes all the jumbled pieces of their ecosystem come together with a single new insight – that’s what you need.
Clients don’t want partners
They want leaders. They want to work with someone who knows their stuff better than they do, with complementary knowledge and skills so they know they’re in trusted hands. Stop trying to be a relationship-builder. Be a challenger. The most successful pitch winners are those that create a sense of urgency by highlighting the risks of not implementing their solution. Create a business case around your pitch that’s too hard to ignore.
Rehearse more than you think is necessary
A panel that’s sitting through 10 presentations doesn’t need more context than is absolutely game-changing. Write down three bullet points per slide and practice delivering them so succinctly that you can deliver your presentation while looking them in the eye and not have to keep looking at notes, or repeating yourself. It will give you more room to freestyle, without rambling and looking desperate to make a point.
Lead the conversation
Walk into the room like you’re the single energy source that’s going to turn on the lights and power the air-conditioning. Energy is infectious, but only if you know what you’re talking about. Don’t wing it. Get the panel to talk within the first five minutes of your presentation. When they’re listening, they’re judging; when they’re talking, they’re buying. Have the courage to speak slowly, ask a question, and respond to one without feeling the need to tell them everything you know. Keep them wanting more.
Pitching can be nerve-wracking for even the most seasoned of entrepreneurs. But keep your cool, know your stuff, and present it confidently, and making a good impression will be easier than you think. Good luck!
Girish Balachandran is Founder of ON PURPOSE, a creative communications consultancy focused on driving social change in India.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)