Pitching is a word that can strike fear into the heart of even the most shrewd business person. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, the thought of standing in front of an audience, selling yourself and your ideas to complete strangers, can be about as appealing as entering a Miss Universe competition after a two week Christmas binge fest. But to stick with the metaphor, you would be at a distinct advantage if you had some tools and tips (and two weeks at the gym) to look and feel your best. Same with pitching. Read on to find five simple communication tools that don't require months of training to get you into shape.
1. Build rapport from the beginning
There’s no getting away from it: first impressions count. How you enter the room or walk on to the stage will set the tone. In those initial moments think about how you want to come across. Greet people with positivity and confidence; a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile will go a long way. show genuine interest by asking pertinent questions and use affirmatives so they know you’re listening and you care about their answers. In this way you will begin to build relationships and create real connections.
Don’t forget though, that how you speak is as important as what you say. Be careful to keep the tone of your voice in check. If you sound sharp or aggressive you’ll turn people off. Aim for a warm tone, give plenty of eye contact, and smile as you speak – this will add extra resonance to your voice.
2. Think about your body language
If you’re slouching when you enter the stage, or you’re moving from one foot to the other, your audience will assume you’re disinterested, or uncomfortable. Posture and body language are indicators of how you feel so it’s important you manage them carefully.
Walk with confidence, keep your body open and relaxed and your head held high. Avoid crossing your arms as this can make you appear defensive. When you meet others, offer a firm handshake and keep your shoulders relaxed. Always make eye contact and smile genuinely to infer trust and confidence - a smile that meets the eyes (known as the Duchenne smile) has been shown to create a genuine connection where a fake mouth-only smile won’t. In more intimate conversation, mirroring the body language of others - as long as it’s positive - is also a great way to begin to build a connection.
“If you think communication is all about talking, you haven’t been listening.” - Ashleigh Brilliant, author and cartoonist
It can be easy to just talk continuously at the person you are pitching to, when in fact one of the keys to success is listening. Listen actively, when your audience speaks, don’t just let their words wash over you - look for meaning. Read between the lines, ask questions for clarity and dig into your listener’s pain points. Listen to the words your audience uses and use them in your responses. You’ll feel an immediate connection forming as your audience nods along.
And you don’t just have to listen to their words. Look for visual cues about your audience’s understanding, whether they’re enjoying your presentation and whether you’re providing them with what they’re looking for. Look to their body language to gauge mood and emotion.
By checking in and considering these things throughout your pitch you’ll give yourself the opportunity to change tack and make sure your message hits the spot.
4. Speak in an engaging way
Monotone sentences, reading verbatim from cue cards, overusing jargon - these are all great ways to lose your audience, whether you’re pitching to a room or having a one-to-one sales conversation.
When you’re speaking to an audience that is unfamiliar with your subject, remember to take your time. Emphasise important words - these are the ones you want to remain in your audience’s head long after you’ve finished; the ones that hold the key information. Inject colour into your voice by using pauses to keep a steady pace, and focus on the vowel sounds.
Vowels carry emotion. This is important because most people make decisions based on emotion rather than logic and then use their rational brain to justify these decisions. That’s why it’s vital that your pitch appeals to people from an emotional standpoint, to persuade them to buy or to support. So, linger over vowels, make use of the power of words, enunciate your important points and don’t fire off words in a staccato fashion. When you take care over the way you speak to your audience, you’re showing them you’re thinking about them. You’re saying you care more about building relationships than simply getting the job done.
5. Consider the content of your pitch
To engage your listener, you need to catch their attention and hold on to it. You need to take them on a journey. But when you’ve got a page of detailed information you want to get across, and only a short time to do it, this can be easier said than done.
Perhaps open with a story or anecdote to make your presentation live and breathe in the minds of your listeners. A story will captivate your audience far quicker than stats or facts, and the right one will make you stick in their minds long after you’ve finished talking. Vary the way you speak, paint powerful pictures, choose words for their meaning and invest time in working out what makes your listeners tick so that what you say feels personal to them.
Make sure you allow your personality to come across as you speak. Demonstrate your passion and values and let your audience know what you stand for. Listen to the values of others and show you share them; listen to the pain points of others and address them. When you create your pitch to talk straight to your audience’s hearts, you inspire a feeling that they connect with you on some level. Which is exactly how you want them to feel.
Ultimately, an invitation to pitch is a wonderful opportunity, but it requires preparation and practise to get the most out of it. Consider your listener in everything you do, both in terms of what you’ll say and how you’ll say it, and think about what your body is telling people from the moment you walk into the room. By using your words, your actions and your listening skills to begin to build connections, you’ll get your audience onside and ready to do business with you.
If you’re currently preparing for a pitch, we wish you all the best with it and hope it leads to great success for you. If you would like to find some more gems on giving presentations in general, then why not take a look at our free eBook?
And if you'd like to find out more about our one to one effective communication coaching, helping you to perfect your pitches and presentations then we would be delighted to hear from you!