How Do You Start Your Pitch?

:: Ok, you have something you’d like to pitch… Where do you start?

To help explain, let me set a scene for you:

You’re on a nineteen-hour flight between Sydney and Dallas. In the seat next to you is the one person you’ve been trying to talk to for over a year; the VP of Marketing you’d like to show your new product story to, the movie producer who would love your story outline, or your CEO. Direct TV is broken, so you have their full attention for the entire nineteen hours. This is the perfect opportunity to present your pitch! Now comes the dreaded question: How? What do you say? When should you say it? How do you pitch yourself?

Let’s start with the Don’ts.

Here’s how NOT to start your pitch:

While people like to hear about results, you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with numbers and too much information right off the bat. Also speaking too fast (which people tend to do when they’re nervous) will annoy or even intimidate your listener. This is especially true if you have a foreign accent; let your audience get used to the way you speak before you ask them for a favor. Don’t forget, you have a real person in front of you. Make them feel special. Think of this as your first date.

Now, where DO you start?

Engage with the person by looking them in the eye. This subconsciously makes them connect with you and trust you more easily. If this makes you nervous, trick yourself and look at them in between the eyes. Remember to smile and speak slowly….. very slowly. It may seem too slow for you, but trust me, it’s not that slow. You could comment on something they’re reading, compliment a garment they have on, or your opening sentence could be as simple as “Hi, I am (first and last name).” I have met so many people unable to clearly state who they are in plain, simple English. Being able to say who you are with authority can make you feel very powerful. Try it.
Once you’ve warmed up to one another, lead into the ‘breaking news.’ What’s fresh? What’s up? When you ask your friends what they have been up to, do they all tend to answer the same thing: Not much? Isn’t that answer uninteresting, perhaps even disappointing? When you’re asked this question, don’t rush into too many details right away, but make it interesting. “Our company is getting ready to raise Series B.” “We’ve finally managed to debug an entire application we’ve been working on.” You’re making your audience feel special by not serving them the same “nothing much” soup other people dish out all of the time.

Another way to make them feel special is to listen to them. Listening to what they have to say will help you to personalize your pitch. What’s important to them? What do they like to do? If they’ve mentioned a love of soccer or tennis, or an affinity for wine or whiskey, try to think of ways to tie what interests them into what you’re pitching.

Knowing a bit about your audience prior to the conversation will make them feel special as well, so research your subject and keep abreast on what they’re up to. “I read your book and loved it.” “I saw you speak on TV last week and really thought what you said about _____ was interesting.” It’s a way to give them celebrity status without being obnoxious about it.

A 19-hour plane ride allows you a great deal of time to convince a person to follow your pitch. But what about when you have to convince your superior in between two meetings, pitch at the lunch table before the waiter comes to back, or speak at a networking event where at any second you can be interrupted by someone also willing to pitch their idea? All of the previous rules apply. Just speak slowly, listen, and use all of the information you have to make your audience feel like the star. People like and trust those that make them feel like they shine.


About Marie Perruchet

Marie Perruchet is a former BBC journalist who now runs her own executive coaching and communications business. She specializes in training executives and startup founders on how to pitch their ideas to difference audiences, such as C-suite and investors. Born in South Korea, Marie grew up in Normandy and has lived in numerous countries around the world before settling in the Bay Area.

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