Should pitching be a classical recital or a jazz improv?

I’ll avoid the layer of lingering suspense from the subject title by saying that it is a false dichotomy. Both can be suitable in different circumstances, though I lean more towards the latter.

Over the past few months I’ve been involved in quite a few pitches – sitting on both sides of the table.

The obvious thing that all pitches need is preparation. Lots of it. But there seems to be two broad approaches (note the emphasis: The rest of the post contains exaggeration).

1. The orchestral recital

This treats the outcome as fixed. Overt preparation goes into perfecting a repeatable performance.

This can be fine if you know exactly what your audience wants, and your audience knows exactly what it is getting. But is can also be a bit obvious. Perfectly pleasant, but not inspiring. It is not necessarily one-note but it is one performance.

In a business sense, it could be a face-to-face pitch follows a written proposal. But unlike a concert, the ticket isn’t bought and the relationship isn’t cemented – thus the dangerous assumption that you know exactly what your prospective client wants could back-fire if there is a miscommunication along the way.

2. The Jazz improv

The opposite end of the false spectrum is improv riffing. Here the preparation is more covert. All the pieces and mechanics are meticulously prepared, but there is no set way to put them together.

This enables a flexible performance to adjust and adapt to the mood of the room. But it still requires a fulcrum or groove to maintain structure and avoid obfuscating the issue.

This approach is more applicable to business development meetings. There may not be a set agenda, so the seller has to adapt to the need of the prospective client. The challenge is to make the covert preparation overt where applicable, through the introduction of easily digestible and memorable products or concepts.

The combination

Clearly, the optimal solution will be a combination of the two approaches – the relative weight depending on the specific circumstances. Across these, there are a few key things to remember.

  1. Prepare. And do lots of it.
  2. Create a skeleton structure that can be expanded or contracted to fill available space. There may not be a need to talk at someone for 30 minutes, but empty space should be filled
  3. Don’t plan to communicate everything that is prepared – always leave things behind that can be brought to the fore if the conversation moves that way
  4. If you can’t answer, at least respond – there is always the possibility of an intentionally tricky question. Acknowledge it but deftly segue into a related area that can more comfortably be answered.
  5. Prepare multiple scenarios – don’t plan for a single performance, plan for a residency

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joelwashing/3108694945/

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One Response

  1. Good provocation. Too many of us go into pitches with one game plan, and don’t think ahead on how to guide it flexibly through different scenarios. Will digest that.

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