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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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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/

Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business

The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New BusinessI’ve recently been re-reading my notes from Jon Steel’s book Perfect Pitch and am reminded of what a great resource it is (incidentally, Seth Godin has some typically insightful tips on getting the most out of business books).

The central argument of the book is an obvious but often overlooked one – using your content to engage with the audience. The book is written in a compelling manner with some fantastic examples. For me, the litmus test of a good business book is whether it provokes me into not only considering or approaching an issue differently, but implementing the tips. This book passes the test with flying colours. I would highly recommend it.

Jon works in fives (as another sidenote, the book I am currently reading would have a theory on that). He sees a pitch constituting five jobs – those of researcher, writer, producer, director and performer – and there being five distinct stages

  1. Grazing, and gathering raw materials. We should combine research, general knowledge and learned knowledge. He uses a Post-it note for every bit of relevant information and then re-organise it into themes.
  2. Looking for meaning. Drawing everything together and looking for connections
  3. Dropping it. Rather than working 24/7, we can let our subconscious work on the problem while we take our conscious mind off it by doing other things
  4. Adapting and distilling. There should have a central theme that could be repeated in 2 minutes. With the full presentation, each part should engage and surprise. It can be broken down into an inciting incident, progressive complications, a crisis, a climax and a resolution
  5. Writing the presentation. Jon believes the script should be written down to the last apostrophe. It gives control – both in terms of content and timing. If you know the content inside out, you can deviate from it if necessary

And adapting Jon’s method, here are five elements to his thesis, with five nuggets under each heading

1. Prepare

  • People work better on one task than several at once
  • Work in a small, tight, committed team
  • Take control. Taking control means keeping work and social life separate, not allowing interruptions, having space for thinking, treating others as you would like to be treated and looking after your brain
  • Start quickly and devote equal time to each aspect
  • Practice makes perfect

2. Recognise the competition

  • The focus should be on beating the competition and not finding the perfect answer
  • Belief has to be turned into action – this is done by persuading that your idea is the best
  • Save energy for the big issues rather than proving the obvious
  • Either say something different or say the same thing better
  • But a USP of some description is needed to stand out and plant doubt in the competition

3. Ensure a narrative

  • The best speeches are done using the simplest language
  • Presentations should tell stories
  • A good presentation has a start, a middle and an end
  • A few well chosen questions can be a powerful tool
  • Use minimal slides with a prose leave-behind

4. Keep the tone engaging

  • The five key elements are truth, beauty, excitement, significance and persuasion
  • Communicate; don’t lecture. The best presentations are question marks; not full stops
  • Communicate one idea at a time
  • Be inclusive as the audience doesn’t listen to what you say but what it means to them
  • Passion breeds success. When you believe, giving ground is tantamount to failure

5. Connect with the audience

  • Own the room
  • Minimise space between the presenter and the audience
  • Give a sense of what it would be like to work with you
  • If one answer is given, don’t give a second if it involves repetition
  • Keep consistency of message and openness of mind and manner

The above is just a small extract of the wisdom encapsulated in 288 pages. I would recommend reading every last page.

sk