For the last couple of days I've been talking about some common pitching problems. I'm going to wrap this up with two more top-of-my-list pitching Don'ts.
Don't get flowery or come on too strong
Many people think the best way to make a lasting impression when pitching is to go big or go home, but, generally speaking, I find the opposite to be true. I prefer a less-is-more approach. In my experience, too much flash tends to be distracting. And too much noise can make others suspicious. "Noise" includes attempting to ingratiate yourself via flattery, adopting an overly familiar tone, or babbling nervously to fill what you perceive to be an awkward silence. When you're trying to win people over, you don't need to act as if you're their pal, shower them with compliments, or go overboard in an effort to impress. All that just makes you seem needy and insincere. It's one thing to show genuine respect and appreciation for people who have inspired you, but when you start falling all over yourself gushing about how happy you are to meet them, it makes them uncomfortable. And impatient: all right, already – let's get on with the pitch!
Try to avoid dressing up your ideas with flowery language, too. At Venture, I remember reviewing a proposal the team had worked very hard on, but it was full of long sentences and grand words, and I had no clue what it actually meant. I finally asked, "What are we trying to say, exactly?" Turned out that we were trying to say that if we were hired, we'd help drive traffic to the client's stores. I suggested we just say that, which we did. Fancy words don't make you sound smarter, but they do make you sound like you're trying too hard. Clear, simple, direct, precise language is best. I always try to remind myself that people really just want to know what your proposal is and why they should buy into it. That's it. Investors and potential clients all have different levels of intelligence, understanding and background knowledge, but in one respect they're all the same: they want you to demystify and simplify what you're telling them so they can grasp the key points and weigh whether your proposal is of benefit to them or not.
Don't forget to tell a compelling personal story
Everybody loves a great story. And the best pitches are stories, often very personal ones, told in a genuine, funny or moving way. When I'm pitching for investment or new business, I try to weave the nuts and bolts of my message into a lively, memorable narrative, as opposed to simply rattling off a laundry list of facts. People are hungry for personal stories today--just look at the huge popularity of memoirs. If you learn to think of your pitch that way, you're more likely to connect with your audience and they'll be far likelier to remember you. I can tell you that my ability to remember improves dramatically if someone has told a personal story, so long as it wasn't whiny or inappropriate and was obviously genuine. For instance I remember one man who came onto Dragon's Den told us he'd been a singing waiter in Italy before moving to Canada and becoming a restaurateur--and inventing an articulated snow shovel that he was able to turn in any direction. He was about 80 and still shoveling his sidewalk himself. He showed us a picture of himself as a young man in Italy and talked about arriving here as an immigrant – the guy was spellbinding because you really got a sense of what his life had been like, what drove him, who he really is, inside. Out of countless pitches, his stands out for me because his story had great emotional resonance and he told it simply and well.
It's funny to me that so many people think that being an entrepreneur is just about making money. I like to make money--show me an entrepreneur who doesn't--but I also know it's not going to happen without that all-important emotional connection. And frankly, so much of the enjoyment I get from my work stems directly from that. Feeling that you've really connected with other people, and satisfied a need they had (and may not even have known they had) – to me, that's what being an entrepreneur is really all about.
I'd love to hear your story. And see if you can get it across in 50 un-flowery words or less!