Tag Archives: pitching


I am naturally shy,  so even now, several years after publication, it still surprises me that my book, It’s Not What You Say, It’s The Way You Say It!, is all about emotion. It’s about the way you come across, not the comfortable rationale of what you say.

Starting out armed with the experience of over 1000 pitches –many successful,  some not but learning from both – I intended to write mainly for the business reader, quoting case histories together with lessons for success. This format has however been done well by others and I was determined to be if not better, then different.

My talented editor pointed out that the pitching principles in my first outline were the same for all live persuasive communication, principles for the most part formulated by the ancient teachers of rhetoric over two thousand years ago. It made complete sense to broaden  potential readers to all who present or speak, interview or audition, preach or propose. This in turn determined a communication approach in the book that was easy and accessible to all readers, an approach that was itself a demonstration of the way to come across with impact, bringing ideas alive with wit and visual imagination.

While the principles are indeed common, there is also in my view one basic error which lies at the heart of many unsuccessful pitches or interviews. It is an error based on the very human concern to keep on trying to improve the content – the script, the PowerPoint, the argument – right up until the last possible moment.

Much midnight oil is burnt striving to perfect or find a competitive edge. And all of this reasonable, or rational, use of resource, effort and energy restricts, sometimes to zero, time spent on injecting the emotional energy essential to performance.

We forget that people act on emotion, then justify with reason.

We ignore what our experience tells us, as did Dale Carnegie ‘When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.’ Or as Maya Angelou so beautifully said ‘I’ve learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

With words like these inspiring me, it will be no surprise that my central premise, developed through the book, is that emotion is at the heart of any successful pitch.

To bring this central thought alive in a compelling way, some 50 ideas are explored using clever illustration and creative headlines, aiming to stimulate and educate in a memorable way. Through the book, getting to the emotional heart is considered in three ways. What is the emotional response you seek? How do you resist content pressure to give priority and space for emotion? How can you bring the right levels of emotion to your performance?

The importance of getting under the skin of your audience is covered as is the essential skill of listening, really listening, something often overlooked in the excitement of a pitch. Without this, the emotional responses sought will be easily missed but there will in all situations be two responses that are paramount.

They were very well articulated in a perceptive and revealing article some years ago in a marketing journal in the UK. The writer was head of a company, AAR, which specialised in guiding clients through the agency selection process. He had gained unique insight from observing his clients firstly receiving the pitches, over 600 of them, and then discussing their decisions.

Surprise, surprise, his conclusions were that it was not the brilliance of the proposed strategy or creative solution that carried the day.  More often than not the decision came down to their assessment of two simple questions they asked themselves, the first being:

‘Will I like these people?’ (as partners/suppliers/staff ) with an allied ‘Do they (the pitch team) like each other?

Both are loaded emotionally. Of course, most people pitching will pass the likeability test in their normal lives but are they as likeable under the tension of the competitive arena? They may be worrying about their words, their visual aids, often subject to last minute changes (the curse of PowerPoint), the hand-overs.  A team that may be the best of friends can, under pressure, easily give off vibes that signal otherwise. If they do, the decision will go against them. Rehearsal is discussed later but worth noting that in my experience ‘rehearsal makes nice people nicer.’

The second question the decision takers ask themselves is this, “How much do these people really want my business? How hungry are they?

Hunger is not to be mistaken for desperation. Nor is it the same as the polished professional enthusiasm you expect in any pitch. Hunger is not something you proclaim. You ooze it by being hell-bent on doing more, asking more, leaving no proverbial stone un-turned.

Judging the emotional response is as critical in the one-on-one interview as it is on a global stage. Ten years ago London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Five cities were competing in the final live pitch to the International Olympic Committee with Paris, in rational terms of delivering a successful event, the clear favourites. London’s hopes rested on persuading the IOC to act on emotion.

They did this through a highly emotional appeal expressed as “London’s vision is to reach young people all around the world, to connect them with the inspirational power of the Games, so that they are inspired to choose sport”.

They knew if they failed to connect, they would fail

Many months after London won the bid, Lord Coe was asked if there was one thing that he felt was at the heart of their success. His reply: “It was all down to the emotional connection.”

A study of this bid, widely discussed as a case history demonstrating the perfect pitch, shows that a relentless attention to detail and massive resource were committed to the essential Technical submission – the ‘rational’ phase. During this however the London team never lost sight of the emotional end game. They built ‘emotional priority’ into their preparation and went into the final live pitch knowing the emotional levers to use. Or, in other words, they understood how to arrange and emphasise the key messages that would best resonate and persuade.

The concept of ‘arrangement’ is not new. It is one of the Five Cannons of Rhetoric defined by the ancient writers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian who said: “The whole art of oratory, as the most and greatest writers have taught, consist of five parts: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.”

Often overlooked, it is the clever arrangement of your argument that enables you to express it to greatest effect. The Greek word was taxis– to arrange your troops for battle. A nice thought!  To win the (pitch) battle you need to lead with your key attacking force- your proposition or promise, (see Coe’s vision).

Don’t bury it somewhere in the depths of the charts. Describe this central thought in words that lend themselves to passionate articulation, not like so many dry corporate mission statements.

I suggest in my book you think of them as “words to woo your lover…”You should be able to condense your story or presentation to 50 persuasive words that capture the hearts, not just the minds of your audience. Some elevator pitches miss out on the emotional component.  Shakespeare, of course, said it best “Thou cannot speak of that thou dost not feel”

Then, pursuing the concept of arrangement, my suggestion is to obey the ‘rule of three’ (omnium trium perfectum). Or, put another way, don’t make the mistake of presenting a whole ‘shopping list ’of facts and arguments.  Lists have their place on a fridge door, as a reminder of what to do or buy. Lists do not have a place when you want to communicate with your audience. They deny emotional expression. You may have 20 burning issues to get across, but the audience will not easily take them in, or be moved by them, if you do not have a simple structure that guides their listening.

To make life easier for them you need to arrange your arguments (your troops) into no more than three themes that support your promise or subject. So, ‘burning issues’ can be arranged into ‘hot’, red hot’ and ‘flaming.’ Each of these can be separately developed but with no more than three supporting points.

Finally, having identified the emotional response you want and then arranging your messages to allow emotion in, what can be done to perform with emotion on the day? Rising to the occasion and outperforming your rivals, rather than the great solution, will so often be the difference between getting the job or the assignment, or not.

This is the essential role of rehearsal.  In my view it is the most neglected and ignored ingredient of pitch preparation yet is your best return on investment.

Delivering a pitch, whether from a platform or across a boardroom table or over coffee at Starbucks, you are on stage.

You need to tap into the actor in you. Connecting emotionally with a large group or a single interviewer in conversation, calls for a performance that reaches out, bringing emotional resonance to the words. Actors start off fully confident in their brilliant scripts written by a William Shakespeare or a Tennessee Williams. They are not worried about their content. All they are concerned with is how they can make their script come alive to their audience. No matter how experienced they may be, they rely on rehearsal to gauge their performance and its impact.

They don’t do this alone, practising to a mirror. That can be a useful exercise for checking timing or your memory, but it is not rehearsal. Rehearsal requires that you have someone standing in as an audience, like a director, who can tell you how you come cross.  You can’t judge yourself!

My advice to any presenter is to find a trusted colleague to rehearse you, and, where possible, rehearse each pitch or speech before you deliver it. Ask them not to comment on the words but on your performance, on the way you said it and on how it makes them feel and think.

Was my energy level high? Was it clear? Was my passion evident? (Words with huge meaning can be ‘lost’ in translation if spoken poorly. In any pitch you need the balance of logos (appealing to reason) and pathos (appealing to the emotion).Was I making eye contact? If you are looking down constantly, reading from notes, you lose connection and lose your audience. In rehearsal you can identify this and other mistakes and correct them. Was my body language open and expressive? Was I confident? Was I likeable? And, finally, was I myself, or better?

As Oscar Wilde reminded us, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

The ‘sin’ of failing to rehearse is wrapped up in my earlier premise that time spent on content, at the expense of performance is the common error. The excuse for not rehearsing is given as lack of time (although in truth it is one of many avoidance mechanisms!)

Too much time is spent being rational, striving to create perfect content. Too little time is spent perfecting delivery, being emotionally on song. If you want to win, let your emotions show and take this advice written two thousand years ago

“I would not hesitate to assert that a mediocre speech supported by all the power of delivery will be more impressive than the best speech unaccompanied by such power.’ Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory



The ‘sine qua non’ of any successful pitch, confidence.

Whether in politics, business, or pitching scripts in the extreme world of Hollywood, it is confidence that separates winners from losers. In an entertaining, perceptive paper, scriptwriter Matthew Faulk writes of his experiences pitching scripts to studio bosses where confidence is all:

“Executives smell fear.  If they think I have the slighest doubt about what I’m pitching, they’ll pounce. Any idea you’re not quite sure about, they’re certainly not going to be sure about.  Therefore, over-riding conviction about the idea is an absolute pre-requisite.  This requires a great deal of rehearsal.  I practice and practice. The words must come tripping easily off the tongue, for any hesitation will be interpreted as doubt or fear.  And fear breeds fear.”

Faulk goes on to say that film executives are also nervous people.  But then so are voters which is why, right now, the confidence of McCain, galvanised by Palin, is undermining Obama who has lost his. It is his ebullient confidence that carries all before him for Boris.  It is Gordon Brown’s lack of it that makes life so tough for him and would-be supporters.

In business pitches the recipients, if not nervous, are apprehensive.  The decisions they must take concern the future.  Since this can never be certain, it is your confidence that will get their vote.

Putting principles into practice.

It’s a truism I guess, but principles aren’t worth much if they are not put into practice. This is where the Best Practice Guides come into their own.

The latest guide is Staging and Content.  In effect, it looks at practical ideas to address the principle that ‘it’s not what you say but the way you say it’ that matters in pitching.

Another  fundamental principle is that the better you manage available time, resource and, most of all your energy, in the lead up and during the pitch itself, the greater your strike rate.  The Perfect Pitch Process guide looks at ways of achieving this.

Decisions are rarely taken on rational grounds alone.  ‘People buy people’.  This principle so easily forgotten in the often feverish last minute attempt to improve content. The  Rehearsal guides and Chemistry Lessons are intended to help make people, not content, the heroes and heroines!

The guides, copyright of parkerinc , are easily downloadable for reference at the appropriate stage in any pitch. If anyone has, or knows of, other guides that might be shared please let us know

The Apprentice. Pure show biz or pitch theatre?

Last night 8 million, or so, viewers tuned in to the final show, pretty compelling stuff.  It is easy to dimiss the programme, and many critics do, as pure show biz with 16 contestants and SIR Alan all showing off, acting out their aggro, trying to win business ASBOS.

This critcism misses the point.  What makes it compelling is the very real spirit of gladitorial  competition, they all really want to win.  We enjoy seeing who loses and how they take it, car crash  television.

SIR Alan, like Simon Cowell in his Talent show, plays the Caligula  who last night gave thumbs down to Alex the looker, Claire the loud and Helene the sane . Thumbs up went to Lee ,the ‘ liar’. I would have hired Claire.

What lessons can we take into real, as opposed to reality,  pitches?  The main one, as so often, is the   critical need to  understand the decision taker, here SIR Alan.  What turns him on , what is he getting out of this( and it’s not the opportunity to recruit an employee), what makes him look good?  After all, he is the star. 

It would seem, and this is tricky to assess given all the direction and  editing , that there is reward for listening to the great man and then being seen to have modified, to some extent anyway, behaviour. In any pitch listening to gain insight is key to success! 

Pitches, the business reality shows.

At the weekend, we saw the climaxes of two hugely successful reality shows. A  tearful, and tearjerking, fourteen year old boy ‘body popper’ won Britain’s Got Talent, in front of a staggering 20 million viewers. A mature, size 14, singer triumphed in front of 8 million viewers, tuned in to I’d Do Anything,  despite Cameron Mackintosh suggesting she was “not right” for the role.  

These, and a host of other reality shows, The Apprentice, Strictly Come Dancing, Pop Idol, are taking over from televised sport to give  us the armchair adrenaline  hit of competition thrill. In America, NBC have announced that of it’s eight new series, seven will be reality shows. These will be promoted alongside it’s coverage of the Olympics, the ultmate reality show.

At their best compelling stuff. The performers, some very good, some less so, putting their all into their few minutes of glory. Then the dreaded wait for the verdict of the panel lead, Caligula-like, by Simon Cowell whose thumbs down signals the end. A modern day gladiatorial spectacle, “we who are about to die salute you”.

Doesn’t this all echo the business pitch? The clients, Cowell-like, able to destroy with a word hopes and aspirations.  The pitching gladiators, pouring effort and emotion into the performance, knowing the chances of thumbs up, ‘life’, are one in three or four.

Two history lessons.  Firstly, very occasionally, you come across clients who do act like Caligula, In which case leave the arena. Second, whatever your chances, put on a great show.  Thumbs up means you live  to fight another day.