Working on pitches, from best man speeches many decades ago to creating content for contracts worth hundreds of millions, I know the beauty parade pitch is as far removed from presentation skills as Vimto is from Vodka Martini.
Constructing a pitch and staying vertical whilst making sense are far from easy, but they do not win you the big prize. For that you need to connect emotionally with the tough cookies in the room. From 30 years experience here are seven things to be aware of when trying to win when the stakes are high.
The location is a hotel near one of London’s airports. I arrive the night before and go to the room: it is quite a sight. The walls are festooned with graphs and charts and drawings; the tables laden with files; even the floor is covered with the detritus of a team in trouble.
At least a day had been spent here, getting a pitch team to a place where no one could find their backside with their own two hands.
Like choosing from a high end wine list on expenses when you never pay more than a tenner for two bottles, pitch paralysis is a function of having too much of a good thing. With no clue how to get to a happy place, punch drunk on proposals and Powerpoint, nobody knows which way is up.
I chose one diagram that spoke to me. It focussed minds, got the troops talking and we were off. It was a painful first day, much of it spent unravelling the wasted energy of what went before, none of which made the final cut.
Lesson: Have the courage to move out of analysis when you have the information you need.
Points Do Not Make Prizes
Put the scoring system in the bin. Go on, do it now. Roll it into a ball and see if you can pop it in first time.
Is it in the bin? Excellent.
The scoring system is one of the best ways to prevent delivery of an effective pitch because the least imaginative in the room use it to beat everyone about the head with the need for charts and statistics and a hundred slides. Being a slave to the scoring system stops any kind of creative conversation as thinking is narrowed to the interpretation of a series of bullet points rattled up at the last minute by a PA.
I have had debates where some opine that the pitch must not only follow the order of the bullet points on the scoring system but in addition the amount of time spent on each item must be reflected in the weighting for each item. Give me strength…
Lesson: Put the scoring system in the bin.
Ditch All Technology
In the past few months I have worked on four pitches across different sectors with a value north of £300million. The total number of slides on those pitches you could count on the fingers of two hands.
Be ruthless when it comes to technology. Assume none at the outset. Going naked into the chamber has interesting historical connotations about how much nuclear weaponry one needs to be effective, it split the Labour Party in the 1960s, but today too many still think going pitching with more bullets than the gunfight at the OK Corral is a cunning plan. It isn’t, PowerPoint is a weapon of mass pitch destruction.
The pitch denuded of technology is the most terrifying thing for many, but is the most effective way of ensuring you connect on the day.
And placement are so 2015, don’t use them.
Lesson: Create your pitch without technology
What Are Your Chances?
If you are a shoe in play safe and if you are an outsider take risks. Working out your line and sticking to it is crucial.
There are a whole range of variables in here: who is the client; who are the competition; how much do we want it; what are the capabilities of our team in the room?
Challenging client’s assertions and assumptions can appear to be a higher risk strategy than being pliant and agreeable but this is often a false flag. Some clients need to be challenged, some want to be challenged and some have no idea what they want. Knowing your stuff, but more importantly putting the afterburners on your specialist skills areas and telling it like it is, can be a compelling way to put your pitch up a spot or two.
Lesson: Have a robust team debate about the line you will walk; know that sometimes you need to risk it for a biscuit.
Run A Bath, Pour A Glass, Light Some Candles
You don’t need to collect any more data, you need to think; you don’t need to work on slides, you need to think; you have no idea yet what is going in your pitch, you need to think.
As an architect you come to know good things- Grand Central Station, the Gherkin, the Glasgow School Of Art- don’t come easy. They are the products of genius, perhaps, but creativity is about perspiration as well as inspiration. You have to work at it.
Get the pitch team into an environment where there is no distraction. Forbid technology. Scare up some flipcharts, Post-Its and big pens. Throw fifty ideas on the wall, then another fifty. Forget about standing in the boardroom, forget about who speaks when, forget about the corporate brochure. (Don’t have the corporate brochure in the room.)
Only once every crazy idea is up on the wall are you ready to think about the who, what and how of the pitch. Of course, you have already done the Why?
Lesson: Creating something that lights a fire in the room happens when you are in the bath.
Go Back To The Bin
Of course you should not ignore the scoring system completely so you better go and fish the scoring system out of the bin.
What does it say? Ensure you can check off all the main areas and pay special attention to any particular foibles the client appears to have. If you are worried they might not get where you are in relation to their chart flag it up for them.
So stand easy all you analysts, who for a while have been getting hot under the collar, the scoring system is no longer in the bin and is back in the game. Just don’t be a slave to it.
Lesson: Get the scoring system out of the bin (but you need to put it in first).
Just One More Thing
If you can keep technology away from your pitch that is just dandy, people hate it, but at the very least have a pitch created and a structure outlined before you are tempted to load the deck. Then you might use technology to your advantage, as an aid not a crutch.
Lesson: Less is more.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.