You explain how you went from being a journalist to a pitch expert, but what made you decide to write this book and why now?
Because McGraw-Hill asked me to. <<laughs>> Yes, they approached me to write a book outlining my pitching secrets that explain how to effectively sell to an audience. In Silicon Valley, there are between five-to-ten pitching events happening every day. One major task of any startup founder is that they must present their idea(s) in front of a group; the group consisting of but not limited to other entrepreneurs, journalists, or investors. But the book is not targeted to Silicon Valley alone. Pitching occurs in a variety of contexts: in conference meetings at the office where a person is trying to sell a new product or idea, creative individuals in search of funds to get productions and exhibitions made, or even someone on the street convincing a stranger to cut costs and share a cab ride. And investors have to pitch sometimes as well. Their limited partners and recruiters or hiring managers need to be able to tell a compelling story to future hires. Having a simple framework on how to pitch in any kind of business or life situation can make the path towards growth and success much easier to navigate.
I really enjoyed your method and how you interweave storytelling and pitching into everything we do. Is there any kind of communication where you think your method should not be used?
I have worked with more than five hundred entrepreneurs and executives from more than fifty countries around the world. And one of the things I’ve learned from all of my consulting work is that knowing how to sell is essential for any business or goal, big or small. An early-stage company founder can use this method to showcase their expertise and how they can execute a promise. A more seasoned entrepreneur can use this format on larger stages to get back to basics and express the roots of the passion they have in their endeavors. Companies can also use this method to create compelling customer case stories as well as train their employees how to share the story of their products.
Of all your pitching customers, were there those who surpassed your expectations and those who didn’t meet them? Can you pinpoint why?
I see two main and consistent positive results from working with entrepreneurs. Either my shared energy and expertise allows them to know where to start their pitch, or they get new ideas on how to expand on their already developed sense of the sell. Sometimes a client will have questions and try to resolve problems they’re having on their own. Being a former journalist, I have an ability that not many individuals have when it comes to seeing the broader picture of a situation. When a client strays from the path, it’s important for me to focus on providing them with precise feedback. Then, I bring them back to the “rainbow with a pot of gold” method I discuss in the book. That method and the specificity that comes with it are key in convincing an audience.
Have you ever messed up a pitch? Can you share the circumstances and how you handled yourself?
The one thing one could not or should not do is wait until your pitch is perfect before you start pitching. When I first landed in Silicon Valley at the end of 2008, I was coming from Shanghai where the art of the pitch wasn’t a concept. I didn’t have any sort of idea when it came to the importance of knowing why or how to “sell” myself. So while I was freelancing to produce storytelling and marketing videos for technology companies, it was really a “learn as I go” process for me. I quickly developed a three-step method of a) establishing my credibility, b) showcasing my ability to execute, and c) closing the sale. But developing this method took a lot of events, putting myself out there, and assessing information from all of those unclosed deals. I soon learned the necessity of explaining how my services were different from other production companies. Eventually, companies would hear from me that the videos I made for them would have shorter formats and more of a journalistic style. This would make the company more convincing to their target audience. My own personal experiences gave me the tools that I now use to help people create their own pitch. Now, as I watch some of my clients being accepted into the top incubators or landing the big checks they were hoping for, I take pride that I have been able to help so many people from my own early struggles.
What did the process of writing this book teach you? Do you have intentions of writing another and if so, what topics are you thinking about?
I apply to myself what I talk about in the book: What do I have to sell and who is the audience that would derive the most value from it?
Since One Perfect Pitch was published in March 2016, I have now started to notice areas where entrepreneurs could benefit from a method which involves content marketing and audience engagement. Also narrowing down or elaborating on pitching methods geared towards specific industries – such as selling within the entertainment world versus the financial world – is something that I find quite interesting.
What’s the one major change we can all make to improve our “pitching” game?
Realize that if your pitch is not simple enough – if it overwhelms your audience with too much data or information – then it’s less likely to be bought or shared. The easier you are to understand, the easier it will be for people to trust you.