“There is a fundamental disconnect between the way we pitch anything and the way it is received by our audience. As a result, at the crucial moment when it is most important to be convincing, nine out of ten times we are not.”
Author Oren Klaff wrote Pitch Anything based on his years of experience pitching venture capital and investment banking deals. His approach combines marketing with neuroscience as it examines how we can best communicate our ideas and get others on board.
So when we’re explaining a new idea or making a suggestion, why aren’t people convinced?
Klaff uses the analogy of an Excel file. If our brains were like computers, you’d put all the information you wanted to share in an Excel spreadsheet and transmit it to your audience. They would then open the spreadsheet and receive the information exactly as you prepared it.
Why doesn’t this happen? When we share information, we are using our neocortex – the highly developed, logical decision-making area of the brain. However, when our audience receives the information, it first travels through what Klaff calls the “croc brain” – the less advanced part of the brain concerned with basic processes and survival instincts. Only if the information is new, simple and non-threatening does it send it on to the neocortex for more processing. Following this, we need to craft our pitches to make sure they’re received in a way that optimizes the likelihood of our target saying “yes”.
The Big Idea
A new method to win the deal
"Pitching is one of those business skills that depends heavily on the method you use and not how hard you try."
The book shares a method to break a 20 minute pitch into four components. First, introduce yourself and the Big Idea. When you introduce yourself, don’t go off on a long-winded history of your working life and everything you’ve done. Focus on your track record of successes – you want to be known for the one or two great results, not six average projects.
Your Big Idea comes next and should be explained in one minute… that’s right, ONE MINUTE. The details come later, so keep it concise and simple like this:
“For [target customers]
Who are dissatisfied with [the current offerings in the market]
My idea/product is a [new idea or product category]
That provides [key problem/solution features]
Unlike [the competing product]
My idea/product is [describe key features]”
After you’ve introduced yourself and the Big Idea, you explain the budget and your “Secret Sauce” – the thing that makes your idea or product special. When presenting the budget, you have to gauge your audience to know how detailed you need to be when discussing the financials. Revenue projections are easy to come up with and easy to question, but you can shine by demonstrating strong budgeting and knowledge of expenses. The “Secret Sauce” you’ll share following the budget is what differentiates you from the competition.
Then you proceed to offer the deal. Offering the deal lays out what, when and how you’ll be delivering to them. If you need anything from your target as part of the deal, mention it now to close out the whole offering.
Throughout your pitch, you use the fourth component which Klaff refers to as “stacking frames for hot cognition”. Hot cognition means liking something before you fully understand it. It’s getting the croc brain to buy in – and then going back to the neocortex later to sort out the finer details.
Creating “Hot Cognition”
"If you have been in business for more than ten minutes, you have figured this much out: The better you are at keeping someone’s attention, the more likely that person will be to go for your idea"
When creating “Hot Cognition”, you’re appealing to your target’s basic, gut instinct. Once they’re excited about an idea, the feeling is unavoidable, even if the target doesn’t want to outwardly display it. It’s also long-lasting because once they’re excited about an idea, it’s hard to forget that excitement or pretend that it didn’t exist.
Here are some different ways to create “Hot Cognition” in your pitch:
1) Intrigue – use a short narrative to capture the target’s attention. The story should be dramatic and have your audience wondering what’s next.
2) Prizing – instead of making your target the prize you are trying to obtain, believe that you are the prize. Ask your target to qualify themselves to you, instead of the other way around.
3) Time frame – set a deadline for when the offer expires.
However, be careful! There’s one thing that can freeze hot cognitions and stop your pitch in its tracks. If you let your target become the prize you’re working to obtain, you’ve just become “needy”.
"If you talk to investment bankers, the pros that make million dollar decisions almost daily, they’ll tell you validation-seeking behaviour (neediness) is the number-one deal killer"
Validation-seeking behaviours are an easy trap to fall into. You’re presenting, and your audience is starting to look bored, doodle pictures on your PowerPoint deck, or look at the clock. When you notice this, your croc brain identifies the threat and you become anxious and insecure at the thought of your pitch being unsuccessful. However, as soon as you become anxious or nervous about the outcome of your pitch and try to seek your target’s approval, they feel your neediness.
To counteract this validation-seeking approval, Klaff recommends the Tao of Steve, from the movie of the same name. In the movie, the main character used his philosophy to attract women, but it applies equally as well to eradicating neediness during a pitch (who would have thought?!). Here it is:
“Eliminate your desires – It’s not necessary to want things. Sometimes you have to let them come to you.
Be excellent in the presence of others – Show people the one thing that you are very good at.
Withdraw – At the crucial moment, when people are expecting you to come after them, pull away.”
The one which resonated with me the most was eliminating your desires. Yes, you want your pitch to be successful. Yes, you want people to agree with you and want to do business with you. But remember, it’s not about how hard you pitch; it’s about the method you use. Follow the Pitch Anything formula, do what you do best – and let them come to you.