Perfect Pitch: three tips for delivering a winning presentation

Perfect Pitch: three tips for delivering a winning presentation

Blah blah blah. All too often this is what it is like. Someone is presenting something to you; they are pitching, promoting, selling, explaining and it just sounds like blah blah blah punctuated by lots of ummms and errrrs. They don’t get to the point. What is the point? The moment is lost and the pitch is lost.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you are pitching or presenting to an unfamiliar audience, and want to make an impact, here are three top tips that will have you delivering winning pitches.

1. Understand sender-message-recipient

There are three parts to the pitch that you need to consider. The sender – that is you. The recipient – that’s who you are pitching it to. And the message – well that’s your pitch.

The recipient: Here’s the first thing to get right. Know your audience. Once you know who the recipient of your message is you can ensure that you tailor the message right.  A little research about the recipient will go a long way; are they already familiar with your product / category / domain? Do they understand the technology. You don’t want your pitch to fail because they didn’t understand what you were talking about by drowning them in acronyms and industry-speak that’s confusing and irritating.

The sender: This is simple. As the sender of the message, be likeable. You are pitching yourself as much as your product.

The message: And finally the message itself. Your goal is to communicate it as clearly and succinctly as possible so that it is understood and engages the recipient. Consider the ‘signal to noise’ ratio. Ummms and arrrs aren’t the only noise you need to cut out. Anything that detracts or is not directly relevant to the core message you are trying to convey needs to be cut out too. Focus on the key take-aways that you want to convey. To do this you need some structure.

2. Focus upon what’s important

If you look at a newspaper article, you’ll see it is structured like a pyramid. It starts with the title and the key points – a summary of what will follow, before spreading out into the detail and the main content in the body. Your pitch needs to be like a collection of these pyramid tops; you want to engage and sell the key points (as much as possible second guessing contentious issues so that you open yourself up to easy questioning rather than being on the defensive back-foot from the start). What you don’t want to do is drill down into the trivial detail – leave that to the questions after you’ve delivered your killer presentation!

In order to focus upon what is important, you need to frame in your mind what, exactly are you trying to convey? Use the elevator pitch to help shape this.

For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product is (unique differentiator). We forecast (top-line revenue projections) through (how you’ll monetise it).

This alone is not the perfect pitch. You need to be able to back-up any assertion you make, and you also need to remember that you’ve only got a limited time to make the pitch and you’ve only got one chance to make an impression and sell the idea. When you know what you need to pitch, now let’s look at how you are going to do it.

3. Form the flow

I’ve seen someone practice a pitch before understanding the approach I’m about to describe, and doing it again after learning it. The difference was amazing. Learn this and you are guaranteed to deliver a perfect pitch. It’s simple:

Tell ‘em what you are going to tell them (Line it up)
Tell ‘em it (back it up)
Tell ‘em what you’ve told them (knock ’em out).

Let’s illustrate that.

Key point to killer statement

Think about the key point you want to convey. State it. Back it up with three succinct supporting facts. Then, with the point built up,  deliver a killer statement that you want to stick in the recipient’s mind. I’ll bring that to life with a random example:

Line it up with the key point
Global warming is a problem we must address

Back it up with 3 supporting facts

  1. In the 20th C the surface temperature of the earth increased by 1.2-1.4oF
  2. In the same period sea levels rose by 4-8 inches
  3. September was the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th Century average

Knock ’em out with the killer statement:
The world is getting hotter!

But that’s not enough to deliver the pitch. We need a story. And that means using the above technique to string together a number of statements, each building upon the previous to deliver a coherent and compelling narrative.

Building the narrative

So for our global warning story, it might look something like this:

1. Global warming is a problem we must address

  1. In the 20th C the surface temperature of the earth increased by 1.2-1.4oF
  2. In the same period sea levels rose by 4-8 inches
  3. September was the 330th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th C average

The world is getting hotter!

2. The impact is already being felt

  1. Global warming is causing more intense rainfall and droughts across the world.
  2. 150,000 deaths per year are blamed on the effects of global warming (WHO)
  3. At least 279 species of plants and animals are migrating north to escape rising temperatures (source)

If humanity doesn’t act we are doomed!

OK, so maybe that’s rather a large leep to make, but you get the point. You string the narrative together, taking care to build up with too many points (do that and this process looses its impact; seven is always a good number!) and if appropriate end on a crescendo. Remember the serial position effect , that people remember the last things they are told and forget the things in the middle. Do don’t want to end your pitch with a whimper, you need to end it with your audience understanding and liking you, and forcing a positive impression at the end that will allay feers and objections that would be more forefront of mind if the content of your pitch was weak, meandering and indistinct.

Pitch building blocks leading to the key takeaway

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

The Apprentice

OK, so it’s a guilty secret, I watch the Apprentice.

Once upon a time a TV programme would have been broadcast, it would last the hour and then be over. Newspaper comment and water-cooler discussions would follow the next day. Today the show is bigger than just the broadcast hour; it has a digital life that goes beyond the TV medium. It’s more than just a website that is hosted by the BBC. Viewers participate in the the ‘back channel’ so as you are watching the show you are not alone in your emotions. Following the Twitter hash tag provides a running commentary of how the audience is reacting. Some shows extend their reach with the fictional characters themselves engaging in the dialogue. What Twitter starts with its immediacy, Facebook continues with the audience setting up groups. And so we have Stuart Baggs on the Apprentice, a clone of David Brent, treading on twitter and now spawning dozens of Facebook groups and pages (as I write 3228 people like “Stuart Baggs from The Apprentice is a **** not a Brand”). And let’s not forget the forums and blogs where comment and discussion on the programme thrives.

The apprentice experience is more than just the it’s packaging and content. What about your product?

Anyway. So last night the final five in the Apprentice were interviewed, with Viglen’s CEO Bordan Tkachuk being one of the interviewers. He cornered Stuart Baggs about claims he runs a telco. “Stuart you’re blagging to me. I know what an ISP is. It’s an Internet Service Protocol.” An Internet what? The CEO of a company that “has developed a peerless reputation for excellence in IT innovation, delivery and service” doesn’t know what ISP stands for?!

It got worse. Later in the boardroom Sugar was grilling him about Stuart’s credentials. Smugly Tkachuk declared that Baggs “says he has a telecoms licence on the Isle of Man… What he had was just a very simple broadcom licence.”  A what? Broadcom Licence?  WTF is that?

So here we have the CEO of an IT company who doesn’t speak the most basic IT language with any fluency. My takeaway from this is, no matter who they are in an organisation, never assume that the client you are working with knows everything.  And never assume that they know what you are talking about either. Make sure you speak a common language by asking for clarity and explanation; there’s no such thing as a stupid question.  Alternatively, “Tkachuk.  You’re fired!”

How can I trust you if I don’t understand what you are saying?

Innocent are a great brand.  They’ve got a great product, but they also know how to connect with their customers.  From the packaging and beyond they come across as natural and friendly.  Watching this video by the founders of Innocent is five minutes well spent on how they do this; how they use natural language.

“A lot of businesses don’t speak the way they talk.  They speak the way they think a business should speak.  They start using language that isn’t real language, that isn’t language you’d talk to your friends or your family.  So our thing is don’t use any claptrap that you wouldn’t use to explain to your grandma what Innocent is as a business.  If she doesn’t get it, then why should somebody else get it?  Why should someone else have to wade through your layers of jargon and corporate waffle.  Just use the words that you are comfortable with…”

Friendships exist within companies, they exist outside companies.  Friendships are about speaking a shared language with a simple vocabulary.

Organisations strive to be friendly; they try to be social, open, transparent and service driven with employees and customers (look at your average mission statement to see how companies crave to be those things).  Yet beyond this vaneer they hide behind a language that your friends (who are not part of that corporate vacuum), your family, your granny would be clueless about. Innocent prove that you can build a successful business thinking and acting as friends rather than as the faceless corporate-speak bureaucrat.

Words are slippery things

Want to prove it? Take a sheet of paper. Tear it in half (under the table so I can’t see).  Now show the two halves.  You tore it in half side-ways didn’t you.  I tore it length-ways.  Same instruction, same materials, completely different result.

How are you managing the change?

To the development team ‘change’ relates to scope and requirements within the project, but change runs far deeper than that.

A question that I am often asked is how do you manage business change on agile projects. Release regular and often is an often quoted mantra, but what does that mean to the business where rolling new software across the large, multi-site organisation? How do you manage the piecemeal introduction of new technology, features and functions to hundreds or thousands of people, many levels removed from the project across remote offices and geographical locations? How do you ensure the recipients of the new technology rapidly adopt it and accept the change, even when change is occurring every few months.

What are the financial and human performance implications of each new release in terms of training, productivity and morale? What is the overall burden on people in frequent change?

The reality is that it is not unusual for projects deemed successful by IT and the immediate business team to ultimately fail when released to the broader organisation. Effective change management can be even more important when an organisation adopts agile software delivery.

An analogy as an example. If I expect a screwdriver and you only give me a cross-headed screwdriver when I really want a flat head one I am going to be unhappy. The core team may have prioritised the cross-headed one first for good reason, a flat headed one maybe coming just round the corner, but if you don’t deliver to my expectations I am going to be unhappy. Worse, I am likely to become resistant to future change and less likely willingly cooperate with the uptake of future releases, even if they do start to deliver to my needs.

Keep it on the shelf
The first point is that regular and often does not necessarily mean release to production for the entire organisation or marketplace. Running a number of internal releases, keeping them on the shelf until a complete and marketable product is ready is a strategy often employed. Significant value can be accrued by getting tested and working software into a pre-production environment and held “on the shelf” awaiting a full release. This maybe a UAT environment where a limited number of stakeholders test the functionality in an ‘as-live’ environment. Or it maybe a beta release to a small, selected number of interested people (e.g. a ‘friendly user trail’). This can often pay dividends with usability issues and minor gripes being picked up and addressed before a major roll-out.


Let’s assume that the team wants to roll out the application early and often to the whole target population. Critical to the success of managing the business change is communication. It is important to manage expectations on a timely and appropriate manner. Explain what the upcoming release will do and more importantly what it will not do (and when it will do it). Keep all stakeholders informed of the project progress (setting up a project blog can be a cheap and easy way of letting interested people know of progress), yammer maybe another way of broadcasting updates and information. Having a release count-down can also prepare stakeholders for the change. The techniques can be googled, the important thing is to communicate and manage the expectations (and be ready for inbound questions and comment after go-live).

Adaptable user interface
It is not unusual for the core team to drive for as much functionality as possible in the first release, considering UI enhancements as ‘nice to haves’ and consigning them to later releases. This is a false economy. Consider the cost of training and lost productivity through a hard to use interface. Now multiply that across multiple releases that focus upon utility before usability. Delivering a first release that is self contained and compelling will go a long way to driving organisational buy-in of the new application and greater acceptance of future change. (Jeff Patton writes some great stuff on using story maps to explain what the system should do. Using these will help focus on complete and useful slices through the application rather than random features that are perceived to be of value but do not make a coherent product).

A new user interface, however well designed will inevitably take time to learn the first time it is used. The challenge is with each subsequent release to introduce funcitonality and interactions that leverages the users existing mental model of the application, building upon what has been already been learned. Starting with the end-state, wireframes that articulate the final application then trimming out features, feields and controls to represent each notional release can be a good way of ensuring a UI that will scale as new functionality is added.

Agile organisation
Ultimately the most successful way of introducing agile is to build a beta culture with everyone as agents of change across the whole organisaiton. More importantly change becomes a cycle of learning and continuous improvement. And here I’ll borrow this most excellent graphic from David Armano. David compares what he calls conventional and unconventional marketing but the parallel with software development is obvious. His iterative cycle is “plan-design-launch-measure” but that is not a million miles away from the lean philosophy of “plan-do-check-act”. And critical to the journey is the learning cycle between iterations.

Won’t you please… be concise

Won't you please give this seat to the eldery or disabled

Seen on the New York subway.  Is the “won’t you” really necessary?  The tone of the notice is trying to be friendly, but surely when you are writing signs or labels it is better to be concise and to the point. Afterall, it’s a sign, not conversation.

Heard on a suburban comuter train going into London, a pre-recorded generated message.  “London Underground inform me that there are currently no delays on the system”.

“Inform me?”

The “me” is a recording.  Again, the tone is trying to be friendly, but it is not real.

When communicating to customers use a style that is appropriate to the media.  If it is impersonal information you are providing, be concise and unless it is coming from the mouth of a human in real time, don’t try to fool me that it is otherwise.

Humanising the corporate voice

Friday evening, the train is pulling into East Croydon railway station. There’s an announcement.

We are now approaching East Croydon, please mind the gap between the train and the platform. Don’t leave any of your belongings behind…

The usual scripted stuff. Then…

Hey! I’ve just realised its Friday! The Weekend is here.

People on the carriage look up. Did he really say something, that’s something that breaks the mundane monotony of the commute.

Remember folks, drink sensibly!

I looked around and people on the carriage were smiling. An unscripted, personal touch. It wasn’t a canned message from an anodyne voice. For a brief moment South Eastern Railways became really human. It made commuters smile. And commuters travelling into East Croydon rarely have anything to smile at.

There is more to Customer Experience than homogeneity and consistency in interactions. It is more than scripting customer contacts. It is more than sheepishly adhering to the corporate line. It is about empowering employees to have the confidence to be human. It is giving employees some degrees of freedom to do things differently if it is in the interest of the customer. To be spontaneous.

There’s the story of the Ritz-Carlton bell boys being given a budget to help customers. To be spontaneous without having to jump through hoops of approval. No “I’m not really sure, wait a minute and I’ll ask my supervisor (because even though I’m grown-up enough to want to help you the Rules by which I’m employed don’t let me)”.

Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away. But customers remember these human touches. And if they have the seed of a positive emotion planted in their memory, an emotion associated with your brand, you have the seed to grow lifetime value.