How to Get Your Prospect To Engage with You During a Sales Pitch

One of the best ways to make sure that your sales pitch is interactive is to send the prospect something ahead of time with a note saying, “We can discuss this during our meeting.”


A consultant I work with is involved in helping pharmaceutical firms comply with FDA rules. When they’re hired, they engage in highly complex compliance programs. He says, “When we go in for a sales presentation, we always send ahead a plan for how we will spend the first year of our engagement. Even if they don’t read it, it gives us something to discuss with them. It helps make the pitch more like a work session than a pitch.”


Virtually any business can use this tactic. If you’re an attorney, send ahead a brief outline of thoughts on how to approach winning the lawsuit. If you’re an architect, send ahead design ideas that your listeners can react to. If you’re a software engineer, send ahead key issues with the software installation that you’d like to discuss.


And don’t worry too much about sending out something that the prospect won’t initially embrace as the final answer. The point here is not to send out a perfect solution. The point is to give something that will get the conversation started, transforming your presentation from a pitch to a working session.

How to Win a Pitch Against a Rival with a More Established Brand

The other day  I was conducting a workshop with a consulting firm about how to win a pitch.  A consultant raised his hand and asked “How do we win if we have to go up against IBM?”

While this was a great consulting firm, they didn’t have a brand as well-established as IBM.  As a result, they had lost business to IBM and other better-branded rivals.

 Indeed, many firms in many businesses face what I call the “the IBM problem.”  They run up against the old saying that “no one was ever fired for hiring IBM.”  In other words, if you have to decide between two closely matched potential business partners, most will go with the more established brand because it’s easier to justify your decision up the corporate heirarchy.

But that doesn’t mean that the lesser brand will always lose.  The established brand wins when everything else is equal. But that doesn’t mean that everything else needs to be equal.

You Beat the Superior Brand With Execution

You beat IBM by executing the fundamentals of the pitch better than your competition.

Fundamental # 1. Focus your pitch on solving the prospect’s business problem.  Estblished brands can get complacent and rely on the power of their brand, discussing their past successes rather than how they plan to solve the prospect’s specific business problem.  If you detail a specific plan to help your prospect and the branded rival doesn’t, then you move to the top of the stack.

Fundamental #2. Make sure that your message is simple.  If you speak in a way that is easy for people to understand, that distinguishes you from the competition. Your branded rival may not have as simple a message.

Fundamental # 3. Leave plenty of time for Q&A.  How you answer questions allows your prospect to probe your intellect. They see who you are and forget about the branding issue.

Fundamental #4. Speak with energy. A brand is a static idea that is fixed in the mind of the prospect. If you come across as exciting to work with, you can easily surpass the superior brand. On the other hand, if you speak in a flat monotone and your rival does too, then they will go with the brand.

Fundamental #5. Rehearse like crazy.  If you come in well-rehearsed, then you will demonstrate your intense interest in winning the business.  The established brand might not come off as well.

The reason that IBM has established a great brand is that they have performed at a consistently high level for many years. But that doesn’t mean that in a given pitch, you can’t outperform them.  If you execute these fundamentals, you can beat IBM.

How Twitter Can Make You a Better Public Speaker

One of the fun things about new media is that they yield unexpected benefits.  Twitter is the popular  and trendy microblogging service where you broadcast your thoughts to friends and followers in bite-sized “tweets”, messages that can be no longer than 140 characters.

And most people have been touting it as an interesting and potentially powerful networking and marketing tool. And I would agree with that.

But I think Twitter can also make you a better public speaker. The best speakers are the ones that can boil their thoughts down to easy-to-digest idea for their listeners. Twitter helps you do that.

Here’s a simple Twitter formula for a great presentation: one major tweet and three sub-tweets. 

The major tweet should be the key message for your presentation. All good presentations should make a single simple point. You should be able to express that point –  al la Twitter — in 140 characters or less. 

Let’s say that you’re a software seller pitching for a piece of new business.  Your presentation is to the CEO and CFO of a financial services company. The major tweet might be “Our software is going to make your company more productive.”  That’s 58 characters.  A nice compact tweet and a nice clear benefit statement that will make your listeners pay attention.

You then want to support that statement with three simple “sub-tweets” that support your major tweet.  They might be “Our software is easy to learn.” (29 characters) “Our software is easy to install.” (26 characters) “Our software can reducing staffing costs.” (35 characters). 

Of course you would fill out your presentation by going into detail about your sub-tweets, providing data, stories and other supporting evidence.

But the core of your message would be the main tweet and three sub-tweets.

So if you want to be a great presenter, consider opening a Twitter account. It could be the best thing to ever happen to your listeners.

How to Make Your Listeners Love You When You Give a Speech or Sales Presentation

A study of what makes people fall in love has implications for helping speakers connect with audiences.  Specifically, the more personal stuff you reveal about yourself, the more likely your audience is to like you.

At least that’s the conclusion that we draw from a study about what makes people fall in love. 

In the study, researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook gave pairs of students scripts that urged them to reveal things about themselves in varying degrees. The pairs that revealed more about themselves tended to form closer personal bonds. In fact one pair got married.

What does all this mean for those that want to connect better with an audience?  Simple. The more you reveal about yourself during a presentation, the more the audience will like you. 

Indeed, at Speechworks, we urge our clients to tell stories about themselves as part of the presentation.  Certainly you want to tell about your own success stories. If you’re trying to persuade a client to hire your accounting firm, tell stories about your own experiences solving other similar accounting problems.

But it’s also a good idea to weave personal details about yourself in the course of the presentation.  Letting people know that you have children or are learning to play tennis are personal details that will help you connect with the audience.

Next time you have to put together a speech, let the audience in on some personal details of your life. They’ll fall in love with you.

Know Your Message Before Creating Your Slides

If you don’t want people thinking that you’re Dilbert, don’t start creating presentation before you’ve come up with what you want to say.

Take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the three “bumper stickers” that you absolutely want your listeners to remember above all else. Then think about how you want to illustrate your presentation. It may be that you don’t even need slides.

How Do I Dress for a Presentation?

That’s a question I get a lot.  And unfortunately, the answer differs for men and women.

The one rule for both sexes is ask.  If you’re not sure how to dress for a presentation, ask someone who knows the audience.

“I”m going to be speaking at the board meeting next week. How do people dress for those meetings?” Or “I’m going to be speaking at a your conference, how do people dress for these presentations?”

If you’re not sure, then men can simply dress a half step above what everyone else is wearing. If everyone is wearing golf shirts, then put a jacket over your golf shirt. If everyone is wearing jackets with open collars, then put on a tie.

For women, choices are more difficult because much of the business world still has a double standard, expecting women to dress nicer than men.  Also, women’s clothes are more complicated than men’s clothes. 

In general, we recommend that women should wear tailored, more conservative clothes to presentations. 

Here’s a link to a nice discussion of women’s business attire.

How Easily We Fall Into Using Jargon

I was in a workshop recently when I noticed my constant use of the phrase “vis-a-vis.”  

Thinking back now, I can’t remember how I used it. But all of a sudden, the phrase just kept coming out of my mouth. It really started to bother me and I asked class members to touch their noses every time I said the phrase. I stopped  instantly.

I tell you this as an example of how easily it is to fall into using jargon.  The problem with jargon is that it’s not always clear.  The meaning is often muddled. And if you’re muddled, you’re not connecting with your audience like you should.

Yesterday I ran across a fun list of “10 Words to Ban” from the business lexicon. The list was compiled by blogger David Silverman.

On the list, my favorite is “people manager.” Writes Silverman, “as opposed to ‘Goldfish supervisor?'”

Review calls How to Win a Pitch “required reading for every sales professional.”

Check out the latest review of my book How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals of that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.

The review is by Karen Schweitzer, the Business School columnist for She wrote

How to Win a Pitch is so good, so packed with practical advice, that it should be considered required reading for every sales professional. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to deliver an effective sales pitch or presentation.

 To read the full review, click here.

How To Create and Deliver an Executive Briefing

Focus on big picture. Let the CEO take you into the weeds.

That’s the philosophy of a strong executive briefing.  A tight, high-level message inspires confidence.  “If you can’t tell it to me quick,” one manufacturing executive told me, “you probably don’t have a strong understanding of the issues.” 

Long rambling remarks sound uncertain.  With that in mind, prepare relatively short messages that focus on just the most important issues. Deliver the update quickly.

“But our CEO wants to know all the details,” one of my clients told me.  

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be ready with the details when asked.   But don’t serve up those details until you are asked.  A good waiter recites the specials and takes his cues on further suggestions from the restaurant patron.  He doesn’t read out the entire menu.  Similarly, a good briefer gives the high points and then responds to the issues raised by the CEO rather than wading into a lot of potentially unwanted detail.

Let the CEO ask for the detail she wants.  When you start at a high level, you can always go deeper.

Use A Three Point Briefing Method

Try a three point strategy:

  • Current Status
  • Key Challenges
  • Proposed Solutions

I worked with a telecom executive in charge of improving customer service. His task force had done several things to improve service and he had to report out to the CEO. He outlined his message as follows:

  • Current status: Our key customer service metrics are finally starting to move in the right direction.
  • Key Challenges: We’re still getting way too many customers calling us trying to figure out how to operate the new handsets.
  • Proposed Solutions: To solve the problem we’re going to get more involved in early development of the handsets.

When it was his turn during the meeting to speak, he quickly outlined the three key points, giving an overview in 15 seconds. An overview helps the listener get the big picture. Then he went back over the three key points, giving a couple of sentences of detail and explanation.  Then he stopped and took questions.

“Actually it was a very orderly and productive discussion that everyone was happy with,” he told me later. “We stayed on track and didn’t get too lost in unnecessary detail.”

Keeping your message high level tends to keep the discussion properly focused, leaving plenty of room for detail if needed.


New Book Helps “Nerds Be Heard”

Geni Whitehouse is one nerd who will be heard. And if you have nerdy tendencies and need help getting your message across, then you need to listen to her.

I first met Geni Whitehouse when she called me several years ago after having read my first book “Even a Geek Can Speak.”

When we met for lunch, she explained that she was a CPA who was passionate about communication. She attended our program and over the years has continued honing her skills to the point where she has now become a communication expert in her own right.

Having worked as a CPA and an executive at a software firm, she has opened her own communications firm “Even A Nerd Can Be Heard,” which specializes in helping accounting firms and technology firms communicate with impact.

She has also written a great new book called How to Make a Boring Subject Interesting: 52 ways even a nerd can be heard.  The book has 52 short chapters that are easy to read and have lots of great ideas on how to spice up any subject.

For example, how can you give an interesting presentation on how to work with your technical support department? She recommends creating a game of “Technical Support Jeopardy” and providing cash and prizes for the right answers. 

Geni has a sampling of the book on her website. 

If you want  to learn how to liven up boring subjects, read  Geni’s book.