When it comes to landing a major pitch opportunity with a big client, how should you prepare? How much research should you conduct? How should your pitch presentation flow? Here, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of pitching a freelance client, exhibit, or partnership and show you how to nail a great performance. In the 1960s, when the Navy originated the saying KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid – as a design theory, it was meant to explain that systems work best if they’re kept simple rather than made complicated. Today, we use that phrase to mean simplicity rules. And while a successful pitch presentation does include “keeping it simple stupid,” it also requires research, story, and practice.
The Keys to Research
Research is a very important part of preparing for any pitch presentation. Whether you’re pitching a brand for sponsorship or a freelance client, you should work to understand where the other person is coming from. You may be able to put together a pitch without a bit of background on the party you’re pitching, but that’s practically a death wish: If you want others to join you in your thinking, you should seek to understand theirs. Understanding a prospective client’s angle is not the only thing you’ll need to have researched prior to pitching; you’ll also need to understand their business, competition, goals, and future implications.
When Allison McGuire, Founder, and CEO of Walc, a walking navigation app based on visual cues (turn right at Starbucks, left at the bank) walks into a pitch, she’s done her homework. “For pitch competitions, I work to understand the motivations and goals of the host,” she explains. “For example, with BMW, their focus was mobility and multi-modal transit. I framed my startup Walc as serving a key piece of the puzzle: walking to and from your BMW. Turns out, the investor panel loved it and we won.”
If you’re pitching your product or services to a client, get an understanding of what others in your space can offer. Research other rates and pricing to determine if your prices are low, competitive, or high. This understanding will help you get ahead of potential hurdles lying ahead. If your pricing is low, be prepared to explain why and what makes your pitch a safe bet despite the reduction in price. If your pricing is competitive, be prepared to explain what gives you the edge in other capacities. If you and your service are among the pricier options, be prepared to give an in-depth explanation for why and how it’s worth it.
Craft a Compelling Story
Data, analytics, and case studies are one thing, but there’s no stand-in for emotion. Humans crave being understood and we love understanding ourselves through others’ journeys. The film industry is just one example that shows how much we enjoy consuming the story. In 2019, according to ComScore, the global box-office revenue reached an all-time high of just over $40 billion. That’s a lot of stories being consumed.
The ability to tell a story as your pitch is important. Investors and business owners are used to seeing a slide deck pitch presentation, so in order for yours to stand out, it needs to transcend and connect emotionally. One way to do this is to focus on the end-consumer of your product or service. During your presentation, drop into the consumer’s experience and show how your solution impacts their journey. Give your consumer a name and a backstory. Use compelling visuals and be specific in creating their world. Make them a hero.
Let’s take McGuire’s BMW pitch as an example. She knew BMW wanted to focus on multi-modal transit, meaning a system to cover on-demand ordering and payment components. For BMW, the challenge was to create a framework that could cover both ordering a cab and paying for parking. In her pitch, McGuire made her product the hero and showed how it solved one pain point in the consumer’s life. The story was about a consumer needing to locate their car, a BMW, in a parking lot. The familiarity and emotional resonance of the story are what connected investors to her product and won her the pitch.
Practice Your Pitch Presentation
Practice, practice, practice. Practicing your pitch presentation is the singular way to improve your pitch performance. Practice with friends, your parents, or your partner. If you are presenting with a team, hold run-throughs after work. If you can’t bear the idea of practicing with people, first try practicing alone. Set up your computer and record yourself giving the pitch presentation. When you’re finished, watch back the tape and take notes on your performance, it’ll be obvious where you’re stumbling and need more practice.
Chrissa McFarlane, Founder, and CEO of Patientory Inc., a blockchain healthcare data storage and management company, raised $7.2 million for her startup, and she’s been through multiple investor pitches. “During that time, I had extensive feedback on pitching and I also had a pitching coach, who works with entrepreneurs that do presentations for TED Talks,” she says. Her advice for entrepreneurs preparing for a big pitch meeting? “Get constant feedback from different stakeholders, practice practice practice, identify the problem you are solving in the first 30 seconds and tell a story,” McFarlane says.
But pitch coaches aren’t the only practice method. McGuire credits a lot of her success to acting. She says, “I’m a trained actor and have pitched around the world. I am proud that I’ve won every competition in which I’ve pitched Walc.” Now, she’s created a set of workshops to help entrepreneurs gearing up for a pitch presentation by introducing them to acting. McGuire says, “What I noticed is that fellow entrepreneurs, and women, in particular, don’t feel as confident onstage and in front of a big conference table as I do. So I took my skills as an actor and private pitch training and translated that into public workshops to help all entrepreneurial-minded folks.”
In preparing for a big pitch presentation, there’s a lot of entrepreneurs who can learn from creatives. In fact, much of what it takes to prepare for a pitch meeting echoes preparations made by actors. In pitching, there’s research: research of your client, their goals, wants, and needs. And in film, actors research their characters, their pasts, and their goals. In pitching, there’s the story. Creative entrepreneurs connect their product or service to an emotional journey. In film, actors use personal stories to help fuel and emotionally connect to their characters. And finally, there’s practice: practicing the pitch deck, potential questions, and answers. In film, actors constantly practice for performances. Pitching your idea or product may not feel like high art, but if you break down the components of a successful presentation, you’re likely to find it’s not far off.
How have you mastered your pitch presentation? What tips do you have for being prepared and confident? Tell us in the comments!
Rachel Wells is a writer based in Nashville, TN. In addition to her writing, she has a professional background in content development, digital distribution and public relations. Her projects and clients have been featured in the The New York Times, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, New York Magazine and Pitchfork.