Sociologist James Hughes said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Nowhere is this more crucial than for individuals pitching an idea whose success often depends less on what is said, than on how it is said. Every pitch is essentially an audition for leadership. Do you deliver your pitch in a way that instils confidence in you and your team? Are you able to communicate your idea, or your vision, with clarity? If you can’t answer “yes” to these two questions, then your pitch may not be successful.

Pitching is not just for entrepreneurs seeking investors. We all have to pitch in one way or another, whether pitching a change initiative to your team or a proposal to the board. We all need to influence someone to adopt our ideas and give us the go-ahead. Pitching is the most nerve-wracking part of the idea creation process, and few excel at it, but it doesn’t need to be so difficult. Follow these 8 pointers for the perfect pitch.

1.   Preparing for the pitch

If first impressions are everything, then the real work comes before your pitch even begins.

The stronger your prep work, the more organised you can be when you walk into the pitching room – and you should also find you have a stronger business case to put to your potential clients or investors.

Where appropriate, find out a little more about your audience and tailor your pitch accordingly. There’s no point pitching a tiny opportunity to a big brand, or a costly full-service product to a new start-up.

2.   Appearance

It’s not always necessary to wear a suit, but if your proposal is for an office-based or white-collar service, you probably don’t want to make your pitch in jeans and a T-shirt.

Remember, if you’re overdressed, you can take off your tie and jacket, and roll up your sleeves; if you arrive and find you’re under-dressed, it’s probably already too late.

The same rules apply to other parts of your appearance; make sure your hair is tidy, particularly if it’s a windy or rainy day, and tidy up any facial hair too.

3.   Enter with confidence

If you can walk into the room knowing that you look good, you’ve done your preparatory work and you know what you’re talking about, you’re well-positioned to make a strong first impression.

Offer a firm handshake and a genuine smile, speak clearly and confidently, try not to sweat too much and maintain eye contact with each client or investor.

If you can master the body language on top of everything else – and if you have a strong enough business case to put forward – you’re much more likely to leave the room with an offer on the table.

4.   Be clear with your delivery

If you’re all over the place in your pitch, your would-be client will be dissuaded from investing in your product, so make sure you’ve got a clear head and a confident tone of voice.

Even if you don’t feel confident, pretend that you are – removing yourself from the situation emotionally and instead of pretending that you’re simply playing the character of a confident businessperson is one way to achieve this.

Don’t allow yourself to feel exposed – if you’re holding papers (financial figures, proof of orders, and so on) and your hands are shaking, simply find a place to put them down.

Even the most seasoned professional will feel a rush of nerves or excitement ahead of a big pitch; the secret is to channel that energy into your enthusiasm and positivity for your product or service.

5.   Know your numbers

Be ready to provide information about costs and projected profits, particularly if the returns are likely to be marginal to begin with.

It’s fine to take notes into a meeting with you if your memory isn’t up to the task of storing all the necessary information – and doing so can help you to look more organised, too – just as long as you have the appropriate profit forecasts or details of existing orders that your investors are likely to ask about.

The more information – fact-based, not opinion-based – that you can give your audience, the more likely it is that you will be able to persuade them that the opportunity is tangible and not just an effort to extract money from them.

6.   Know your product

You’re making the pitch, so you’re the one who needs to hold all of the necessary knowledge relating to the opportunity. Make sure you deliver a quantifiable description of the product or service you intend to supply.

For freelancers and contractors where you are the product, this is where a portfolio comes into play – it’s your way of demonstrating your track record and proving that you, as a person, are a reliable investment.

7.   Negotiate

Negotiation – or haggling, to put it another way – is a key part of the pitching process, so learn to compromise without caving completely.

Resist the urge to see your potential investors as the opposition – negotiation is about finding a mutually agreeable outcome, not one that’s almost unworkable for one party or the other.

If you enter into a bidding process, be prepared for a period of silence to follow each offer you make – don’t be tempted to break the silence by improving your offer, just let your potential client or investor think without interruption, and come up with their counter-offer.

Dealing with extended silences is one of the techniques experienced negotiators pick up, so the less ruffled you appear when nobody speaks, the greater your confidence level will appear to your counterpart.

8.   Don’t panic

In any pitch, with only very few exceptions, there will be a moment when you think you’ve blown your chances.

When this moment comes, you’ve got three options. If you panic, it’s all over and you’ve got little to no chance of success. Plough straight on through, and your would-be client or investor might not even notice your momentary wobble.

If you’re fairly sure it was obvious to all in the room, just take a moment, collect your thoughts and continue strongly from where you left off.

A single stumble shouldn’t be enough to put off an investor if you’ve got a good opportunity to pitch to them, so don’t worry when you think things have gone wrong – it’s how you pick yourself back up that matters most.

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