Presentation skills


Delivering an impromptu ‘pitch’ during unexpected business encounters.

When it comes to impromptu pitches, here’s my philosophy: Get in; get out; leave ‘em wanting more. Let’s say that you are at a networking event. Suddenly, you find yourself face-to-face with a new business prospect or lead source. Excellent, you say to yourself. Now’s my chance to make an impression. What’s your best approach when you did not prepare in advance for the particular scenario?

In-the Moment Execution:

· Take a deep (yet non-audible) breath. Train yourself to take a breath before launching into a conversation, so that you maintain a mature, collected demeanor.

· Recognize that you’re simply one human being talking to another. Squelch any feelings of anxiety or inadequacy. Remember, they may have a need. You may have something of value to offer. And if their needs and your offerings don’t jive, well, then they simply don’t. It’s not the end of the world.

· Be likeable. What does this mean, to be likeable? Keep the tone of the conversation positive, even subtly complimentary. Smile with your eyes. (Try; it really works and it feels good, too!) Maintain a humble ‘realness’—don’t exaggerate, don’t embellish. Think: I’m easy. Easy and enjoyable to talk with.

· Recognize that this is a moment to make a lasting impression, not to close a deal. Too often, people find themselves in spontaneous business scenarios where they feel they will never get another chance. It’s now or never, they think. This is only partially correct. Yes, it’s now or never to make a first impression. But do not pressure yourself (or the other person) into making a sale. Stay focused on the fact that you simply want the other person to view you favorably, and to remember something—one relevant ‘tagline’—about you. The ‘ultimate’ goal is simply to secure a next step—a meeting, a referral, an invitation. With this in mind, the ultimate goal is indeed attainable.

Practice your delivery style in all contexts—business and social. You can never be certain of whom you will run into, and when. Strive to be concise, conscious, consistent, curious, and captivating.

· Concise: Get in and get out. Why? Because you want to take time to do your research, learn more about them, and resume the connection in the near future. Sure, perhaps it would be fabulous to talk with the person at great lengths at that very moment—to really wow! them with all that your firm can do. But remember, they are likely there to talk with with many people. Do not monopolize. It’s inappropriate, and believe me, if you are a good fit with one another, you will indeed reconnect later in another, more specific context.

· Conscious: Be acutely aware of yourself, your ‘target’, and the surroundings. Keep your own body language open and confident. And maintain a keen eye towards any non-verbal cues from them to indicate their interest and mood.

· Consistent: Do your words, tone, and body language match one another? Do they truly reflect your intentions? Is your overall behavior consistent with that which your company expects of you as a representative or ‘face’?

· Curious: Ask questions first. Then listen. Prove you are listening by weaving their comments into your own responses. Remember, if your immediate goal is simply to make an impression and secure a ‘next step’, then you are not required to tell all. In fact, they are more likely to find the conversation enjoyable and productive if you let them talk. All of you seasoned sales and marketing professionals already know this by now, right?

· Captivating: Identify your own charms. Perhaps it’s your dry sense of humor? Your happy (but not over-the-top giddy) energy? Your kind eyes and easy smile? Your insatiable interest in others? Your occasional child-like wonder? Your balance between sophistication and Midwestern wholesomeness? Your creative and open mind? Tap into your charms and use them to your very fullest advantage in these contexts!

Be comfortable with the content. While people interpret at least 67% (some experts claim up to 93%) of all communications through non-verbal cues, it’s still essential to be ready with a message (content) that will stick. How do you practice the most effective communication of a message?

· Memorize your firm’s top three messages. Rephrase them into catchy taglines, if at all possible. Then they will be easy for you to remember. If you have a short story or example that you can share to support each ‘tagline’ message, even better. In the actual moment of your impromptu ‘pitch’, consider choosing just one of those messages to capture their attention.

· Don’t promise that you ‘do it all’, especially if you are conversing in an impromptu manner. It’s a real turn-off to hear when a person claims that their firm will do ‘anything’ and ‘everything’. Credibility and sincerity are immediately questioned. Even if certain leaders of your firm make this mistake, you do not need to add to the problem. Stay focused; recognize limitations. Practice this in conversations with family members or friends, prior to talking to prospects.

· Re-phrase your message as you wrap up. Did you pique their interest with your personality, your message, or both? Make a concerted effort to reiterate your message once more so that it really sticks until you can execute the ‘next step’.

· Master ‘thinking on your feet’ skill. Take the lead from Toastmasters. Their impromptu speech exercises—where you come up with a mini-presentation on a random topic (also: Table Topics game)—can really make a difference in your ability to think quickly, while concentrating on word choice, content organization, body language and tone. Trust me. Do these exercises on a weekly basis (perhaps practice informally with a group at your firm over lunch) and you will become a true master at impromptu communications (and thus, impromptu pitching).

Impromptu pitches deserve more preparation and attention! We’re all so busy worrying about the formal interview or the new business sales meetings, that we sometimes neglect to master the art of impromptu anything (conversation, speeches, pitches). Give these tips a try; let me know how it goes and feel free to share specific situations and outcomes.

PSMJ's AE Rainmaker and RainToday

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