How to Pitch Anything in Two Minutes
I recently gave a talk about communications skills at a company that makes high-end kitchen appliances. Later in the day, the company's new spokesperson, a celebrity chef, demonstrated some new products. Out of several appliances, I thought the toaster would be the least interesting. After all, what's so exciting about a toaster? Mine works perfectly fine, thank you. But as much as I didn't want to admit it, by the end of the demo I wanted to buy the toaster. I returned home and asked my wife if it was time to replace our toaster. Why? The chef's two-minute pitch had been so persuasive it changed my attitude and turned me into a believer. Actually, it did better than that. It transformed me into a product evangelist. I've already sung the toaster's praises to several people. The chef, perhaps unknowingly but extremely convincingly, used five techniques to sell me. Anyone can adopt these techniques to pitch just about anything—from appliances to services to themselves.
Demonstrate enthusiasm. If you're not passionate about the product, your listeners won't be. The chef said: "Now here's something I'm really excited about." I thought to myself, If he's excited, maybe I should pay attention. There might be more to this toaster than I thought. Your listeners are giving you permission to have fun and to show excitement. All too often, business professionals get into "presentation mode," and lose their personality and enthusiasm. Virgin's Richard Branson has a key condition for entering a new business: It has to be fun. If it's not fun, why bother? Too many of us are subject to dull pitches and presentations. Inject some excitement into your pitch. (For tips on boosting your energy level, read my previous column (see BusinessWeek.com, 12/21/07).
Find a personal connection. The chef didn't start by demonstrating the toaster. He spent a few seconds talking about how he grew up with this company's products in his home and just how ingrained the products were in his country's culture. By doing so, he showed he cared about the product and wasn't just paid to pitch something with which he had no personal connection. Remember, people want to like the person behind the product. A famous New York mutual fund manager once told me that he invests in people, not buildings or things. He needs to respect and admire the person behind the company before he considers investing. Your listeners want to make an investment in you. Make them feel good about the person they're backing.
Sell the benefit. While showing us that the outside of the appliance was cool to the touch, the chef mentioned how it was designed with safety in mind, and used an example of kids playing in a kitchen. Instead of simply demonstrating the features behind the product, the chef sold the benefit behind the features. This is a critical persuasion technique. Identify the potential problem before offering a solution.
Nobody Wants a Drill Bit
There is a saying in the insurance industry that every year, 6 million quarter-inch drill bits are sold, yet nobody wants a quarter-inch drill bit; they want a quarter-inch hole. Nobody cares about the features of a life-insurance policy, but they want to know what the features provide, such as peace of mind and financial security in the event of a mishap. When I returned home from my trip on Southwest (LUV), I noticed that in all the company's marketing material, Southwest is not selling a plane ride—it is selling productivity. From the way the company describes its new boarding procedures, promoting on-time arrivals and new workspaces in waiting areas, the message is clear—we sell productivity.
Ask yourself: What are you really selling? You will find that you are not selling a widget; instead, you are selling a better life for your customer thanks to the experience your widget provides.
Tell stories. "Let me tell you about an experience I had with a world-renowned chef in London..." With that, the chef regaled us with memories of his travels. Stories create connections between individuals. They can tell your listeners more about your product than just the facts.
For example, in the area of enterprise security technology, I recently met a smart IT manager who successfully sells ideas by telling stories. He doesn't start a pitch by saying: "This enterprise level security solution represents best-in-class technology for our scalable architecture." Instead, he tells stories that begin like this: "Imagine walking into work Monday morning to find that your computers had been stolen…" Simple stories can take under 30 seconds to tell but can offer more information than mountains of data. Too few business professionals recognize the power of stories to create a common thread of understanding between speaker and listener. Tell more stories and you'll stand apart.
Teach us something new. The chef demonstrating the toaster taught us about a nesting trend and how this new toaster fit into it. Kitchens have become showplaces, he explained. Homeowners not only want appliances that look good—they want devices that save energy, come in colors other than white, offer more functions, and are easy to clean.
A venture capitalist who I interviewed for a panel offered this advice to the entrepreneurs in the audience: "If you can teach me something I didn't know before, you'll have my attention, and perhaps my money!" Every successful pitch has the element of knowledge, teaching your listeners something that wasn't obvious to your audience.
Creating a positive association with a product as mundane as a toaster is no easy feat. Yet this chef won me over in under two minutes. This proves you have the ability to persuade your listeners with every pitch. Don't believe you have a dull product. As a former correspondent for CNN, I learned that how the message is told is as important as the message itself.