WHO CARES? I DO.

By Louisa Clarke, Partner, The Caffeine Partnership

Anyone who lives with teenagers may be familiar with the following scenario.

The family is — for once — gathered together around the dinner table. You’re all in one place: a captive audience. It dawns on you that this could be the optimum time to impart some of the hard-earned wisdom gained over the course of your career. It’s time for some sage thoughts and unsolicited advice. It’s time, in fact, for, a ‘life lesson.’
 I’m a bit partial to a life lesson (giving, rather than receiving of course). And often, my determination to impart a life lesson is in direct correlation to the number of pre-dinner cocktails I’ve had. This is why holidays are a peak time for me to share some of the many top tips for which I feel my teenage sons will be grateful. So I begin…and just as I am getting into my stride, my son’s voice cuts across mine with a short, but cutting remark:

“No one cares.”

Actually, “no one cares” is not reserved solely to cut short my life lessons. It’s quite the multi-purpose remark. I’ve had it uttered to me (tone of voice: dismissive, withering, bored — take your pick) when I’ve tried to give an update on my day, or talk about what’s in the news or even when making general announcements such as, “I’m taking the dog out.” You know the drill:

“No one cares.”

And it strikes me, as I spend a lot of my time working with individuals and teams helping them to pitch for new business more effectively, that many pitch presentations are, sadly, deserving of such a put down.

Rambling introduction about how grateful you are for the opportunity? — No one cares.

Map showing all your offices around the world? — No one cares.

Selection of case studies that bear no relation to the client’s issue? — No one cares.

These are just a few examples of cut and paste pitching: doing things in the same old way and getting the same dire results.

So who cares? I care.

I care because I’ve seen the transformation of individuals and businesses as they get out of old, ineffectual habits to enjoy vastly improved results by adopting a different approach to pitching. I care because I hate to see brilliance go to waste as great ideas are diluted or lost in a fog of badly presented, over-complex and forgettable charts. I care that people are working stupid hours because they didn’t get organised the moment the brief pinged into the inbox.

Here’s three tips to make you care too.

1. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no ‘try’”
 Pitching is really only about one thing. Winning. Everything else — demonstrating your talent, producing amazing work, showing your skills — is academic if you don’t win. Knowing this makes you focus on the result. If you’re not 100% committed to winning, then don’t pitch. Until you win, nothing else can happen; nothing else matters. And to win, you have to do all the hard work, which means you deserve to win.

2. Don’t do it all at the last minute.
 A statement from the department of the bleeding obvious perhaps but piss poor time management is probably the biggest contributor to piss poor pitches. Many of us love the adrenaline of the looming deadline but wasting 20% of the time available by keeping the brief on your desk for two days instead of getting cracking immediately doesn’t add a gritty edge of brinksmanship to your presentation, it just means you gave your competition a massive head start. Get on with it ASAP and aim to finish — rehearsals and all — 24 hours before the pitch. Imagine that — a good night’s sleep the night before you pitch? It can be done and it makes a HUGE difference to your energy and attitude on the day.

3. Less is more.
 We love to think our audience is soaking up our words like a sponge, absorbing and remembering every line of our cogent proposal. Yet we know from our own listening habits that it’s simply not the case. Our brains can only remember so much. Limit the number of key points you want to make. A good discipline is for every presenter to write down the one thing the client must remember by the time that presenter sits down. It forces people to focus on what’s important. It stops presenters waffling. It’s a self editing tool to sharpen your presentation and it ensures that each section of the presentation has a point. Keep the main thing the main thing — what are you asking the client to think, feel, do, buy?

All this is not only true of winning a pitch for a contract. The same applies when winning anyone over to you — be that your request for investment, a proposal for a bank loan…even to get your people behind your vision for the business. We are constantly in pitch mode, even when giving advice to our children. And that’s a subject I’ll be expanding further during my upcoming life lesson during dinner tonight.


Originally published at thisiscaffeine.com on April 13, 2017.