March Madness: How to Become Part of Your Client’s Final 4

With the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament set to open this March, fans are getting ready to root for their favorite players in the spirit of competition. 68 teams will be battling for the coveted national championship, where only two will remain for a final face-off.

Aside from the championship itself, getting to the national semi-finals and becoming part of the Final Four is already more than half the battle. After besting most of the competition, the remaining teams will go against players who are considered the best of the best.

While it seems arbitrary at first, the resilience and strategy of these final teams can help in improving your own battles, especially those in the boardroom. Faced with an audience you might be pitching to for the first time, you’ll be pressured to win despite the odds. Will you make it to your clients’ final four, or will you be eliminated in the playoffs? Here’s how to shoot the hoops with a winning pitch:

Prepare and Practice

March Madness starts out with the First Four rounds of the tournament. This determines which teams move on to the more competitive set of rounds. Ideally, this ensures a level playing field and equal chances of getting in. Players face teams of equal rank before moving up to the next rounds.

Similarly, the start of your presentation is a blank slate where you prove yourself, regardless of your competitors’ past performances. While you might feel pressured by this idea, don’t lose heart at the beginning by letting anxiety win over you. This is where preparation comes in handy, because knowing that you’re well-prepared can help ease tension and help you focus on delivering your key points.

It might feel counter-intuitive at first, since most people believe that spontaneity is necessary to impress audiences. Doing away with scripts, and at times even your entire PowerPoint, is common advice to those who want to engage their audience directly. However, braving the court totally unprepared has proven ineffective, for both those vying for the NCAA Division 1 championship and those aiming for prospects’ approval.

You can’t rely only on your gut feeling and wing it every time. When it comes to freeing your hands and your body language from stiff and memorized notes, spontaneous speech can come in handy. While being spontaneous has its merits, preparation is important in coordinating with your team and organizing your content.

Content organization and preparation involve researching your topic and audience preferences thoroughly. Having this knowledge at hand will help you gauge what approach to take. Familiarizing your topic in this way will also keep you going when faced with mental roadblocks.

Take Advantage of Opponent Fouls

A free throw is awarded when the other team commits a foul, giving your team a chance to score. While presenting to investors doesn’t usually involve free throws, it does come in the form of chances to capitalize on the competition’s shortcomings. This lets you introduce your proposal’s advantages over them.

One of the tech industry giants who famously pulled an effective presentation ‘free throw’ is former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He presented IBM, the then-leading brand, as an outdated competitor who needed to be replaced with the more efficient Macintosh. This move impressed people’s opinions about the Mac, and helped leverage it in the market.

Give your own presentation the same advantage by surveying the current market situation. Look for yet to be addressed customer needs missed by potential or existing rivals. This lets you tailor your goods to better catch their interest. Remember that your prospects initially want to know more about how your offering will benefit them, not you. Before running them through your product’s features, always start with what bestselling author Ramit Sethi calls the benefits your clients want.

Show how you have more benefits to offer than the competition by delivering hard data to your audience. Backing your claims up with actual information helps balance out your appeal to the audience’s emotions. Both fact and creative speech are necessary in increasing client interest in you.

Facts are there to establish how well you’re doing or how fast your growth will be in a given timeline, and creative speech is there to lower people’s skepticism towards blatant self-promotion. The latter has been proven by neuro-economic Paul Zak, who linked people’s reception of stories with an increase in the individual’s Oxytocin levels and feelings of trust. Make use of both factual evidence and creative speech to gain a point over your competition.

Stay Focused and Determined

A rigorous game can be exhausting for the individual players, but an entire week of eliminations makes it equally difficult to sustain morale and stamina. After the first two rounds, the best teams are narrowed down to the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight at the regional semifinals and finals. It’s an exciting and tense time for the remaining competitors and their supporters.

Some athletes might get too confident about their chances of winning, and end up failing to land in the Final Four. Others might be too drained to keep up their performance after giving their all in the first two rounds of the tournament.

Don’t let either of these scenarios happen to your pitch. Stick to your outline and focus on delivering your points. Losing sight of your goal will get you lost in self-doubt and inefficient spontaneity.

In his article for Entrepreneur, author Geoff Williams explains why following up after your pitch is essential for an overall good impression. Once you’ve gotten past catching and keeping the audience’s attention, it’s time to think about what you’re going to do once they express interest in you. Leaving your contact details is one way to let them get in touch with you after your presentation, but they might not remember that for long.

Various people will respond to different ways of following up. For example, asking them to subscribe to weekly or monthly newsletter might keep them interested in your upcoming events or promos. You can also opt to add them to your network, which will mutually benefit both of you. Through this network, they can recommend you new business, giving you more to show you’re worth the time and money that they invested in you.

Learn from Past Mistakes

Not every season will be a winning season. Even UCLA, which dominated the NCAA men’s basketball championships for consecutive years, eventually conceded some victories.

The same goes for your pitch. Although you should consider every pitch as an opportunity to grow your business, that doesn’t mean that getting turned down once is the end of the line. It only means that you should improve on your output more. This applies equally with design, delivery, and content. You might also be catering to the wrong audience, which might explain your strategy’s inefficiency despite being a good one.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, whether during the actual pitch or in practice. Take note of what might have tuned your listeners out, or what you forgot to deliver halfway through. This helps you settle what you need to work on for the presentations to come, and avoid committing the same errors.

If your deck looks unappealing, arrange your layout and design to utilize images and any graphs or diagrams that accompany your data. This makes the information you present more palatable and interesting to look at. Since most people are visual learners, making use of images can help concretize and illustrate your points better. They can come in the form of powerful snapshots related to your pitch or appropriate charts to break down the data.

On the other hand, if it’s your delivery or content that need working on, practice your speech constantly. Record yourself as you speak, or watch yourself in front of a mirror to mark distracting tics that may be affecting your audience’s perception of you onstage. Let others read through your outline. Because you know your content better than anyone, you’re bound to miss a few blind spots by assuming your audience knows it as well. However, an objective third party may help you weed them out and eventually improve on them.

Work the Rounds to Reach the Championship

The NCAA D1 men’s basketball Final Four once began in the First Four rounds of the tournament. Each team worked with passion and determination to get to where they are — or, in the case of this year’s March Madness, where they will be. Apply the same amount of work on your pitch with a sum of the points we’ve discussed earlier:

1. Prepare well for your pitch. Presentations aren’t supposed to be done overnight. Aside from working on your deck, content, and delivery, you also need to do some research on the audience to gauge how you’ll be interacting with them.

2. Always offer a benefit for the client. You can leverage your image by surveying the current market situation and showing them how your product can improve their lives. Offer something the competition hasn’t even thought of yet.

3. Stay focused on your goals. Even after your presentation’s come to a close, start plotting out the ways you’ll be following up and ensuring customer loyalty.

Learn from your mistakes, and don’t give up if you’ve been turned down before. There are always other opportunities to prove yourself again, and hopefully your past shortcomings will prepare you for the new pitch ahead.

Your presentation isn’t a game, but you can learn a lot from how professional players have hurdled through difficult training and even more difficult competition. Outdo your competitors and score a win for your pitch!

Here’s an infographic to show you how to become part of your client’s final 4:


Maria, Popova. “The Neurochemistry of Empathy, Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc, Animated.” Brain Pickings. 2012. Accessed February 10, 2016.

Sethi, Ramit. “Earn1K Lesson: Identify the Benefits Your Clients Want.” I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Accessed February 10, 2016.

Williams, Geoff. “The Perfect Presentation: Follow-up.” Entrepreneur. August 09, 2007. Accessed February 10, 2016.