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How to improve your pitch with Charismatic Leadership Tactics

There are multitudes of great articles, books and courses that explain how the pitch should be structured and delivered. So that is not what this article is about. If you have no idea how to structure a pitch content-wise, I suggest you read up on that later. The first rule of pitching is always content is king. You can pitch like you are the forsaken lovechild of Martin Luther King and W. Churchill, born with the voice of Morgan Freeman AND still fall through the cracks if your content is not on point.

Since this is the Charismatic Behavior Series, this article will be about the how’s, rather than the what’s of pitching. How can you better get your message across to your audience? How do you assure that you have the attention of the listener? How do you pitch to ensure that the audience actually remembers your pitch afterwards? How do you pitch to be percieved as a competent, visionary and believable entrepreneur?

Most investors and entrepreneurs have a clear idea of how a pitch should be structured and delivered. Most MBA courses have this as a part of the corriculum. And there are tons of great resources online how to do it. But what is the difference of a good pitch, and a truly great one? What is the difference of the winner of a pitching contest and the runner ups? I can assure you they all had great ideas, great content and none of them didn’t even stutter once.

So how can we achieve this? The answer is Charismatic Leadership Tactics.

These tactics have been tested quantitatively and have proven positive effect in how they were recieved by the audience. The study was done by John Antonakis (et al) in 2011 by the University of Lausanne. John is one of the leading reseacher on the subject of charisma, and set out to prove that charisma can be both learned and manipulated. In the study, 40 managers and around 90 MBA students, was tested to see the effect of incorporating Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLT’s). The managers held a speech to inspire their employees and the MBA students held a political speech to a classroom of 116. The audience rated the speech after, and they tested for variables of trust in the leader, competence, likability and so on. Then they taught the managers and students how to use CLT’s and had them incorporate it into their speech. The content of the speech was not to be changed. Six weeks later, they held the speech again, but now with CLT’s. And the results were staggering. All students and managers with correct usage of CLT’s, had a significant bump to their rating compared to their previous speech. Their competent rating even went up by 60%!

To get to the point, here are 11 verbal and non-verbal tactics to set you apart when you pitch:

Metaphors, similies and anolagies
Metaphors and analogies are used to create a more relatable message to the audience. This creates audience engagement, a more memorable message and creates more emotional connection between presenter and listener. Martin L. King was a master of the metaphor.

“In his “I Have a Dream” speech, for example, he likened the U.S. Constitution to “a promissory note” guaranteeing the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all people but noted that America had instead given its black citizens “a bad check,” one that had come back marked “insufficient funds.” Everyone knows what it means to receive a bad check. The message is crystal clear and easy to retain.” (Antonakis, 2012)

One of the most effective ways to connect with listeners is by telling a story. One does not even have to be a natural storyteller or have an engaging story. By simply structuring the content as a story in enough to increase audience engagement.

“Take this example from a speech Bill Gates gave at Harvard, urging graduates to consider their broader responsibilities: “My mother…never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she [quoted]: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’” (Antonakis, 2012)
“Gosh, what happened next!?”

Contrasts are one of the simpler CLT’s to learn. It is an effective way to create perspective of the content, especially used together with metaphors. Antonakis (2012) states that contrasts are a bridge between passion and logic.

Gilles, a senior VP, speaking to a direct report managing a stagnant team: “It seems to me that you’re playing too much defense when you need to be playing more offense.” (That’s also a metaphor.) And Sally, introducing herself to her new team: “I asked to lead the medical division not because it has the best location but because I believe we can accomplish something great for our company and at the same time help save lives.” (Antonakis, 2012)

Rhetorical questions
Rhetorical questions are the verbal equivalent of throwing a wet sponge at a sleeping student. It is a strong opener and closer, and a way to make sure your audience is listening.

Three-part lists
A list gives a sense of completeness. Using a list is a very effective way to distill a message into key takeaways. Three is the minimum number to create a pattern, and most people can remember three things.

Expressions of moral convictions that reflect on the follower
This is how great leaders unite nations and how cancer research get donations. Make statements on moral convictions that reflect on the sentiment of the group that the audience can get behind, and the listener can identify with. This creates stronger motional connections between you and the audience. It is also a way to establish your credibility and quality of character.

“Another nice example of moral conviction (plus a number of other CLTs) comes from Tina, a manager in an NGO pushing for a needed supply-chain change: “Who do you think will pay for the logistical mess we’ve created? It is not our donors who’ll feel it, but the children we’re supposed to be feeding that will go to bed one more time with an empty belly and who may not make it through the night. Apart from wasting money, this is not right, especially because the fix is so simple.”” (Antonakis, 2012)

Setting high goals and expectation for themselves
Antonakis (2011) study found that charismatic leaders often set high expectations for themselves, as well as their followers. They also communicated confidently that these goals and expectations would be met. This is a common technique used by leaders that are often referred to as ‘visionaries’, to spark motivation in their followers and the key to this technique is to be able to convey this message with confidence (Cabane, 2012).

Convey confidence
When you make a statement, especially when it’s concerning long-term goals and the company’s vision, saying it with confidence makes it more believable (Cabane, 2012). Conveying confidence comes from absolute belief in your statement and confident body language. Confident body language in this setting is to make grand statements with a straight face (Houpert, 2012). Saying a grand statement without breaking eye contact, breaking out in a smile or ‘fidgeting’, and a generally ‘big body language’ with head held high and shoulders pushed back, is how you convey confidence.

Facial expressions that convey emotional states
Humans are hardwired to be sensitive to emotions. Humans communicate in large parts by reading emotional cues. Strong emotional expressions makes it easier for others to connect empathically with others. Many YouTube videos follow this tactic, by using thumbnails with strong emotional facial expressions (Gielen, 2014). By using facial expressions to convey your emotional state that is fitting with your verbal message, you make it easier for the audience to stay engaged throughout the pitch.

Gesticulations is another method to hold the attention of the audience. Humans are more prone to focus on sources that stimulate multiple senses. Hand movement and gesticulations also gives more depth to your communication (Cabane, 2012).

Animated voice
Animated voices might seem like an odd choice for this list. Animated voices works the same way as a rhetorical question, by making sure your audience is engaged throughout your speech or pitch. It also has the added benefit of creating positive associations. A good animated voice can produce laughter and is a welcomed distraction from the audience. Animated voices exists in a wide spectrum, and can vary from just increased volume to full out cartoon-voice.

The most important part of using CLT’s:

Just like your diet, your work or linewalking; it’s all about balance. To use CLT’s correctly, you have to find the right amount of CLT’s and how to use them subtley. Too many and to much will have a negative effect. You can’t use excessive getsiculations, ask a retorical question every other sentence or do a minute long pitch in a Bernie Sanders voice. Start by adding a few here and there in your pitch and experiment on what you think works for you.

What I have found works best for me in a 5 minute presentation:

  • Structure the pitch like a story. Create a clear red line that connects the slides in the presentation.
  • Methaphors, rhetorical questions and contrasts used throughout the pitch.
  • Three-part-list on customer problems.
  • Example of customer feedback in a clearly animated voice.

These are the ones that fell very natural for me to use. Confident body language and gesticulations comes naturally over time if you try to be observant of it.

Moral convictions and setting high goals doesn’t really come naturally to me, and I don’t feel fully comfortable using them lightly. My startup doesn’t have a strong morall “selling point” either, but this can be extremely effective for certain startup. The best example I have seen of this is probably when a founder made a room of 200 investors feel ashamed for pooping in a pitching competition.

Thank you for reading! If you want to read more about charisma, please feel free to check out my other articles.