Sunday, 15 May 2011

Pitching to UK plc

As you have by now probably realised, The Apprentice is back on television in the UK, and with it comes the inevitable media focus on entrepreneurial business skills and, in particular, the art of pitching.

Almost every episode of the popular, business based cross between a reality program and a game show features the contestants having to make a pitch.

They pitch for business, pitch for orders, pitch ideas and they pitch to keep their jobs in the boardroom showdown at the end of each week's task.

What does this say about the bigger world of business in 'UK plc' - that awful phrase coined recently by the cleaner in the Business Link office in Swindon? (Not really. They probably paid some consultants thousands to come up with that.)

For a start, pitching is something that everyone in a business needs to do at some point – even if it's only in their interview and annual performance appraisal. Most staff have to pitch ideas, pitch for resources and pitch themselves for promotions.

And one thing that we can say, having seen and delivered countless pitches ourselves, is that UK plc's HR department needs to invite Mr P45 round for afternoon tea.

So to do our bit and support our fantastic entrepreneurial business men and women by facilitating the enablement of a world class knowledge management and diversity led cultural alignment paradigm, we thought we would share our 'Seven Secrets to a Successful Pitch' with you.

Secret 1: You're Not Here to Make Friends

Small talk does our head in, really. Just get to the point. Seriously, though, small talk distracts from your pitch and sets up completely the wrong expectations in the audience's mind. Pack it in. Get down to business and stop wasting time.

Secret 2: Powerpoint? What's the Point?

We don't want to see slides. We don't want to see a picture of your Head Office. We don't want to be herded through your standard presentation. And most of all, if you say, "Oh that's not important, we can skip that one... and that one... and that one" then you'll be out the door with your laptop shoved where your projector doesn't shine. If you can't be bothered to even tailor a presentation for us then we don't matter to you, and you don't matter to us. Err on the side of caution and leave your laptop at home.

Secret 3: Time, Gentlemen, Please

Rehearse your pitch so that it lasts half of the time we've allowed you. With your waffling and repeating yourself, our pertinent and insightful questions and your meandering, nervous answers, your time will be up. Less is more.

Secret 4: Give Me What I Need...

Or we'll presume you don't have it. If we need facts and figures to make a decision, we don't want promises and assurances. We want facts and figures. If you don't have them, it's because your business plan is a pathetic, thinly woven web of lies.

Secret 5: If I Want to See a Performance, I'll Go To the Theatre

Edna's "To you. To you. And to you" made us cringe. It's dreadful. Unfortunately, many people think it's a good idea to learn presentation skills from a washed up, has been, out of work comedian, actor or news reader. Erm... they're out of work for a reason. Stop it. Talk to us like we're human beings and we'll treat you like one.

Secret 6: Keep Your Gob Shut

Oh, how many times we've seen sales people walking out of the meeting room, patting each other on the back, saying things like, "Yeah, you nailed it dude", and "It's in the bag!" Watch The Apprentice and we guarantee you'll see it happen. Keep your gob shut from the moment you get our of your car until you get back in it. Any loutish behaviour, undue celebration or inappropriate comments mean you're out of the running, because we want to do business with professionals, not louts.

Secret 7: Follow Up or F@#k Off

Not following up signals arrogance. Or apathy. Either way, you don't get the business. Arrogance because yours isn't the only pitch we've seen, and you expect us to remember what you said? Apathy because if you can't be bothered to send a follow up letter, why would we trust you with our money?

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