Imagine the business owner at her desk late one night. Sitting amid a pile of empty Starbucks cups, she has finished writing a detailed proposal and thinks she can rest after hitting “send.” After all, at the pitch meeting next week she can just “walk” the client through the written proposal, right?

Not really. If she’s smart she’ll take the extra step of preparing an in-person pitch to persuade the prospect.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and small business owners focus only on the written proposal, and treat the in-person presentation as an afterthought.

That’s too bad.

In this week’s marketing tip, we’ll explore the components of a successful in-person pitch.

Let’s start with two key points:

  • A pitch is not you reading your written proposal.
  • A pitch is not a PowerPoint deck.

Of course not all pitches are worthy of hours of preparation time. But if your prospective project is important, and you really care about winning the business, invest some time.

Let’s assume you’ve already met with the prospect at least once (even by phone) and truly listened to their needs. You fully understand what they’re looking for. Now you need to convince them you are best positioned to take on the assignment and solve their problem.

Tips for successful pitching

Describe the problem you solve for your clients – in a story
It’s way too easy to recite a laundry list of what your company does. It’s also boring. A much more effective approach is to share a story about how you solve problems. Help them picture you as their savior. Perhaps you can paint a “before” and “after” scenario. People remember stories, not data.

Include yourself
Don’t be afraid to include yourself as part of the pitch. If you developed your product or service, for example, as the answer to a pain point you yourself were feeling, share this. Such information breathes life into your story. Last week I heard a student pitch a science podcast; he told us about how he offhandedly signed up for a course in university and accidentally discovered he was an “astronomy savant.” It was a fascinating way to open his pitch and drew us right in.

Be wary of visuals
Rethink the idea of showing a cluttered slide. The audience should be looking at you, not trying to decipher a busy PowerPoint deck. In fact, you should reconsider the idea of using slides at all. Why not let people focus on you and your message, rather than a screen?

Remember that more data is not better
Rattling off figures doesn’t dazzle the audience; instead, you might lose them. Sure, keep the numbers at your fingertips so you can answer questions, but don’t attempt to cram every bit of data possible into your pitch. Stick to high-level benefits. Overall, you want to show how your product or service solves a problem in a way no one else can.

Don’t read!
The person you’re pitching to wants to learn something, to be surprised, and to feel that your solution is ideal. Standing there reading does not persuade people or engender trust. So spend the time to know your pitch so you don’t have to read it. When you rehearse, don’t read the pitch quietly to yourself. Stand up and deliver it. The idea is not to memorize the pitch, but to have it become part of you so it flows naturally. This takes work. Try recording yourself using either audio or video. How do you sound?

Watch your words
Don’t overuse clichés like “world-class solutions” and “Your success is our success.” Instead, clearly emphasize the benefits of working with you in real-life terms.

Slow down
Most of us, including me, talk too fast. Take your time. Breathe. Allow people the space to digest what you’re saying.

Close strong
Never end a pitch by saying, “I’m done” or “That’s it” or “Any questions?” You want to finish on a high note. It could be something as simple as telling the prospect you really want their business and would be excited to work on their project. When an organization has reached out for help, they’re often delighted to think that someone else is thrilled about tackling their problem.

What would you add to my pitching advice?