Entrepreneurs and startup founders often face situations where there is a very limited amount of time to pitch and get someone interested in what you are doing. If you seize the opportunity and make the most of it, these encounters have the potential to change everything for your company.
Besides your clarity, delivery of message, metrics, product, and all the other things that could make or break a meeting, there are a few extra tricks to use. These small tricks derive from the art of persuasion and rhetorical theory, which I learned to use not only when pitching, but in everyday life as well.
When I was studying communications with the TAI Group, I started reading more about persuasion. I also listened to famous rhetorical speeches, such as Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and Churchill’s “This was their finest hour” (which was actually more for fun).
Whenever I talk to someone about my startup, Swayy, I try to keep the following four acts in mind:
Gain initial trust
Try to start the conversation off easily and get the other person to feel comfortable and trust you from the beginning. People will tend to give extra chances or be more patient when you start by earning their trust. This usually involves giving a short introduction of yourself.
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.”
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt
This is probably the most successful and easy method, as it involves getting someone to use their imagination. Whenever you try to describe a situation, fact, or even a feature, use the words, “Imagine that”.
Read these two sentences:
1. People in the supermarket are in a rush and impatient.
2. Imagine that you are shopping for groceries, and you have to pick your kids up in thirty minutes so you can home early to finish urgent work for tomorrow’s board meeting.
Putting the other person into a situation they can understand is a good transition to making your point, and creates empathy for whatever it is your are about to present.
Back your statements with facts
When you explain why your solution is right, and why people need your product, you are making assumptions. While these assumptions may be true, they are still only assumptions, and can’t be masked as fact.
If you back your assumptions with commonly recognized preliminary facts, it transforms your assumptions into potential facts. Create statements that combine three well-known facts about your niche, market, need, etc., and the fourth (your assumption) will sound much better.
Try this example:
The smartphone’s battery life problem should be solved by public charging services.
1. The average user has 41 apps installed on his phone.
2. The average user spends over 2 hours a day on his device, not including regular voice use.
3. Batteries for handheld tech products haven’t changed drastically in more than 15 years.
4. The smartphone’s battery life problem will* be solved by public charging services.
* The assumption becomes a semi-fact when ‘should’ change to ‘will’.
Without being an expert (and most people aren’t experts), I can say that these four statements sound more reliable, make sense, and are more convincing than just throwing out an assumption, as true as it might sound.
For EVERY assumption or opinion you wish to say, three preliminary facts go a long way to making it sound better.
Be funny (but don’t overdo it)
This is the hardest act of all, because it’s less involved with preparing in advance or your past experiences, but actually about who you are as a person. Being funny will always make you look more likeable, charming and confident.
Having a sense of humor makes people like you more, and better relate to what you are saying. Erika Andersen wrote a great piece on Forbes, describing a story of how being funny can give you leverage over someone else.
Injecting a bit of humor makes it easier for people to identify with you, and can make your point seem true.
“If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can [make you] laugh at a particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge it as true”
– Comedian, John Cleese
Try to practice as much as possible
I was once told that if I can’t pitch my product to a first-grader I should go back home and practice more. I pitch to almost everyone I meet, from friends and family to strangers at a bar (which is surprisingly easy) – it’s important to learn how to explain what I do, regardless of who I’m actually talking to. Practicing your pitch using these acts of convincing and persuading makes the job easier in the future, and you will get better the more you do it.