Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Pitch Doctor: How to Effectively Communicate Your Business Pitch—and Other Messages

Last month I attended a Minnesota entrepreneurs event hosted by the Minnesota chapter of EO. It was an evening-long affair, with entrepreneurs from all levels and at all stages in attendance to discuss their businesses, ideas, goals, and challenges. While the majority of the evening consisted of roundtable discussions with experienced “mentors,” there was also an optional workshop by Chris Carlson, a designated “Pitch Doctor” for Project Skyway.
Being an attorney at the event, I planned to spend my night meeting, socializing with, and learning from the other attendees; the pitching workshop didn’t seem very relevant for my purposes. But after hearing more than a few people commenting on how great the session was, I decided to make it my last stop of the night.
I’m very glad I did. Not only did I learn valuable information about how entrepreneurs attempt to pitch their businesses and common missteps, I also learned more broadly about the importance of listening, speaking honestly, and being yourself when attempting to convey a message of any kind. Chris Carlson, attorney, actor, and founder of NarrativePros, LLC, led the dynamic session and was inspiring. Again, his key message for effective communication revolves around focusing on one’s audience (listening), and being your authentic self.
In one exercise, Chris had us pair up with a partner for a two-minute-long conversation. During this conversation, each partner was told to repeat the last three words spoken by the other person before continuing with their own response. For example, here’s a snippet from my conversation: “Hi, my name is Karen Wenzel and I’m from St. Cloud.” Response: “I’m from St. Cloud. Hi my name is Joe Nelson. I went to Carlson School of Business.” Response: “Carlson School of Business. I went to St. Olaf College and majored in English.” Response: “Majored in English. . . .” And so on.
While it felt silly and awkward, to say the least, once the exercise was over, participants agreed that it was more difficult than it had sounded. Not because it was hard to think of something to say yourself, but because it took an extra amount of concentration to really listen to each word your partner was saying—since you knew you’d have to repeat it back. The message was clear: listening to your audience cannot be a passive activity. Rather, listening to what someone is trying to tell you may often take more energy and concentration than communicating your own message. In the challenging and competitive world of entrepreneurship, listening to what customers/clients/investors want from your business is not only significant—it is vital.
Chris also brought to our attention the way we spoke about ourselves during these types of casual conversations. For example, he’d note the way a person looked, sounded, and acted while discussing his/her background, where he/she grew up, went to school, etc. This was contrasted with the way that same person looked when giving his/her business pitch. During the casual conversation, most people appeared laid back and comfortable. They might have leaned back in their chairs, smiled, paused appropriately, or used hand gestures. When asked to deliver their business pitches, these same people would appear rigid, speak robotically, with perhaps less emotion or ease. They may have sounded “fake” or appeared to be in “sales mode.”
Of course, part of this effect comes from the fact that many business pitches consist of memorized, rote phrases that are the same each time they are conveyed. But again, the point was clear: it is not only easier for speakers, but more comfortable and therefore more meaningful to audiences, when messengers speak honestly and freely—when they are being themselves. Business pitches or slogans certainly have their purpose, but I found that when Chris would ask people to actually explain their businesses after giving their pitches, I more thoroughly understood and connected with not only the business ideas, but the people behind the ideas and their motivations.
These concepts may seem elementary, but I, for one, sincerely appreciated my “appointment” with the Pitch Doctor last month. His messages and techniques can truly help budding entrepreneurs make the most of those critical communications with business partners, customers, and investors.

A Post by Karen Wenzel, Guest Blogger

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