Back in 2011, I learnt the power of persuasion for the first time. Back then I was shy in social situations and very quiet. I’d often be afraid to take the weight of conversation and had a fear of being in the social spot light. That was until I worked in sales. I remember that I had trouble to begin with, but once I put my mind to it I begun to get results.
Sales also helped me land jobs, travel the world and learn the skill of gaining investors attention. In this post I’m going to highlight some fatal mistakes that most engineers and scientists make when pitching to investors, clients and customers. You’ll learn how to avoid these mistakes and how you can be persuasive in every business pitch. These skills will can be applied to achieve amazing results not just for a startup looking to gain investors attention but also for everyday persuasion.
In order to learn how to be persuasive you have to understand some basic human psychology. Understanding how our brains operate is hugely important for anyone looking to create influence. Interestingly, much of how we react is counterintuitive to how would like to think we act. As it turns out, most of our behaviour is formed out out of impulsive drives and relies less on logic than we would like to believe. It’s crazy because what determines most of what we actually do comes from how we perceive information in our brain. Both psychology and information processing have a huge effect on our behaviour.
Psychology and Information Processing
Let’s look at how we process information in our brains. Most of us are unaware but there are in fact two sides of the brain that react to the information that is processed by the brain. These two parts of the brain can be simplified to the logical brain and emotional brain. I know, this may seem over simplified by it is the best way to describe the functions of the amygdala and neocortex sections of the brain. Stay with me, because it is important to understand that the amygdala can be described the emotional brain which responds to primal cues to make instant decisions: Fight, Flight or Mate. You can think of the amygdala as colour blind because it see’s things as black and white: does something have value or not. What most people don’t realise is that information must pass through the filters of the emotional brain before it goes through to logical brain for processing.
The mistake most people make when pitching.
It’s easy to assume that we must cater a pitch to our audiences logical reasoning and place emphasis on the analytical information. This is where we go wrong. It’s a huge mistake to base our presentations on facts assuming that our audience will be using the neocortex or the logical brain to process the information. Ok while it’s true that information will reach the logical brain at some point it’s important to see that new information processed FIRST by the emotional brain. No business pitch or message is going to get to the logic centre of audience’s brain without passing through the survival filters of the primal, emotion brain system first. You see, this is because of the way we evolved, and because of these perception filters in the brain it makes pitching anything extremely difficult. An author who describes this especially well is Oren Klaff who wrote the book “Pitch Anything“. This book has been hugely helpful for me to understand what it takes to be truly persuasive*.
So how do we go about pitching our ideas?
The psychology of how the brain interprets information is nothing new or revolutionary. The mistake I often see with entrepreneurs and influencers is that they simply forget to consider what motivates them and their own behaviour. Think about it, when was the last time you bought something or had someone convince of their viewpoint? I’m guessing that it was excitement and emotional drives that motivated you to buy or be persuaded. This is because persuasion is the art of engaging the emotional brain and giving the logical brain the bare minimum of information that it needs to be satisfied. Let’s look at some specific mistakes that entrepreneurs make when pitching.
3 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make when Pitching
#1 Pitch Disruption
A common problem that causes business pitches to go cold is created when your audience unconsciously tries to disrupt your presentation. Don’t you hate it when you are trying to get someone to pay attention and then they begin to mess with your handout materials or ask questions better suited for the end of your presentation? Or have you had it where your audience starts picking up materials and reading them before you want them to, it’s especially frustrating if this interrupts your flow of your presentation! First let’s have a quick look at where this comes from. It’s no surprise that people have ego’s. But more important many people have a need to have others react to them in a social situation. This is an unconscious need for some people to assert the alpha dominance in the interaction. This is important as many business executives, investors and leaders have large egos which need to be supported by having others react and fawn over their power and superiority. This comes from years of having sub ordinates and having people that want your validation. The problem that this causes: is that if someone focuses there attention away from your presentation, you begin to lose some persuasive power. In order to be effective in a business pitch is best to engage your audience right the way through right? So is there a solution? Yes and it’s simple to describe, a bit more difficult to practice. What you need to do is make sure not to give them that opportunity to move their attention away from your presentation, and your influence. You must not react to their efforts to control the social interaction. If they pick up the material it is important to disarm their attempt at trying to gain power. To combat…
- Go against the grain and disrupt so that the attention stays on you.
- Do so in a way which is playful so not to cause a defensive/aggressive response
As an example when someone tries to put you in a reactive position you must regain your power by stopping and reframing the social situation. Say that one of your audience member picks up and begins the material that you have left out for after the presentation while you are speaking. Then you must stop, say something like “Not now, thats for later” with a smile and in a calm confident manner. This will bring the power back to you and you’ll regain your influence in your business pitch.
#2 Pressure to Finish Quickly
“Come on let’s wrap this up” – oh man, this audience is making it hard for you. These few words present a common problem that disrupts the flow of many great presentations. Again this is caused by your audience members unconsciously trying to dictate the direction social interaction, and steal some of your influential power. Remember that most audiences are wanting you to succeed, but their behaviours don’t always reflect that intention. More likely they will attempt to disrupt your persuasive influence in order to retain their status as a alpha. It’s easy to see how many entrepreneurs fall into this subtle trap. The mistake that most influencers make is to finish by trying to speed up the presentation. This is extremely reactive and again you must regain the power in the social interaction. A great solution is instead of reacting to them, just stop and start packing up. Don’t allow their frame to impose that you lose your power. This is extremely powerful as leaving your audience wanting more is much better than boring them.
#3 Drawing the Attention to the Analytical Stuff
Analytical and detail based questions are actually further attacks to your persuasive power. “What are the figures?” “How many customers and how much revenue do you expect on the first year?” The moment your audience does a “deep drill-down” into the minute details, you are losing your persuasive power. So what should you do if someone demands details? Keep the target focused on the business relationship at all times. The mistake is to react to the inquiries and provide straight forward logical answers. This may satisfy the logical brain but it takes strength away from the persuasive power of your presentation. This gives the prospect the power and validation they were seeking. It’s annoying because by reacting in a straight forward and logical way is giving them the persuasive power and diminishing your own. The most effective way to overcome this analytical attack is by providing associated story. This is a effective response as it can answer the question in a way which keeps the emotional brain engaged. The story itself must be brief and also relevant to the question. It must have a sense of risk and include an element of time pressure. It must develop tension but most important it should take the audience up to the point of resolution but not quite. Great story telling is always a great way to engage the emotional brain. This is because we can relate to a story, it creates an connection with the audience which is far more persuasive than cold facts. By then your audience will have their attention on you and you can recommence your pitch, with an engaged audience.
Use With Caution!
Now as you might imagine that these methods can be effective when used correctly but they can also be disastrous if not. Pitching is a conversation with a desired outcome, as is all forms of persuasion. So my best advice would be to first experiment in low risk social situations. When someone begins to distract themselves when listening to you, regain their attention and notice their reaction. You can practice in any social interaction. The art of using these techniques effectively is to execute them while avoiding negative or defensive responses.
So do it with a smile, and have fun.
This way people not feel the need to begin a power war for attention. Funnily enough the best examples of how to get away with being an dominant speaker is comedians. Now you don’t have to do years of improv or standup training to master this. Just watch some of your favourite comedians and how they get away with saying outlandish or off the wall things. My personal favourite is Russell Brand and how he can get away with saying all sorts of off the wall things. As a side note, you won’t want to include too many off the wall jokes in your pitch but comedy is really effective way to be a influential presenter.
There is a simple way to determine your progress when learning social dynamics and how they apply to persuasion. How likeable are you? Are you outgoing and positive? Much of social dynamics is about being a passionate and influential person. You might not be the most outgoing person now, but by focusing on avoiding these power traps and by using humour to disarm any defensive responses you are well on your way to winning more deals. Remember, the art of influence is being passionate in what you are saying. The more passionate you are as a person the more passion you’ll have in your business pitch. My advice would be to start seeing every social experience as an opportunity to learn to better the way you are perceived by others. Use these tips wisely to seal more deals and get what you want!
* I have no affiliation to Oren Klaff, just found his book extremely insightful.