Punch Up Your Pitch With Storytelling
You’ve been asked to pitch a big project. You and your teammates Shelly and Barbara sit at your conference table discussing next week’s big presentation.
“It’s impossible to know how the competition is going to position themselves,” says Shelly. “We know we’re the best choice but…”
“I already know which team they’re going to choose,” you say with a smile.
“But,” protests Shelly, “how…?”
“They might choose the CEO’s cousin—that happens sometimes—but they’re probably going to choose the people they like the best.”
Barbara gives you the look. “Of course, but if one of our competitors misrepresents their experience or their capabilities…”
All eyes are on you. “I didn’t say ‘the one they think is best-qualified,’; I said the one they like best. Five teams are pitching next week. The client has already done the preliminary interview work, gone over everyone’s website, and narrowed down their choices. Any of the groups presenting can do the work. We all have the teams, experience, equipment, and resources to deliver results—and they know that; that’s why we’re all going to be presenting.”
“So how do we get to be the most-liked team?” asks Shelly with a note of skepticism.
You take a deep breath and smile. “We’re going to practice the mystic art of business storytelling!” We’re not going to spend 30 minutes delivering a PowerPoint version of our website. They’ll sit through at least three of those presentations next week even though they’ve already been through everyone’s online material. Being boring and repetitive is not being likeable!
“Okay,” says Barbara. “So what will we do?”
“We’re going to spend more time asking questions and listening then we are blabbing about ourselves,” you say. “Everyone likes to be listened to.”
“But how will they find out about what we offer?” asks Shelly.
“They already know what we offer. That’s why they eliminated ten candidates and invited us to be there. Let’s ask them what they like, what their goals and visions are, what they’re worried about, what problems they’ve encountered with other contractors, and what their dream collaboration sounds like. Instead of showing up and talking non-stop about ourselves—like that date you were complaining about last week, Shelly—let’s keep the spotlight on them. If they want to know anything else about us, they can ask those questions in the context of a conversation … and not in the context of some data-dump presentation they’re forced to politely endure!”
“I think I get it,” says Barbara. “We’ll get them interested in us…”
“Yes!” you interrupt. “By showing we’re interested in them! Let the other groups spend days and dollars preparing to put on a big show. Your preparation involves coming up with five questions that are relevant to your involvement with the project.”
“But isn’t that … different…? Unconventional?” asks Barbara. “Aren’t you worried we’ll confuse them?”
You nod and smile. “We might at first, but there are no official presentation rules and there’s no presentation police to enforce them. What do you like more—conventional or different? An information mudslide or a story about human relationships?”
“Okay, I can run with this,” says Barbara.
Shelly nods and smiles. “What else?”
“When we sit down around the table to introduce ourselves, we’re not going to do the typical ‘I’m Shelly Watson and I’m the Project Manager’ snooze-fest that everyone does. Think about it: when a stranger gives you their name and title and then explains how they can help you, the next thing you ask is ‘What was your name again?’ Nobody ever remembers names until they’re interested in building a connection!”
“Hmm, I guess that make sense,” says Shelly. “I never thought about that but … what’s the alternative?”
“It might go something like this:” you suggest. “‘My role is to make sure that every element of your project will happen on time and on budget. We’ll be in constant touch and you’ll have my personal cell number. If there’s anything you need to know about, you’ll know it immediately. Together we’ll get decisions made fast and keep things rolling. I’m Shelly Bates, and I’m your project manager.’”
“I love that!” says Shelly.
“Yes,” agrees Barbara, “And did you notice how many times the word ‘you’ was used—’your project,’ ‘things you need to know,’ ‘you’ll know it immediately?’”
“Good!” you say. “And then did you catch how I switched to ‘we?’”
“And you left the ‘I’ till the very end!” continues Shelly.
“Plus,” observes Barbara, “you make it sound like you’re already on the job. Now if they don’t hire you, they’ll feel like they’re firing you!”
You smile and take a deep breath. “So how can we be the team they like the best? By listening to them, by talking about them, and by talking about ourselves only in the context of how we can serve them.”
“And there’s one more benefit,” suggests Barbara.
You and Shelly nod.
“Think about how much stress, time, and money we’re not going to waste crafting a counterproductive presentation!”
“Love it!” you say. “Now that’s a story we can listen to over and over!”