BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 25 MAR 2014


Nothing gets the heart racing like a big, high-stakes pitch. Well, not much. And certainly not golf; give me a day of pitching rather than putting every time. We have a few coming up: big room, fierce competition, short time-frame, critical panel, all or nothing.

As well as getting the chance to be in the room I am in the middle of working with some individuals and groups on their pitching skills. There are common themes that come out of these sessions, no matter how experienced the delegates are or what sector they are in. Here's my tuppence worth on how to nail it when the stakes are high:

Ditch the technology: Really, just about all of it. A slide will rarely win a pitch but sure can lose one. It's usually slide number 19, which is introduced to the comatose pitch-panel with the words, "I know you can't read this, but..."

At least prepare your pitch strategy, structure and work out the themes before you turn the PC on. When I work with individuals on keynotes it's usually hour seven out of nine before we even look at slides. You don't need them! And you're thinking of using that short corporate video you dropped 10k on? The one with the musak and funny, jazzy framing? Keen to have the pitch-panel pawing their pockets and handbags for their mobile devices five minutes in? Then go right ahead.

Prepare: When it matters prepare, to within an inch of your life. Don't believe those who tell you over preparation is a bad idea. (For sure, using all your precious time to prepare a visual feast that would rival Spielberg is a bad idea.) Working out who is in the team, when they are going to speak and what you are all going to say is always time well spent. Pitching when the stakes are high is as far removed from chatting down the pub as Lands End is from John O Groats, so you have to know where it is all headed. Even if you are a polished performer or an old lag who has seen it all before, remember how you felt when called into the inner sanctum a few decades ago. Prepare enough for the weakest link in the chain, who is often, in any event, the one you are introducing as the project lead when they ask you who is running the show.

Trust yourself. Eventually you have to trust yourself, and your team, to deliver when the spot light is turned on. Make no mistake, pitching is performance. It's not acting, that would be odd, but it is about passion, enthusiasm, gravitas, authority, likeability, credibility... And knowledge. Did you see what I did there? I put knowledge at the end. Of course knowledge is important; it's why you are in the room. But it's not, in the heat of battle, having the knowledge that matters: it's displaying it.

It comes down to this: How good do you want to be? All those I've worked with recently have flashes in sessions when they are completely in the moment: preparation done, body language spot-on, voice loud, low and slow. Then they remember where they are and what they are doing and convince themselves that they really are not too comfortable with any of it. So they stop, come out of the moment and tell us it's all gone horribly wrong.

Believe me, it hasn't: Prepare for it, practise it, go for it.


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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