Pitching when you’re not in the room

With online meetings rather than face-to-face being the new norm, Michael Collins from Toastmaster International shares his insights on how to make successful virtual pitches.

Pitching a product or service to a client is traditionally done in a face-to-face meeting. But how can you ensure you deliver the best pitch and win the client over through the medium of video conferencing? Let me share some ideas on how to pitch most effectively in an online situation.

Know Your Audience

It is important that you spend time researching the client or clients you will be presenting to. What motivates your audience may be different from what motivates you and it is important to recognise this as part of the pitch.

Avoid a long biographical introduction.  A better idea can be working elements of your background into the pitch, for example: What my MBA didn’t teach me are the lessons learned from failures – these came from industry experience.  Ultimately, if the pitch is good enough and if a client feels the need, they will ask you direct questions or research your credentials afterwards.

Be in Control

If you know in advance or are concerned that an individual may derail your pitch or ask an awkward question at the outset, using a simple phrase like, “If there are no objections, I’m going to give a brief overview for five minutes to set the context before inviting questions” is appropriate. This shows that you are in control.

Engage with Your Audience

Many business schools will teach you the traditional flow of how to deliver a pitch.  The classic five-step elevator pitch includes the introduction, the problem and solution, a call to action and closes with the presenter maintaining control of the next steps of any future engagement. While this approach may work in person, it is based on an attentive client who is in the elevator.

When delivering a pitch in person, there are tell-tale signs of a disengaged audience, including people looking at their phones or their eyes glazing over. It is more difficult to judge interest levels through a remote presentation as attendees may be working on something else in parallel.  For this reason, it is important to create a pitch that encourages questions throughout, rather than leaving the opportunity to ask questions to the very end.

Use Authenticity to Build Rapport

Building rapport with a client is traditionally facilitated through the customary exchanging of business cards or over an informal introductory conversation.  Video conferencing offers alternate ways to build rapport. The initial few minutes, while attendees may be joining the video call, offers you this opportunity.  Consider showing interest in your client’s business.  Make it about them and not about you, and at all costs avoid dead airtime or simply displaying disinterest by looking at a different screen.  Finally, ask “Let me know when you are ready to begin”.

It can be easy and convenient to hide behind technology, but take opportunities to show you are as human as your audience.  Encourage them to relate to you.  As an example, if the call is facilitating a different time zone, add to your good morning/good afternoon/good evening with something about you, perhaps: my pregnant wife is in the next room, happy I’m getting used to being up and about at odd hours. Share something personal that your audience can empathise with.

Technology Usage

Performing a sound check of your mic and speakers in advance of the call is important.  Soft furnishing can be used to address any echo.  Do not draw attention to issues around video technology, instead mention that you look forward to meeting the client in person.

While many stock images are available as a background for use with video conferencing tools, these lack authenticity.  It is important that your background complements your pitch without being distracting.  Remember that it is you as the speaker who should stand out and be remembered and not the Picasso hanging on the wall in the background.  Another tip is to wear clothes that don’t blend in with the background, and your clothing needs to be appropriate. We have all become accustomed to wearing more casual clothing while working from home, however, it is important to show that you have dressed for the occasion.

Camera Usage

Think of the camera lens as your sole audience.  This is counter-intuitive to much of what you may have learned about including the whole room as part of an in-person presentation.  The camera should be horizontal to your eye level with you framed from the chest upwards.  It is important to remember that although you may be presenting to a number of people, each individual member of your audience is experiencing a one-to-one situation. In a room full of people, you can become both the presenter and part of the audience by joining them in looking at a slide, but in an online presentation, if you read from a source to your side, you are not looking directly at the camera. Maintain eye contact with your camera lens. Having notes in bold font, close to the camera, maybe helpful, but treat them as a back-up.

Preparation Pays Off

Avoid falling into the trap of assuming that preparation means working on PowerPoint slides. This should be the last thing that you consider.  Verbalising your ideas before attempting any script is crucial, as the spoken word is different from the written word. Develop your muscle memory, by delivering your pitch out loud many times. Everyone has a different style of delivery and the more you practice, the more you will be comfortable with discovering your own natural style. If you are more comfortable standing and using charts in your home office, this approach can offer a welcome diversion from PowerPoint slides, while also allowing you to use appropriate hand gestures as you speak.

Finally

In-person presentation skills are equally appliable when delivering a pitch to a client virtually.  Let technology be neither a hindrance nor a crutch.  A memorable initial rapport followed by a continued personal connection throughout will complement any structured pitch helping to win the client over.

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