Ya Gotta Make ‘Em Love Ya
Converting Your Unique Story into a Compelling Pitch
A few years ago I was asked by a financial advisor to address a large group of clients at a conference in Northern California. As an unapologetically urban, East Coast go-getter, I had a few worries. I knew that my New York accent, smart business suit and ethnic surname made blending in impossible. Why would these rural West Coast folks listen to a city slicker like me?
When I walked onstage, I told them the Starbucks coffee I’d bought that morning at the Fresno airport had been my final jolt of the stuff that fuels my busy city life, and how nervous I was without it. Then I shared how astonished I was when the cashier asked me how my day was going, seemed sincere, and had actually said “thank you” after I paid her. That got some chuckles. It also called out the 2-ton elephant in the room—namely, our numerous differences. Talking about it honestly, with a little good-natured self-deprecation, broke the ice. From then on, we connected as women—and as people with money we wanted to spend and invest wisely.
It’s not always easy to talk about ourselves. But there’s a way to go about it without boasting and turning off the people we’d rather be adding to our network. The key is storytelling. When you can clearly explain what you do in language that tells your story (rather than reciting facts about your story), your pitch will become much more powerful and successful.
Convey your backstory, not your background
Most people won’t remember a drab list of qualifications. But just about everyone will follow a great story. You should never be afraid to share personal information that is uniquely relevant to your target audience. This is the essence of how you relate to them! There’s a method here, of course: You need to think it through and practice it to make the personal element of your pitch an effective means of connection.
The first step: Believe in yourself! If you don’t believe you deserve the request at the root of your pitch, why should anyone else? There simply is no substitute for genuine self-confidence, especially not superficial boasting—another big turnoff.
Outlining the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of your story
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all procedure. Rather, the steps below should guide you in refining the nut of your story, which can be adapted to different situations and audiences.
Know your ideal client. Great storytellers always consider their audience. If you haven’t already, imagine the person or group you’d most like to be addressing when you pitch. Targeting ideal clients doesn’t mean excluding less-than-ideal clients. But it does make your story more distinctive and memorable.
Concentrate on what’s relevant. When people are asking for business, they often think they’ve got to glamorize their most recent achievements. What they should be doing, however, is building a case that helps their audience understand why connecting with them is important. What is it in your background that helps you understand their needs? How did you come to have these particular skills that can deliver results? There’s a valuable story there—and you should craft it.
The takeaway: Why you? If a description of where you’ve been and how you’ve come to be who you are is the set-up—the payoff comes when you connect the dots for your audience. Define why your unique blend of experience and insight makes you uniquely able to deliver results … and they will listen to your pitch.
If you are a financial advisor who also happens to be female and the sole breadwinner of your family, you need to explain why this makes you ideally suited to helping other breadwinners take charge of their finances. Anyone who has worked outside this industry has the opportunity to convince prospects that their other experiences give them a valuable, multi-dimensional perspective on what’s going on day-to-day.
Don’t wing it. Stand-up comedians sound like the most spontaneous humans alive, but they spend countless hours crafting their routines. You also need to practice. Once you’ve crafted your backstory, test it on colleagues, family or existing clients and listen carefully to their feedback. Take criticism seriously, but remember it’s not punishment. Great storytelling does require work.
Be direct. Even if your story is great, you don’t have long to tell it when you’re pitching. Get to the point quickly. A great backstory engages an audience—but it also leaves them wanting more.