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For a winning business pitch take inspiration from music, magic and movies and focus on ‘Firsts & Lasts’

If I were to offer my most heartfelt advice about new business pitching it would undoubtedly be about the benefits of preparation. The trouble is I probably wouldn’t get any further than telling you about the ‘Hollingworth Rule of stopping your rehearsal 24 hours in advance’ before receiving exasperated pleas to ‘get real’.

I know what it’s like – I spent 20 years in PR before entering the training field. Now I provide Presentation Skills coaching to some of the most senior – and therefore busiest - people in some of the world’s biggest companies. So how do I get them to make the best use of their limited preparation time?

I get them to focus on how they open and close. I tell them: “If you can get those bits word perfect with full-on energy and eye contact, I don’t mind what you in between”. This is because ‘Firsts & Lasts’ are the most important parts of any presentation – they are what audiences remember. Rock bands understand this; they know that as long as they come crashing on with a big number and go out with their greatest hit, they can get away with murder in the middle – like playing the whole of their new album. And yet people still go away with good memories, because it is the opening and closing that have registered most strongly.

I am a member of The Magic Circle, where we have lectures by eminent members such as Geoffrey Durham aka ‘The Great Soprendo’, who once gave an entire lecture on how to get on and off stage. “As long as you get those bits right”, he said, “italmost doesn’t matter what you do in between”. I have even come across the same concept in the catering world, albeit via movie star Sir Michael Caine who used to own restaurants such as Langan’s. “Do you know” he asked, “what makes a successful restaurant? Great bread and fantastic coffee – the first and last things you experience”.

When you are pitching, you clearly need to be remembered, but the First & Last stakes are even higher. As you open you need to quickly engage your audience. Then as you close it’s time for your all-important Call to Action – the moment at which you actually ask for the business, along with a compelling and memorable reason for them to give it to you.

When you think about it, it’s all quite obvious really. And yet I see too many pitches where the presenters are flustered and confused as they start, unable even to explain who they are without looking at notes or gazing towards to the screen. I have even seen pitches where the client had to ask: “Have you finished?”

So a couple of tips to conclude. If you get off to an energetic, engaging, word perfect start there is every chance you will sail through the rest. The energy will bounce back and forth between yourself and your audience, who will listen to you and start to like you. Just be sure to reach a definite crescendo that communicates your Call to Action in a way that is memorable and therefore brief. You actually need to create an ‘Applause Cue’ – a sense of rhythm that indicates you have come to a definite end.

You are probably not going to get anyone actually clapping you in the pitch, but if you get your finish right there could be plenty to applaud when you get back to the office.