The Below Zero Business Pitch


How can I put this delicately? Have you been to a networking lunch lately? Did you not have a slight feeling of deja-vu?

What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is a trip to Oulu. It’s in Finland. 65 degrees north – a mere 107 miles from the Arctic Circle. And the place where you can present the coolest business pitch in the world. Literally.

Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Directors, people sitting comfortably round a table in a nice, warm hotel, please take note.

In Oulu they do things differently.

Go there in February and you’re welcome to speak about your company for as long as you like. Just as long as you remain standing in a hole in the ice.

I suspect that might concentrate your mind. If you’re in freezing water, “We really care about our customers and we’re different to all the firms out there so we’d be really grateful if you’d give us a try” probably isn’t a sensible way to start your pitch. By the time you’ve wasted those 26 words the hypothermia will be setting in. As you can see…

But back in the nice, warm hotel people are doing precisely that. They’re wasting far more than 26 words, taking a minute to say nothing at all, talking about their business in a way that’s unrehearsed, that lacks conviction and does nothing to persuade the other people round the table that they’d be worth talking to.

(In fairness, the problem isn’t confined to networking lunches. I’m constantly amazed at the people who go on Dragons’ Den and casually ask for £75,000 without researching the Dragons or rehearsing their pitch.)

But let me ask you a question. If you had to make your pitch in a hole in the ice, in water that could kill you, what would you do?

  • You’d rehearse
  • You’d get straight to the point
  • And you’d make sure you delivered the very best pitch you could

I can’t see how those fundamentals change simply because you’re in the Marriott on Tadcaster Road.

At various times in all our business lives we’re face to face with a potential client or customer. You’ve been introduced and suddenly you realise that this guy could well contribute to your bottom line. And then he says, “So what do you do exactly?”

It’s at this point that you need to give a simple, persuasive and – ideally – slightly intriguing answer.

But all too often it’s something like this: “Well, I’m a web designer. Mostly, that is. There’s a house I’m doing up – when I get round to it. And I teach guitar a couple of nights a week. But what I’m really thinking of…”

Here’s how my conversation goes:

  • So what do you do exactly?
  • I help business owners achieve their potential
  • How do you do that then?
  • I bring together business owners from non-competing sectors in a group setting – similar to a board of directors – and we help each other to identify opportunities and solve challenges we each face in our own companies. Make sense? I’m adding to my boards and I’m looking for business owners that would be a good fit.

The first answer is 7 words long: the second is 56, which I deliver in 20-30 seconds.

Did I write those answers down? Did I work on them with the help of other people? Have I practised them in the bathroom? Yes to all three. And I’m not ashamed of that.

I think in those 56 words I offer the solution to a problem, sell the potential benefits and give the person I’m speaking to the chance to empathise.

Yes, of course it could be shorter – We sell blankets that instantly warm people up when they get out of freezing water – but everyone will listen for 20-30 seconds.

So two questions:

  • Do you have an answer to the ‘what do you do’ question that solves a problem, sell the benefits and invites empathy?
  • And you must have asked a hundred people what they do: what’s the best answer you’ve ever received?

Anyway, that’s enough from me for this week. I’ve an important presentation on Tuesday. I need to practise. Dan and Rory are just filling the bath with ice…

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