Personal Presence – 3 ways to improve your pitching skills

This spring, when two different corporate fundraising teams asked for my help with million-pound pitches, there were two ways I helped them succeed – strategy and performance. I explain one crucial element of pitch design / strategy, in my recent blog, the power of future pacing.

As for performance skills, I also helped both teams with the impression they made non-verbally as they pitched.

When I interviewed voice coach and pitching expert Caroline Goyder for the World Class Fundraiser’s Edge series, one thing she advised high value fundraisers to focus on was the skill of being present. When you’re present, it becomes far easier to hold people’s interest. When they are truly paying attention, you increase your chance of persuading them to choose your charity.

When you are ‘in the moment’ you are aware of those around you, rather than only focusing your attention inside your head. I’ve found that even when the stakes are very high, many people on a pitch team are not actually listening while their colleagues speak because they are worrying about what they’re going to say when it’s their turn.

Does this matter?

Yes, because though the brief the company sends you may not explicitly state that they are looking for a charity with outstanding team-working skills, the truth is this is always high on their agenda. They’re probably going to need to work in close partnership with the charity they choose for a long time, so strong team-work skills are always crucial to those doing the choosing.

Three ways to increase your presence

1.How you practice your pitch

One way to solve this is to divide the way you practice into two – private practice and team practice.

Private practice needs to be done by every member of the pitch team. Here you master your own material, because it’s hard to really listen if you don’t know your own content well. And team practice needs to start at least three days before the day of the presentation, in order to fit in enough sessions for you to gel as a team. This way, the presentation can become more than the sum of its parts. For example, one thing that’s usually ignored, but which greatly increases the feeling of teamwork, is the way you introduce and take over from your team-mates.

 2. Meditate, even if only briefly, every day.

Simply sitting calmly and focusing on your breathing, for as little as five minutes a day, helps you improve your skill at just being, rather than constantly thinking. The catch here is that this will only become really powerful if you make it your habit long before you get the invitation to pitch. But deciding today to improve your skill in this area will pay off in many ways, so there is nothing lost if you don’t get to pitch for a while. And of course when your big chance comes, you’ll be ready to make the most of it.

If you have ever tried to make this your habit, but failed to keep your momentum long enough to feel the benefit, Caroline recommends Headspace, a free app which helps you practice meditating for just ten minutes a day.

3. Use this technique to worry less about what others think.

If you’ve attended my courses you’re probably familiar with the work of Prof Amy Cuddy, the confidence / body posture expert whose inspiring TED talk is suggested viewing for everyone on my Major Gifts and Corporate Mastery Programmes. In her excellent book Presence, she describes a seemingly simple but powerful five minute trick that gives a powerful boost to your confidence. When your confidence goes up, you tend to also be more present, more aware of your surroundings because you’re less likely to spend your energy worrying.

The gist of the technique involves deliberately focusing on your own values, that is, the things that are important to you, (eg loyalty, friendship, hard work etc). I explain exactly what to do here. When I use this technique in advance of an important presentation, I feel more comfortable in my own skin, so feel less need to worry about how I’m coming across to others. Paradoxically, when you worry less, your ability to notice what’s going on around you, and therefore your ability to win the partnership or gift increases.

More options to help you win that pitch

There are many other important elements to a winning pitch, including design, structure and how to apply Professor Cialdini’s six principles of influence. For more techniques you can download my free e-book Pitch to Win.