What a pitch!

Bernadette Schwerdt

How to use public speaking to find new customers.

Looking for new clients? Can’t afford to advertise? Have you considered pitching as a marketing strategy?

Pitching is the art of communicating what you do, why you’re different and why people should do business with you. Pitching is a brilliant way to generate new business, but because most people fear public speaking they throw away a valuable opportunity to make pitching work for them.

Most “traditional” pitching is done behind closed doors, with a select few given the opportunity to pitch for the work at hand.

The pitching I am referring to is quite different. It’s done in public at conferences and events, in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, with the goal being to throw the net as wide as possible to see what “fish” your speech can attract.

Pitches take many forms. It can be a five-minute pitch at a start-up competition, a 10-minute TED talk, a one-hour keynote at a conference or a one-day training workshop. It’s not what form the pitch takes, it’s the intention behind the pitch that matters, and the intention should be to present your value proposition as quickly and attractively as possible.

The length of the pitch is irrelevant too. For example, with just one five-minute pitch you could launch a company, book key meetings with hard-to-reach executives and build a pipeline of potential clients. How do I know this to be true? Because it happened to me.

Be brave and take the stage

A colleague of mine, an introverted engineer (yes, what a surprise) asked me to help him create and deliver a five-minute start-up pitch to 300 senior industry leaders at a conference. We got up on stage, delivered a cracking pitch and, lo and behold, won the pitch competition. That small pitch made a big impact.

“Pitching as a marketing tool can be a cost effective and powerful way to generate new clients.”

Not only did we win the prize money, the pitch seeded the business idea into the heads of those 300 thought leaders. After the pitch, they were lined up five-deep to speak to us. What a great way to launch a start-up.

(Footnote: Within a week of the conference, we’d booked three meetings with some of the world’s biggest companies, all because of that five-minute pitch.)

Pitching as a marketing tool

To understand the power of the pitch as a marketing tool, it pays to establish the point of marketing. In its simplest form, marketing is designed to increase awareness, attract interest, generate trial and drive sales. There are lots of ways you can achieve those outcomes. Most of them cost an arm and a leg to execute, and the returns are variable, so for a small business on a budget these traditional forms of marketing are often out of reach.

But done well, pitching can be a cost-effective spoke in the marketing wheel that can generate huge returns in a very short time frame.

That’s why pitching as a marketing strategy should be so attractive to small-business owners.

I say it “should” be attractive to small-business owners but the reality is it’s not. For most business owners, they’d rather stick a needle in their eye than stand up at an industry conference and deliver a pitch. After all, the fear of public speaking outranks the fear of death, which is saying something.

But if you’re looking for an affordable, highly effective and extremely efficient way to promote your business and bring in new clients, pitching is the way to go.

There are three reasons why pitching is good for business:

1. Efficiency

What would you rather? Have 500 one-hour meetings with one person, or deliver a one-hour presentation to 500 people? I know what I’d rather. For sheer efficiency, nothing beats presenting at a conference for reaching the masses.

2. Establishing credibility

Where else can you be elevated to being an expert without actually demonstrating you are one? By virtue of being on stage, you are deemed and considered an instant expert.

3. Getting you free exposure

Being chosen to speak at an event affords you a range of free promotional opportunities that would ordinarily cost you many thousands if you hired a PR firm to do it for you.

For example, you get featured in the conference brochure, on their website, in media releases, in social media, in blogs and more. Not only does this give your business valuable exposure, it also gives you excellent SEO “brownie points” as many of the links from these sites will have a higher domain authority (DA) score than your website.

And don’t forget that when you speak at an event, it’s not just the people at the event who get to hear you. The speech often gets recorded and turns up later on YouTube, as a slide deck on SlideShare, on Twitter as amusing quotes and as photos in Facebook feeds. All this, for free.

How to get started on the pitching circuit

Start small. Seek out networking events for your industry, ask to speak for 15 minutes and test out what content works, what stories people remember, what resonated. You won’t have to wonder. Audiences are pretty brutal these days and if you’re not engaging them, they’ll bury their heads in their phones. This is not a bad thing. It tells you you’ve lost them so maybe it’s time to change up the story you’re telling.

Connect with your association. Almost all industries have an association. They often have conferences and events for the industry and seek out subject matter experts (SMEs) who can educate the audience about a specific topic of interest. Try to be one of those SMEs. That will get you on the stage, in front of your industry and on the radar. There is simply no better way of getting in front of a qualified audience than connecting with the association in your sector.

Don’t sell. Know the difference between plugging a product and sharing insights. No one wants to hear a sales spiel from the stage. By virtue of being on stage you’ll have most people checking you out on LinkedIn so don’t feel the need to spruik or sell. Focus on educating them on what you do, why you do it your way and what’s in it for them to know about you.

Get trained. Abraham Lincoln said that if he had four hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend three hours sharpening the saw and one hour cutting. The same goes for crafting a pitch. Take a day out of your busy life to learn the skill and you’ll reap the rewards for the rest of your career. It’s a learnable skill and one that can be used for your work life but also your personal life.

Pitching as a marketing tool can be a cost effective and powerful way to generate new clients. If you can overcome the fear of public speaking it can be one of the fastest ways to grow your business.

Bernadette Schwerdt, founder, the Australian School of Copywriting and author of “Secrets of Online Entrepreneurs”

This story first appeared in issue 26 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.