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What You Don't Say During the Pitch Strikes You Out
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Ever heard that at least 93 percent of communication is nonverbal? Of course you have. It's in school, magazines, Toastmasters, and even in PR. Think about the pitch — you study for it, prepare your lines, and find killer statistics to show the prospect that you love them, but they need to love you more. You walk out of the pitch and then the call comes, "Sorry. We went with another firm that seemed to get us more." 

Wait, what?! Who the hell started that cockamamie stat anyway? His name is Dr. Albert Mehrabian. In his book Silent Messages (1972), he conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found seven percent of any message is conveyed through words, 38 percent through certain vocal elements, and 55 percent through nonverbal elements (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, posture). And there you have it…the reason why the pitch really sucked. It was what you did not say. So, how do you fix it? Glad you asked: 

1. Personal Space. Yes, really. Ever met someone who just bum rushes you to show that he or she is really that swell? You feel like cracking that person in the jaw. Proximity to others can say so much. Too far? You're aloof. Too close? You're creepy. That small amount of inches can communicate a multitude of emotions, so you may want to consider what you really want to say the next time you sit down around the conference table. If the entire team sits on one side of the table, you instantly declared offense, which puts the prospect on the defense. And then? You're sacked. 


2. Kinesics. Fancy-shmancy way of saying "body movements." How you sit. How you cross your legs. How you slouch. How you walk. How you do anything without talking will always speak before you open your mouth. It's not fair, I know, but we all have a "tell." Your body movements will often counter what you are saying, and that makes you look like a flake in the pitch meeting. "I am stoked to be here," you say, and there you are with your elbows on the table holding up your cheeks, head, and neck. Kinesics will interpret what you say and shine a light on how you feel. It's best to be transparent because your body doesn't mind spreading your beeswax.


3. Context. This must be said; sometimes, people just have an off-day, which is why this is so important to understand. What's the situation during the meeting? Is it nervy? Tense? What about someone having some personal issues that you may not understand? Sometimes, people overcompensate in pitches. I know you never have done that, but it's true. So, what happens is they act more formal than they should, start dropping jargon, and acting like a tool. It's not your fault, but be mindful of how you feel before you go in the pitch. You are sitting there taking notes; you can probably get away with it. If you have a speaking part, you better recognize. 


4. Tone. Here it comes, so be ready, "It's not what you say, it's…everybody…how you say it." I knew you knew that one. Tone is something I've always had to combat in the boardroom. I was in radio for more than a decade, so I either sound like a used car salesman, an MMA announcer, or a smarmy hipster sitting in the back room at the local coffee joint. If you gesture, then grunt, you may be showing that you disagree with something. If you are easily excitable, that may come across as immaturity or even anger. If you sigh, even if you are just short of breath, you look bored. Be calm, but speak more calmly. 


5. Eye Contact. This is the big one. You can show a world of respect or disrespect with one glance, one glare, or one light-headed roll of your baby browns. You must establish eye contact immediately because it shows respect, as well as earns it. Eye contact says that you are interested and can be trusted with what they have to say. If a client gestures to you, make sure you are seen when the gesture hits. If you are checking out your mentions on Twitter, that's a slap in the face. Eye contact also speaks confidence in the pitch room. Be sure that everyone in the room can see you when you talk. If not, who knows if they will listen.


There are many more ways all 93 percent of that nonverbal communication will kill your pitch, so be sure you practice what you don't say as much as what you do. 


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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