Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

Read in Sep 2015
Book by Oren Klaff published in 2011

I try my best to write a short summary/review of the books I read, and this is one of them. I typically publish them on Goodreads, but also sync them to here.

Pitch anything is a book on techniques for delivering killer pitches. The author averages out at raising 2 million per week on average, while the book transcends into the ego of the author too much here and there, the stories are mostly helpful and make for a storyline. The organization of the book isn't the most predictable, but this is also biased by the fact I listened to the audio book (although I took notes as I was listening).

Pitching matters. It matters how much they like you, and how you fit into the social context. In a perfect world that wasn’t true, but this is the real world: You have to lure them in with chocolate (intrigue) and give them the kale (numbers) later.

The most paramount insight of the book is the order we process information in, which is equal to the stages the brain developed in: 1) reptile, 2) social, 3) problem-solving. There’s a fundamental disconnect between the way we form information and how it’s received. Thoughts are shaped in the problem-solving brain (what Daniel Kahnemann of “Thinking Fast & Slow” would call the slow brain): they’re abstract, involve metaphors and leverage complex language. However, to make it to the receiver they have to make it through the primitive parts of the brain. The “croc brain” favours surprise and simplicity, and quickly starts discarding complex and threatening information. This is a powerful mental model for why structural, simple information will appeal to an audience the most.

The other point the books keeps coming back to is that of frames. If you walk into a room with a person, in an instant your frames collide—the person who comes out on top owns the room, the conversation and the ultimate outcome. How do you make that you? The book lists a number of different frames:

* Power frame. Arrogance, large ego, bad at listening, expect you to be absorbed.
* Analyst frame. Rational, numbers, logical.
* Moral frame. Often used to counter logic with ethics.
* Time frame. Limiting the interaction by time to place pressure on the other person’s frame. Often used in tandem with the power frame.
* Intrigue frame. Focusing on the high level and the impact.
* Prizing frame. Become the prize instead of chasing it.

These frames can be stacked and they can be countered by other frames, for example, the analyst frame can be countered with a moral frame or an intrigue frame. A power frame can be countered by stacking a number of other frames, and regaining the power—usually by light-hearted humour to gain an even stronger power frame.

However, frame control is not all about inhabiting the social context—crushing someone’s frame can come at a cost, as it can make the other person feel threatened. Nobody liked to be owned. It’s simply a way to make people beg for your attention. You have to commit to your frame, often only at the point when you’re just about to give up is when it’ll win.

Keeping intrigue and surprise as you progress your pitch is important. When people hear a speech and confirm that the answer is what they expected, they instantly check out mentally—what more can you teach them? This is why people drift as your talk goes on; it becomes too predictable. However, if you make it too difficult to follow the croc brain will filter information to the point where the audience falls asleep. This is what makes the intrigue frame powerful for pitching, stacked with a prizing frame: Money is a commodity, it can do nothing with you. One of the most important discoveries of the 20th century was the DNA helix: Explained in 5 minutes. Your pitch does not need to be 45. When introducing yourself, highlight only your greatest achievements. People average them out, they don’t sum them.

People love fresh ideas, what makes the time right for it today? The “Why Now” frame: Economic, Social, Technological and Historic context add up to the credibility of why the idea shines today and not yesterday. An airport today works because of a new regulation, a change in movement and competitor conflict of interest—all adding up to a perfect opportunity. Make it dynamic and novel through demos, animations, metaphors and stories. People respond much better to this than the static. Don’t delve into details before your idea is warm, your analyst frame needs to follow the intrigue frame or the croc brain is going to drop it all on the floor. The author argues that brutal simplicity does not work. There’s a middleground that provides enough details to make it credible and easy to understand, but not enough to make it boring. Another method is providing a mental model, this can be an amazing shortcut. When giving the pitch you need to balance desire and tension, this is the most effective neurological kick you can trigger: Push and pull the target constantly. When the audience gets what they expect dopamine remains unchanged, when they don’t get what they expect it’s a negative respond—when you exceed it, cocaine my friend. 

Be on the lookout for beta traps that are set in place to demote your frame: waiting in a lobby, listening to smalltalk between coworkers on topics you have no chance on engaging in or being late are all examples. Respond appropriately to avoid your frame from crumbling. Your global status (wealth, occupation, reputation, frame) cannot be easily altered, but your domain knowledge can. This is how a waiter can completely own a table from the host.

In short: Spot beta frames, recognize frames, counter them, use humour, have fun.