By Michael Collins, Toastmasters International

Introduction

Selling a service or a product to client traditionally takes place face to face. But how can you make sure that you deliver the best possible pitch and win the client over through the medium of video conferencing?

Know Your Audience

Ensure you research the client or clients you will be presenting to. What motivates your audience may be different to what motivates you and it is important to recognise this as part of the pitch.

Avoid a long biographical introduction.  A better idea can be working elements of your background into the pitch, for example: What my MBA didn’t teach me are the lessons learned from failures – these came from industry experience.  Ultimately, if the pitch is good enough and if a client feels the need, they will research your credentials afterwards.

Be in Control

If you know in advance or are concerned that an individual may derail your pitch or ask an awkward question at the outset, using a simple phrase like, “If there are no objections, I’m going to give a brief overview for five minutes to set the context before inviting questions” is appropriate. This shows that you are in control.

Engage with Your Audience

Many business schools will teach you the traditional flow of how to deliver a pitch.  The classic five step elevator pitch includes the introduction, the problem and solution, a call to action and closes with the presenter maintaining control of the next steps of any future engagement. While this approach may work in person, it is based on an attentive client who is in the elevator.

When delivering a pitch in person, there are tell-tale signs of a disengaged audience, including people looking at their phones or their eyes glazing over. It is more difficult to judge interest levels through a remote presentation as attendees may be working on something else in parallel.  For this reason, it is important to create a pitch that encourages questions throughout, not just at the end.

Build Rapport

Building rapport with a client is traditionally facilitated through the customary exchanging of business cards or over an informal introductory conversation.  Video conferencing offers alternate ways to build rapport. The initial few minutes while attendees may be joining the video call offers you this opportunity.  Consider showing interest in your client’s business.  Make it about them and not about you, and at all costs avoid dead airtime or simply displaying disinterest by looking at a different screen.  Finally ask “Let me know when you are ready to begin”.

It can be easy and convenient to hide behind technology, but take opportunities to show you are as human as your audience.  Encourage them to relate to you.  As an example, if the call is facilitating a different time zone, add to your good morning/good afternoon/good evening with something about you, perhaps: my pregnant wife is in the next room, happy I’m getting used to being up and about at odd hours. Share something personal that your audience can empathise with.

The Technology

Performing a sound check of your mic and speakers in advance of the call is important.  Soft furnishing can be used to address any echo.  Do not draw attention to issues around video technology, instead mention that you look forward to meeting the client in person.

While many stock images are available as a background for use with video conferencing tools, these lack authenticity.  It is important that your background complements your pitch without being distracting.  Remember that it is you as the speaker who should stand out and be remembered and not the Picasso hanging on the wall in the background.  Another tip is to wear clothes that don’t blend in with the background, and your clothing needs to be appropriate. We have all become accustomed to wearing more casual clothing while working from home, however it is important to show that you have dressed for the occasion.

Get Camera Ready

Think of the camera lens as your sole audience.  This is counter intuitive to much of what you may have learned about including the whole room as part of an in-person presentation.  The camera should be horizontal to your eye level with you framed from the chest upwards.  It is important to remember that although you may be presenting to a number of people, each individual member of your audience is experiencing a one-to-one situation. In a room full of people, you can become both the presenter and part of the audience by joining them in looking at a slide, but in an online presentation, if you read from a source to your side, you are not looking directly at the camera. Maintain eye contact with your camera lens. Having notes in bold font, close to the camera, may be helpful, but treat them as a back-up.

Get Prepared

Avoid falling into the trap of assuming that preparation means working on PowerPoint slides. This should be the last thing that you consider.  Verbalising your ideas before attempting any script is crucial, as the spoken word is different from the written word. Develop your muscle memory, by delivering your pitch out loud many times. Everyone has a different style of delivery and the more you practice, the more you will be comfortable with discovering your own natural style. If you are more comfortable standing and using charts in your home office, this approach can offer a welcome diversion from PowerPoint slides, while also allowing you to use appropriate hand gestures as you speak.

The presentation skills you have will be valuable when delivering a pitch to a client virtually.  What is important is to ensure that the technology is neither a hinderance nor a crutch. By building rapport initially and maintaining your connection with your audience throughout your structured pitch will help you gain a positive outcome.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Collins is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org