The conclusion: it doesn’t matter how good the idea, it matters what the “buyer” thinks of you as a person in the first few seconds of your pitch.

I have just read “How to Pitch a Brilliant idea” by Kimberly Elsbach in the Harvard Business Review.  In 150 miliseconds a “buyer” will have categorized you in one of seven stereotypes – only three of which will allow you to have a chance of selling them on your brilliant idea.

Kimberly has looked at the film industry, venture capital and entrepreneurs and within the corporate world.  In these environments only 1-3% of ideas make it beyond the initial pitch. What does it take for somebody with a brilliant idea to get it noticed, financed and implemented?

“When a person we don’t know pitches an idea to us, we search for visual and verbal matches with those implicit models, remembering only the characteristics that identify the pitcher as one type or another.  We subconciously award points to people we can easily identify as having creative traits; we subtract points from those who are hard to assess or who fit negative stereotypes.” Kimberly Elsbach.

The seven stereotypes that Kimberly developed that are relevant in the pitch of an idea to a “buyer” who has not met us before are:

  • The three positive stereotypes
    • Showrunner: Looks the part, comes with a successful track record, delivers the idea with a great interactive performance that engages the “buyer” in the idea.
    • Artist: Displays single minded passion but not as polished as the showrunner, tend to be shy or socially awkward (a sense that they are living in their own internal world)
    • Neophyte: The opposite of showrunners – they know they need help and present themselves as eager learners (never looking desperate).
  • The four negative stereotypes
    • Pushover: Look like they are trying to “unload” an idea rather than own it and run with it.
    • Robot: Presents sticking to a formulaic script as if it had been memorized from a how-to book.
    • Used-car salesman: Argumentative and slightly obnoxious (standard issue from the consulting world or large corporate sales department). Fails to treat the “buyer” as a partner, to turn the sale into a collaborative process. Arrogant.
    • Charity case: Needy. As soon as he senses rejection begins pleading with the “buyer” that he really needs just one small sale. In reality is not selling an idea but looking for a job.

The only stereotypes which have a chance of the “buyer” engaging are showrunner, artist and neophyte.  If you manage to present the visual, audible, dress clues that lead a potential buyer to categorize you outside of these three categories, you will not sell your idea.

One key to the three successful stereotypes is a positive, proactive engagement of the buyer in the development of the idea during the pitch process. 

What stereotype do you get categorized into by people on the first impression?  It is unlikely to be showrunner (there are really very few of these types out there).  So are you a pushover?  Are you a used-car salesman?  The only thing that you cannot be is nothing…  You will be categorized.

    I am a regular user of Apple iTunes University. On the late night Aer Lingus flight over from Barcelona to Dublin yesterday, I was listening to Jeffrey Anderson of Regent University deliver a lecture on Persuasive Communication. I like his thinking on audience analysis.

    The 4 Types of Audience

    There are four types of audience, and consequent persuasive strategy that you can come upon when you are seeking to move a group to action through your speech.

    1. Friendly. Your purpose: reinforcing their beliefs.
    2. Apathetic. Your purpose is to first to convince them that it matters for them.
    3. Uninformed.  Your requirement is to educate before you can begin to propose a course of action.
    4. Hostile. You purpose is to respect them and their viewpoint. The most you may be able to gain is respect to listen to your views. It is key that you can present some information that is viewed as new to the audience before asking for any change in their position.  This is firstly courteous, but also gives the listener’s ego room to change without feeling demeaned (“based on this new information, I ask you to change”)

    Dealing with a Hostile Audience

    Specific Actions for Hostile Audiences

    When providing new information it is vital that you help the listeners “assimilate”.  How can you make it real for them?  There are a number of techniques to bear in mind.

    • Use stories (ideally real stories), metaphors, hypothetical situations
    • Stress common ground
    • Present statistics/data that is clear to conclude from
    • Address conflicting evidence (what are the strengths and weaknesses of the conflicting evidence)
    • AVOID exaggeration or gross hyperbole.  The use of exaggeration in a number of areas of public debate has caused extreme entrenchment of the opposing sides. eg. abortion, climate change. The persuasive speaker works hard to keep to the facts and be clear about the logic of the proposed course of action.

    Video Lesson: The 4 types of Audience


    If you enjoyed this post, you will also enjoy Speaking well requires practice and Lattitudes of Acceptance (an interesting old idea on persuading hostile audiences).


    6 Reasons to Start Blogging Now

    “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret” Jim Rohn

    1. tumblr_md61xbK0PS1ri87d2o1_500Clarity of Thinking – It will force you to become a better thinker and get clear on your beliefs. It will force you to read to gather material. It will force you to read critically as you ask “why?” “why not?” “why does she say that?” “is that really the answer?”
    2. Tom Peter says so – Tom Peters says “If you are not blogging, you are an idiot.” (here)  He is a guru. It must be true.
    3. Be Somebody – You have a much better answer for “what do you do?” “I am a writer”.  You are no longer a passive observer of life, you now participate in the creation of content and ideas. 5 years from now people will invite you to speak. 10 years from now you will have written enough material for a good book. 20 years from now your kids will think you were once smart.
    4. Fame – It is better than a diary. You might get some admiration and affirmation.
    5. Save Time – You can save time (in future) – if people regularly ask you similar questions, write your answers up in a blog post and refer people there.
    6. It is free and easy.
      1. Free: I use WordPress.
      2. Easy: One of the best starter guides is from Penelope Trunk. I must her reiterate her point on avoiding perfection (no typos).  Force yourself to hit publish after 30-45 minutes no matter what. Perfection is the enemy of creation. If you have a really bad error, just re-publish. Otherwise, let your users tell you and engage more.

    1 reason why you should not create a blog:

    1. You will not make money from a blog.  Do not spend time reading “get rich quick” “teeth whitening” “best affiliate program” offers. You will create the blog and overcome procrastination only if you write about something about which you care lots and want to learn more.

    A final note. Jim Rohn passed away last friday.  He was a great American philosopher. Out of his many great sayings, I will leave you with one: “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret”.

    Further Reading on How to Blog

    Public speaking is a learned skill.  To speak well requires practice.  The ability to speak confidently and persuasively in front of groups is a highly valuable asset.  Increased practice leads to better performance in job interviews, proposal presentations, project team meetings and board meetings.

    The basic principles of persuasion were developed over hundreds of years in Ancient Greece and Rome by philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian.  At the very heart of this development was Aristotle’s triad of logos, ethos and pathos.  Aristotle’s innovation was to include “ethos”, or credibility, into the accepted approach to persuasion.

    In business, as it is often in life, it is a simple fact that our decisions are about future actions, and no human action in the future is predictable.  This unpredictability and uncertainty leads to disagreement and means that the questions being asked are of a conditional nature.  This unpredictability moves decision-making away from the area of certainty and into the area of probabilities. In confronting uncertain and unpredictable situations, audiences are normally unsure and less motivated.  As a consequence, logical argument alone will not be enough to move them to action.

    There is a tendency in the western world to assume that success or failure of any argument can be determined by the strength of the arguments, the neat balance of pros and cons.  A group of well educated, rational people, the widespread assumption goes, should be unaffected by a speaker’s persuasive appeals.

    There is a limited set of scientific areas where “convention” has created a form of general argument and rationality alone is enough – however this is a highly limited set of areas of human engagement.

    When uncertainty exists a speaker must always give the audience some sense that he or she is somebody worth listening to.  It is not enough to only provide the argument. For as long as people have written about rhetoric, it has been a subject of both suspicion and admiration. We fear manipulation.  Yet we also recognise its power to arouse the passions, convince the will and enlighten the understanding.

    The Aristotlean Rhetorical Model defines three proofs that are required to bring an audience to action in an uncertain and unpredictable context:

    Logos, Pathos and Ethos

    1. Logos, the first proof, is based on deductive and inductive logic
    2. Pathos, the second of these proofs, concerns the effective employment of audience psychology.  Pathos can be seen as the bringing of an audience to the right state of emotion.  It requires connecting emotionally with your audience.  It is when our audience has reached this state that they will usually accept our message.
    3. Ethos, the third proof, concerns the character of the speaker and is of utmost importance.  You must be “believable” in order to have people in the audience willing to engage with the content (emotional and rational) of your speech.

    The balance between “what is said” and “how it is said” is vital. I will be writing a series of future blog articles looking at the essentials of logos, pathos (Aristotle listed 142 emotions you can elicit in an audience) and ethos.  I am interested in comments on ideas or areas of special interest or personal experience.  Has something worked for you?  What is the hardest part of preparing a persuasive speech?

    More On Moving People to Action

    1. The Complete Guide to Personal Habits: 158 Positive Reflections in 7 Categories to Be The Best Version of Yourself (5/2/2016)
    2. Simple Rules for Effective Meetings (9/9/2011)
    3. 6 Ways to get your Email Ignored (3/14/2011)
    4. 17 Daily personal habits for a fulfilling life (10/15/2009)
    5. 14 Things Highly Productive People Do Differently (1/6/2013)

    There is no simple rules for how you should stand, have your hands, look, or dress when you give a speech. However you must achieve three things in order to powerfully support the verbal message of your speech.

    Sandy Linver in her book “Speak and Get Results” outlines the three areas: you must transmit authority, energy and audience awareness.  Authority is that you look and sound like you have something to say about the subject.  Energy is that you look like the subject is important to you.  Audience awareness is that you have an interaction with the audience members so that they feel part of the experience of your speech.

    How do you transmit authority? There are three ways that your body language or non-verbal language can signal authority to the audience:

    1. Visual image – The clothes you chose to wear at 7 this morning will have a big impact on how your audience judge you.  Do you look like they would expect an “expert” on this topic to look?  If you are speaking to a business audience about business, you should look the part.  If you are speaking about social media and web 2.0 perhaps you can look somewhat different.  If you are speaking to greenpeace or a local labour movement, a suit might create the wrong first impression.
    2. Body image – feet shoulder width apart, body balanced, gestures supporting the key moments of the speech, any walking during pauses – key being that there is nothing that is distracting the audience from being able to engage with your message (don’t look like you are about to fall over, like you have an intense interest in the keys in your pocket)
    3. Voice – There are five characteristics of a powerful voice
    1. Breathing – relaxed deep breaths give you projection and power
    2. Articulation – open your mouth and clearly pronounce the words, no mumbling and no “filler words” (um, ah, em, like)
    3. Downward inflection – In all human languages we signal answers by terminating the statement with downward inflection – we signal questions by finishing the phrase with a raised tone.  Many times nerves will drive you to say “IESE is the best business school in the world” with a upward tilt in tone on the “world” turning it into “IESE is the best business school in the world?”.
    4. Pauses – Include 3-8 second pauses at key moments – just before key statements or just after a story – this really brings the audience into the speech.
    5. Projection and resonance – make sure you are using your whole diaphram – the chest and lungs as well as mouth and nose – can you feel the vibrations coming from your chest and your sternum vibrating?  A voice that comes from the chest rather than a voice that vibrates in the nose reaches the back of the room and transmits powerfully.


    Simple – you just need to look like you care about the subject that you are speaking about.  If the speaker doesn’t look like this is a subject of great importance, it will be impossible for the audience to engage the subject with any sort of passion.

    Audience Awareness

    There is a huge about of communciation coming back to the speaker during the speech.  You can see whether people are engaged or not.  You can hear when there are distractions or areas of the audience that have lost engagement and are having side conversations.  Usually a quick glance in the direction of the distracion, or simply pausing your speech until the audience re-engages can be a very powerful method to show that you are 100% physically there in the room and that the audience matter to you.

    I am currently preparing the next year IESE MBA managerial communications course material and put down some rough notes on some key tips that differentiate powerful speakers from the rest.

    1. Speak with an intent to move people to action. Know what you want your audience to do immediately after hearing your speech. If nobody does anything different than they would have done before you spoke – the value of your speech is zero.
    2. Start strong with a “grabber”. A personal story, a quote from an expert or a shocking statistic – something that takes a hold of your audience and gets them hooked and opens their mind to your message. Give the audience a chance to see your personal connection to the topic.
    3. Structure your material in three sections – grabber, middle, close. Know your material. Get really interested in the topic. Find good stories.
    4. Practice. Practice. Practice. Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause and breathe. Use a clock to check your timings and allow time for the unexpected.
    5. Know the audience. Try to speak to one or two people in the audience as they arrive – they will be your allies in the audience – it is easier to speak to friends than to strangers.
    6. Know the setup. Arrive in good time to check out the speaking area and get practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
    7. Relax. Begin with a well prepared grabber. A personal story is a great start. It connects you to the audience and creates the right emotional atmosphere (and calms your nerves).
    8. Visualize yourself successful. See yourself at the end of the speech surrounded by people asking questions, visualise the applause.
    9. Pauses. Include 3-8 second pauses at key moments – just before key statements or just after a story – this really brings the audience into the speech.
    10. Don’t apologize – the audience probably never noticed it.
    11. Smile. Look like the content matters to you – if the audience don’t feel that it is important to you, it will be really hard for them to feel that it should be important for them.
    12. Get experience. Take every opportunity you can get to speak (and listen to other speakers). Prepare well ahead of time. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.

    What’s Your View

    Are there any other tips that work for powerful speakers out there?

    Jim Rohn says that there are four simple steps to becoming a great speaker:

    1. Have something to say.
    2. Say it well.
    3. Read your audience.
    4. Intensity (the right words mixed with measured emotion).

    How do we get something good to say? Live a full live. Meet lots of people. Fail. Succeed. Remember what it felt like and be able to share the emotion as well as the facts of what happened. Write a journal. Keep track of your stories.

    How do we say it well? Prepare. Start strong. Breathe. Look up. Pause. Practice (lots).

    How can you read the audience? Look at them. Listen to them. Feel the emotion of the room, of your listener – by feeling your own emotion.

    Intensity – how do we get the right emotion? Tell personal stories. Share something. Only stories allow us to share emotion with others.