Annette Kramer is a successful performance and business coach who has worked with ICAEW on The Pitch and other high-profile pitching programmes such as BBC’s Dragon’s Den.
We caught up with her to talk about how early-stage businesses and SMEs looking for investment can pitch like pros.
How did you start your journey to becoming a ‘Pitch Doctor’?
I began my work in the NY theatre as a dramaturge and acting coach. My job was to help a director as a guide, negotiating among language, behaviour and engagement. I was a second set of eyes because it’s hard to see when you’re too close. I identified the unique contributions of each player in context. Then, with the director and playwright, we made each element work together for the good of the play’s highest performance.
I think of myself as a pitch mechanic, rather than a pitch doctor. Once I see how the gears work, and where they are stuck, I collaborate with the client to clear the blockages and make the whole engine more efficient. I also teach Best Practices in how to do it on your own going forward.
This is always a collaboration. Each strategy has to tailored to the needs of a company, and each person in the company, as well as work toward the good of the whole.
One day, at a party, someone asked me wasn’t I from the theatre? Didn’t I know how to teach? Could I help a group of engineers who couldn’t talk about their businesses?
Turned out to be a group of entrepreneurs pitching for investment. I helped one of these companies raise 1.7 million, became a non-exec, and my business took off.
How much of a difference can a pitch make to a business?
The language is unfortunate. Let’s start by thinking of a pitch not as a broadcast – would anyone want a cricket ball or baseball pitched at them? – but as the beginning of a conversation. This should be true both of style and content. What are your listeners interested in? How can you engage them?
The goal is to start a conversation listeners want to continue, because business is always done long after the initial exchange takes place. The trick is to keep that conversation going until you get what you want.
Business is built on relationships, and relationships are built on conversations. So, keeping the conversation going – remaining engaging – is essential to business, then the pitch is essential to closing any kind of deal.
Can anyone learn to pitch well?
Anyone can learn to pitch effectively enough to do business. Again, one needs to change one’s attitude about why he or she is communicating. That changes the way you think of the outcome, timing, goals. Most people start conversations outside of business that listeners want to continue. It’s about using what you know in another context in the business context.
What are the most common mistakes people make in pitches?
There are 3 big mistakes almost all people make when pitching, at least in the early stages. These are in no particular order because missing any will be a big problem.
1. Thinking of a pitch as a broadcast rather than as the start of a conversation – the symptoms are being too self-involved and talking AT, rather than with, your listeners.
Technically, a pitch is indeed a monologue – someone speaks for a period of time, and everyone listens. But it needs to be treated conversationally. What are people listening for? Tell them what they want to know, rather than what you want to tell them. And tell them in a way that is not talking AT them but to them. If people ask questions, you win.
2. Underestimating the power of structure in a powerful pitch. The right structure turns a list of details into a story. Stories engage and build. That’s how you persuade.
3. Leaving it unclear that you know your markets and your numbers. It’s essential to be able to tell an investor how you are going to make money, how much you have now, and how you will get a return on investment. This story is one told entirely in numbers, as I said.
What are a few of your successes you’re most proud of?
I am proud of all my clients – they have all gone from amateur to professional. I haven’t lost one yet.
There’s no such thing as being a little amateur – you either seem amateur or you seem professional. It’s a difference in kind.
Two very different examples are these.
One of my Dragon’s Den clients went from being so unsure of what sort of conversation to start – and what to include – that she couldn’t finish a sentence to certainty and passion in her delivery and engagement. She collaborated with me fully – we worked very fast. And she shone on TV despite the fact that the so-called dragons asked questions more designed to shame than to probe for value. They also rearranged the pitch in the edit to make her look weaker – I only know this because I know what we did together. This woman not only held her own but made the Dragons look rather silly, despite their best efforts.
In a very different sort of scenario, I’m also very proud of a multi-disciplinary group of high-level Estonian creators of something called the X-Road. I was hired by the British Council to help them represent this technology to the British stakeholders to instate better e-government.
None of the groups involved – academics, forensics specialists, doctors, and technology developers – felt comfortable presenting their ideas each on their own. They didn’t know what to include or how to order the information. In three days, we together created a story that they told so well together that they got heart-felt applause and praise from listeners.
In shows like Dragon’s Den people seem to trip over their business numbers? Do you see a role for ICAEW BAS there?
Absolutely – no one is more helpful to someone pitching than someone who really knows how to present numbers. Understanding your markets is key to investors. If they don’t believe you do, why should they trust you with their money?
The story of markets and how to tap into them is told as much in not just the numbers themselves but also which numbers you choose to present – and how you present them. Don’t skimp on this research and support. There is no way to get investment without it.
What are you looking forward to this year?
This year I’m very much looking forward to a new level of diversity in my projects. I’ve created an online video class so that anyone can afford to learn Best Practices in pitching. This has not only videos from me but examples of good and bad practice, performed by actors using mash ups of pitches from real clients. I think it will be very helpful not just for those starting from the beginning but also for tune-ups.
I’ve been asked to serve as the advisor on innovation and social enterprise by the Cambridge Centre for Global Equality. There, and with other organisations, I will be working on Best Practices in pitching for social ventures globally.
I’m also very much looking forward to doing work with applied innovation with big groups, helping enterprise learn from entrepreneurs about processes as well as outcomes when thinking about being more agile. I have some projects kicking off this month for these.
Last, I’m looking forward to continuing to work with legacy clients with whom I’ve built great relationships. I learn so much from those I know well.