Who’s in charge here? Your pitch and status game

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Pitching any kind of idea or deal involves playing a complex and tricky status game. It’s all about the social dynamics. If you do not gain high status, your voice will not be heard in business environment. It does not matter how well you argue. How your slides look. You lack the alpha status, you will not persuade and you will not get the deal done.

Your ‚frame’ is like a metaphoric magnetic field that surrounds whenever you enter a social situation. Whenever people meet in a private or business situation meet their ‚frames’ collide. It’s like a subtle status game. The phenomenon was well depicted in Eric Berne bestseller Games people play and in Oren Klaff’s Pitch anything. What most startups I work with fail to realise before I educate them, is that when it comes to pitching and selling, you need to establish your credibility as soon as possible. And you need to adjust yourself mentally.

The status game is all about ‘who’s in charge here’. Many startups (even on a very subconscious level) feel like the investor or the jury member is in charge since they have the POWER (money or vote). They feel like they are fighting to win their approval. They are ‘asking for money’. And they fail to realise that maybe it’s the other way around. The startup offers them to possibility to INVEST and make good money. You need to turn the tables to win. And I do not mean in an arrogant way. It can be a subtle, sometimes nonverbal trick.

Most of the times the person with the higher status frame (the alpha in the room) will have a group of people around them who usually follow the ritual. They obey, they listen, they laugh. If you fall into that trap and do the same, then you are not a PARTNER anymore. You are just a part of the court. So by all means avoid falling into that trap. And the traps are many. Reception desks where they tell you to wait. Conference rooms, where you have to wait while their assistant kindly (and sometimes coldly) informs you, that Mr. Big is not going to be there for another 15 minutes. The chairs you are ordered to sit. The pecking order you are supposed to follow.

People who are following those ‘orders’ sometimes mistake savour-vivre with obliging to much. Here are couple of examples of how you can react to show that you are not the one to be bossed around.

Not yet, sir! Not yet!

Say you are in the conference room before your meeting with the investors or the client. You placed the folders and other material on the tables. You have organised this meeting and you want to be in charge. You should. The important people walk in. They sit down and one of them, showing you minor interest, without hesitation grabs the folder. What do you do?

Well, most people would just ignore that. After all the folders are there to be looked at. But you shouldn’t. You know that what matters is your pitch and showing who’s in charge. The folders are to be viewed later. You planned it this way. So what you should do is say with a smile: There will be time to view this. It’s just not yet! You can obviously use other words. The key is to show that you know how the meeting should go and that you are willing to stick to that plan.

Ask me a question and I’ll ask you a question

Another way of showing who is in charge is reversing the questions. Instead of answering the questions right away, show them who is in charge by making them more precise.

Investor: What is you biggest challenge?

You: Do you mean in terms of product development or in terms of sales strategies?

Investor: What is you unique competitive advantage?

You: Do you mean in terms of our team and sales approach or product itself?

Do you get the pattern here? Instead of answering the question right away you can ask the question yourself in order to shift attention and power. You are now the one who narrows down the option. You are in charge.

Another example of a verbal status positioning is this:

Client: I’ve got only 10 minutes, come in.

You: That’s all right, I’ve only got 8.


Client: I’ve got only 10 minutes, come in.

You: Thank you so much for taking time out of your hectic schedule. I really appreciate it.

Which of those two scenarios are you more inclined to go with? The second one, that shows that you are a nice person who follows the rules or the first one who knows how to play the status game. Keep that in mind and always test new habits. After all there’s no better way to learn.