Your Pitch, Q&A and Improvisation Theatre

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With your pitch you communicate the value proposition you and your startup have crafted so well. It’s polished, well scripted. You pause where you want to add some drama. You rely on storytelling to set up the stage and direct attention with the virtuoso dynamics of your voice. You are good. Or at least you should be. When you finish however, there’s round two waiting. The Q&As. Time to improvise.

Q&As can be rehearsed. Just like a good lawyer gets the witness ready with the set of prep questions that drag them through the dirt to predict the unpredictable. So can you and your team secure the outcome getting yourself ready. But if you think seriously about learning how to pitch. If you are mature enough to use those skills in other areas like sales and marketing, then you need to learn the art of improvisation.

You might think improvisation is an art thing only. Not really. It’s the art of listening and interacting with other human being. The better you are at it, the better you Q&As, sales, marketing and dates will be. And by dates I mean hook ups, not the fruit delicacy.

Q&As are too often perceived as a battle ground. Jury or the investors want to prove you are wrong. You want to prove they are imbeciles and no nothing of your brilliant ideas. Like Kanye and the rest of the world. But actually winning with your Q&As is easier if you stop treating those as a struggle and learn three simple things. These are also three rules of the improvisational theatre: (1) Always hear offers. (2) Say Yes and, instead of Yes, but and (3) Make the others look good (even if you hate them like PETA hates Kim K.).

Hearing offers is about listening. Sadly enough, for too many, the opposite of talking (pitching) is not listening. It is waiting. When others speak (or when the investors ask), we typically divide our attention between what they are saying and what we’re going to say next. Usually taking the defence mode. Needles to say we suck at both. Looking for offers is much like active listening. Once you hear the offer, it’s your time to think what to do with it. How does it work? Well, have a look.

The investor: I would not invest that much money in your startup, now.
You: Well, maybe you do not see what I see. (Meaning maybe you are just plain stupid).

That was so wrong on many levels. And trust me – it had happened. You might want to be badass. But that convo is a clear result of win-loose approach. It could have gone the other way.

The investor: I would not invest that much money in your startup, now.
You: How much would you be willing to invest, then. Or maybe if now is not the right time, when is.

This is a different approach. Offers come in different shapes and sizes but the only way to hear them during Q&As, sales meetings and flirt is to change the way you listen. Listen actively and do something that may seem crazy giving the fact you usually have limited time for your Q&As. Take time. When the investor finishes, pause for 5-6 seconds and the answer. Practice that in everyday situations. Instead of finishing peoples’ sentences and butting in, you might actually get somewhere.

Saying Yes and instead of Yes, but opens up new possibilities instead of taking you down a rollercoaster spiral frustration ride. When you start answering with Yes, but you sail onto the ocean of rejection. Yes, but is a dangerous guy. He’s a NO dressed up as YES. Whilst in fact it again shifts the conversation towards disagreement. When you hear a proposition you can go like this:

Investor: You should hire a marketing guy.
You: Yes, but we don’t have money for that.
Investor: Yes, but if you don’t have money you will not grow with zero marketing.
You: Yes, but we can try

This is opposing points. This is a road to nowhere. Instead you could use the Yes, and.

Investor: You should hire a marketing guy.
You: Yes, and if that turns to expensive we may look for person who believes in project and is willing to work with us for the success fee.
Investor: Yes, and if that person really believes in the project, the better for you.
You: Yes, and that’s precisely what we are looking for

Yes, and has an evil twin. Its name is Yes, but. Try to use more the first whenever you feel like using the latter. Instead of swirling downward into frustration, Yes and spirals upward towards possibility.

Making the people that ask you questions (that you sometimes even feel attacked by) look good can be hard. But it really works. I am not talking about serving compliments and going all crazy fanatic with You are amazing! Your partner on stage, your client, your investor should feel good because you make them look good. Remember one thing: Making your partner look good doesn’t make you look worse. When you make your opponent (let’s call them that) look good, your conversation becomes more of a dance and less of a wrestling match. It becomes about reframing and not the battle. And remember: Never argue. To win and argument is to lose a sale. Or an investment.