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Chapter 1

WE PITCH ALL THE TIME Remember when you were young and only ever wanted to eat your favourite dish – every single day? For me it was fries with apple compote and a croquette (yes, I am a proud Dutchman).


Work as a creative As creatives, we think up ideas and use our skills to make them happen. But when it comes to pitching our ideas to others, we often fall short. I remember the start of my own career. Many of the ideas I had were never even considered. Not because they were (all) bad, but because I lacked the proper skills to pitch them. I knew this had to change and that began my journey into discovering the art of pitching ideas. **cue epic intro song** As creatives we often work collaboratively as one team towards a common goal – a finished project that fulfils our client’s expectations (as well as our own). And regardless of whether the client is internal or external, he or she is the person you have to convince that the idea is good: from initial concept to end result. Unless you’re a one-man band you’ll need the help of others to make your idea happen. And to do that you need to be able convince these others (and they also need to convince you). As you no doubt realise by now, pitching is not always as easy as it looks. But the last time I checked there was no good course that teaches you how to do it. But why should it be that way? You’re creative enough to come up with ideas. You know how to structure them and translate them into concepts. You understand creative processes and can apply them to your projects. You have the talent and skills to design and make things – be it a brand identity, a product, or service – and can present your final results. The thing is, getting others to fully support your ideas requires a different set of skills. And that’s exactly why I’m writing this book; because it would have helped if someone had given me guidance like this when I was first starting out. 14 • PITCHING IDEAS

When do we pitch? Creative work presents many different pitch scenarios. At the start of the project: when we pitch to get the project. After we win the business: the project starts and we pitch our concept ideas internally before going back to the client. During the process: when we want to add elements to the brand, product or experience – or want try a new approach – we need to convince our colleagues. When we get bigger ideas during the process: the kind that would change the project’s direction and improve it. We need to convince our team (internal), the project manager (internal), and of course our client. When the project is finished and we need to present it to the client’s CEO. No pressure...


However, only you can resolve this issue. Blaming others for your own failure will make the problem impossible to solve. (Thank you for this wisdom, Paul Arden, author of ‘Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite’). 90% people, 10% idea

When pitching ideas we mostly focus on the idea itself. While the quality of an idea is important, it only accounts for about 10% of the pitch’s success. The other 90% comes down to how you work with people and manage relationships with them. Even if you have the best idea in the world, if people don’t believe in you they will never support you. On the flip side, it’s also possible that when you have an abstract idea, people will support it if they have full faith in you. Next steps

You’ve made it this far, so I guess you’re still interested in learning how to pitch! You can use this book in several ways. You can read it from start to finish and use it as a step-by-step guide to pitching. Or, if you’ve got a more specific skill you want to work on, just dive straight into the appropriate chapter. I’ve tried to make sure that each chapter works as a standalone piece of advice, and have included as many visuals and summaries as possible.

Here’s what’s in store for you... Chapter 2 – What’s the goal you want to reach? Chapter 3 – What is the idea you have to reach the goal? Chapter 4 – Who do you need to convince to reach your goal? Chapter 5 – How do you prepare yourself for the pitch? Chapter 6 – How do you deliver the pitch?


Chapter 1 - In short • We pitch all the time! It doesn’t matter whether we’re convincing friends to go to Spain for a summer holiday, or telling kids how much fun it’ll be to go and see grandma. (p. 11) • The main problem in the convincing process is that we always want, and expect, our pitches to others to be received with overwhelming enthusiasm. (p. 13) • The thing is, getting others to fully support your ideas requires a different set of skills than just coming up with good ideas. (p. 14) • There are many reasons why things can go wrong during a pitch. Some examples: V Overcompensation Mode – you don’t have a good understanding of the core idea and are scared others won’t understand. (p. 16) V Rambo Mode – the other party doesn’t directly buy into your idea. (p. 18) V Best-Idea-Ever Mode – You believe so much in your idea that you move forward without researching it. (p. 20) V Wrong Style Mode – Your pitch has the wrong focus because you assume everyone shares your perspective. (p. 22) • It’s too easy to assume that other people are the problem when you can’t convince them. Pitching ideas the right way begins with a simple mind shift: you are the problem yourself. • Convincing people is 10% about the quality of the idea and 90% about your relationship with other people.


To pitch or not to pitch Explain the goal

Wait for response

Person disagrees

Person doesn’t understand

Understand why she disagrees

Understand what she doesn’t understand

What did you learn?

Person agrees

She misunderstood what I meant

Reframe She still disagrees

Wait for the response

Stop the pitch (for now)


Still doesn’t agree/ understand

Person understands

Start pitching the idea!

Four steps to make your goals clear, simple, and easy to understand When writing down your goal you must be very clear in specifying what you want to achieve. In the next few paragraphs I’ll outline four things to consider that will help you define a clear goal. Step 1 – Is it a problem or an opportunity? Step 2 – Is the aim short-term or long-term? Step 3 – Is the result already concrete or still abstract? Step 4 – Is the scope of the goal generic or specific?

Step 1. Problem or opportunity? There are a lot of theories out there that outline how to define a good goal. But in the end the first step comes down to understanding a simple distinction: knowing whether you’re trying to solve a problem or create an opportunity. Every goal in life belongs in one of these two categories: a problem or an opportunity. Problem

“any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty” –

Central question: What problem does the idea need to solve? Several examples of problems: • People aren’t signing up for the newsletter on our website. • Our support team is getting a lot of spam in their mailbox. • Brand X is being perceived as too expensive. DEFINE THE GOAL • 31

Different types of pitches There can be many different types of pitches. Depending on the type you can get a feeling of how you should define the goal around it. I created an overview of the most common pitch types in projects. Tweak or improvement

What is it? When you need to make a small improvement on an existing product, service or identity: such as changing the colour of a button or the wording of a text. How do we define the goal? Short-term / specific / concrete Feature

What is it? If you have an existing product or service, but want to add something new to it, you’re talking about a feature. For example, say you have a cycling app and want to add a commenting option to a website. How do we define the goal? Short- to medium-term / specific / concrete Product

What is it? If you already have an organisation with a clear goal, mission, and vision and want to launch something people can use as a standalone service (digital or physical) or part of a bigger service. For example: a mobile app for public transport, an e-bike, or a new website. How do we define the goal? Medium-term / specific / concrete



What is it? Services focus on helping people by providing support in one way or another. A service could focus on giving advice on public transport, delivering packages (postal service) on time, or bringing people from one location to another (e.g. a taxi service). One or more products can be used to make a service possible, such as the Uber app to call a driver over to pick you up. How do we define the goal? Medium-term / specific / concrete or abstract Business

What is it? A business is an entity that has a clear mission and vision to reach a certain goal. In a business there are different aspects, such as products and/or services, designed to make that mission and vision a reality. How do we define the goal? Long-term / general / abstract Future

What is it? Futures focus on dreams that can’t be grasped yet, but could happen. They are disconnected from organisations, products, or services and stand by themselves. You might feel there’s an opportunity to be a part of them if you’re early enough (let’s put a man on the moon) or that you have time to prevent them from happening (if we don’t stop now we will kill the planet). How do we define the goal? Long-term / general / abstract


Abstract & general

What are you pitching? There can be many different types of pitches. Depending on the type you can already get a feel for how you should define the goal around it.

service product

Concrete & specific

feature tweak

Short-term 46 • PITCHING IDEAS

the future business

Long-term DEFINE THE GOAL • 47

Some examples of defining what's needed:

The Great Wall of China

What’s needed? About 3,873,000,000 bricks, millions of labourers and hundreds of years of patience Spotify

What’s needed? For a basic prototype – A graphic designer, a strategist, and five days to create a prototype we can test. For the entire 1.0 version – €2,000,000 Website problem

What’s needed? Two programmers, two pizzas, and one night.


Ultimately, you’re aiming to create a single sheet of paper that describes the problem and context on one side, and the idea to make it happen on the other. By forcing yourself to stick to the core you’ll see that through time and practice you’ll get better and better at grabbing the essence of what’s needed to create the impact. This is what a filled-in Core Idea Sheet should look like: Goal


What is the goal of this project?

What is your idea in one sentence?

Make the country easy to defend and safe against all the invasions.

Build a wall around the empire.



What are the constraints and enablers that influence the possible outcome? Target audience, budget, time to market, brand stategy etc

What are the three unique aspects that make the idea stand out?

Infinite money, 10,000 workers instantly available, first results must be visible within five years.

1. keeps the enemy out 2. clearly shows our borders 3. illustrates our strength. Requirements What’s needed to make this idea happen? Budget, time, people, hardware, etc.

± 3,873,000,000 bricks, millions of labourers and hundreds of years of patience.


You can use Jung’s functions to discover what primary functions the people around you fit into. By doing this you’ll be able to understand how they analyse the information they receive and how they will use this information when making a decision. Also, be very aware of your own function. How do you perceive and process information? By understanding this and the position of the people in front of you, it will be easier to understand how you can adapt your style, and why past conversations went wrong. Analyse the people you need to convince

With this theory in mind, consider the people you’re planning to pitch to. Do they have sensing or intuitive personalities? Are they thinkers or feelers? Do they appear extravert or introvert?

Organisational alignment You’ve got a clear idea in your head and you’re keen to make it a reality. What do you do? You enthusiastically push forward, heading directly towards the goal. You even involve several important people along the way and manage to get them on board. With great energy, you’re soon building the idea and not long after are ready to kick off the project. But then, all of a sudden, news reaches you that your manager has killed the project. What the heck happened?! Many people who are new in big organisations often aren’t aware that they’re not just pitching to one or two people, but to many different stakeholders. One way or another, these stakeholders will find out what is going on and influence the project. Without knowing, you walk into a minefield and step on toes, creating resistance. Unnecessary. On the flip side, other new people try to avoid conflict. They try not 88 • PITCHING IDEAS

to step on toes and avoid pitching ideas that involve stakeholders from certain departments. The result is that only small steps are taken – the ones that are safe and don’t create real positive impact or change. This kills innovation. Unnecessary. What do you do to overcome these situations?

Stakeholder Balance Map Want to understand the position of all stakeholders involved in the project, in order to know who to focus on to get the idea done? Stakeholder mapping is a great way of doing this and it has been used by different organisations for many years (I honestly don’t know who invented it). Based on these principles, we’ve developed the Stakeholder Balance Map. Basically it illustrates the Tip! You can download stakeholders involved and helps the Stakeholder Balance Map determine whether their influtemplate on! ence will tip the balance towards a positive or negative outcome. 1. Opposing

2. Neutral

3. Supporting

A. Decision makers

Understand needs. Meet needs.

Understand needs. Keep satisfied.

Embrace support. Keep enthusiastic.

B. Influencer (or decision makers)

Understand needs. Meet needs.

Understand needs. Keep satisfied.

Embrace support. Keep enthusiastic.

Minimal effort.


Use as supporter or reference.

c. Interested people (no influence)


succeed – even if it means giving others credit for your original idea. Keep in mind that everyone has their own agenda. They all aim for the same goal: making the organisation a success, but they do it from their own position. As long as they see how an idea helps the overall goal and supports (or at least doesn’t threaten) their ideas, they will jump on board.

Different types of roles When you pitch your ideas to someone, you have to be conscious of their position and role. In this section we’ll look at several positions, and consider what’s important for them, how they think, feel, decide, and what words they want to hear. The list of roles mentioned in this book is not exhaustive; I’ve just decided to focus on the most common ones in the creative sector.



A CEO is one busy person. She has to keep twenty balls in the air and is always thinking ahead. Things never go fast enough. Natural behaviour • Big picture – She doesn’t want to get involved in the details, but is always focused on the bigger picture. But when you do go into details, always relate them to the impact on a broader scale. • Guiding role – CEOs like it when their organisation, and the people within it, strive. She loves to take the guiding role, and to give nudges and feedback to push people in the right direction. Acknowledging this guiding role builds rapport. • Clear communication – There is no time for bullshit, so cut out all the sweet talk and get to the core of your message. CEOs like to keep things effective. And in a lot of cases they don’t mind others taking the initiative to make this happen. • Respect – Most CEOs love getting respect for what they’ve achieved. On the other hand, they also give respect to others who have a clear idea of what they want and why they want it. • Project confidence – Even in the toughest situations a CEO will project confidence. Do not mistake this for arrogance. She also prefers people who themselves appear confident. At the same time she loves to challenge them to see if they hold their ground. If so, respect is born. • Know your history and context – Never start a conversation without knowing the history and context of a situation. There is nothing worse for a CEO than to hear someone come up with a solution to a simplified version of the real problem.


Large crowd (20+ people)

You don’t have a lot of choice on the set-up for a big crowd. The best thing to do here is to make sure that you and your presentation are visible to everyone. To do that most effectively, you can set up the room in several ways.

Auditorium set-up The entire crowd sits in rows, facing you. The advantage of this setup is that they’re focused and are not naturally invited to interact with the people around them. Optimal focus is assured: so make sure you rock that pitch! Cocktail style set-up In the cocktail style set-up, the room is more casually arranged. The advantage of this is that people have more chance to interact with each other and your presentation can be given in an informal way. In this environment, it’s possible to break down your presentation into several parts, giving people the opportunity to converse in between. At the same time, you have an opportunity to walk around and ask/answer questions. The risk of this set-up is that people are naturally more easily distracted.

1. Auditorium

2. Cocktail




Medium crowd (8 - 20 people)

This group size is small enough for you make contact with everybody, but too big to really make it intimate. Plus this audience size gives people the chance to have individual conversations, meaning you could lose control of the crowd’s attention. A good way to overcome this is to stand in front of the crowd and present the material directly. Centralise every conversation going on in the room, so that you don’t get multiple discussions and are able to maintain a clear agenda and focus. Make it clear if you want questions afterwards or if it’s okay for people to ask them during the presentation.

Boardroom set-up One big table. Gives you a clear view of everyone and is handy for group conversations. It’s also a good set-up for managementfocused meetings, since many senior people don’t really feel comfortable being placed in a workshop (U-shape) set-up. U-shape set-up If you’re looking for an environment where you have room to approach individuals, or where people can have smaller group discussions, the U-shape is the best option. It leaves an open space in the middle of the room making it easier to approach everybody, as a presenter. 3. Boardroom

4. U-shape



Chapter 6


All the preparations are done. The moment to pitch has come. But hold on just a sec – you still have stacks of opportunities to improve your chances of success!


Before the pitch Be on time

There is no such thing as being fashionably late. The only people who think it’s a ‘thing’ are those who are constantly late themselves. However, the moment they have to wait for someone they get annoyed. Want to make a good first impression? Be on time! (and see Chapter 5 for more) Arriving late to a meeting sends the wrong signal. Basically it makes people think you aren’t fully committed to the situation and that your time is more important than theirs. When you make an appointment: be on time. Or even better: be a bit early so you have time to prepare yourself for the meeting. This gives you the chance to set up your laptop, try out the projector, and choose the most strategic position at the table. It’ll also give you the opportunity to connect with others. Depending on the type of meeting, it’s good to arrive at least half an hour (for big meetings) to 10 minutes (for medium and small meetings) before the start. Of course, there will be situations when unforeseen circumstances cause you to arrive late. Always call the client to let them know why! Observe your surroundings

The moment you enter a building or a room, take the opportunity to observe your surroundings. It’ll give you an insight into the kind of organisation and people you’ll be dealing with. Plus it’ll provide you with clues on how to approach them in the upcoming conversation. For example, consider subtly referring to a book you saw in the manager’s office in your pitch; it’ll help pique his or her interest. The style of a building or layout of a specific room can also tell you a lot about the organisational culture. This helps you to position your130 • PITCHING IDEAS

• • • • •

How do people dress? Is it ‘anything goes’ or is there a specific style? How vibrant is the environment? Is it clean? Well maintained? Old fashioned? Modern? What type of computers, phones and systems do people use?

The office space

Once you’ve collected all the above information, it’s time to make more personal observations about the people you’re presenting to. If you’re in someone’s office, take a moment to take a look around. Once I walked into an office and saw all sorts of gadgets in the room. This told me that the person understood technology and championed innovation. In another meeting, I noticed an entire bookcase of Wilbur Smith (one of my favourite authors) novels. This was a great conversation starter. What do your observations tell you about the people you’re meeting? • What level is their office on? The highest floor with the best view? • What kind of personal items do you see? • What type of books can you see? Any photos? Art? • Does their office have a particular style? • Is it big or small? • Is the room tidy?


Choose your position Do you have the chance to choose your table position? Choose wisely you must, my young padawan! The position you take during the meeting definitely influences how you’ll be perceived by others. In Chapter 5 I described several different room set-Wups. But say you’re simply presented with a rectangular table. You have several ways of approaching this set-up, depending on how you want to be perceived. Opposite sides

In this set-up you sit directly facing the client. If there are several people, position yourself opposite the most dominant one. This set-up feels like a negotiation or serious conversation, because of the table in between. It can work well when you want to earn respect, but it does create distance. Mixed up

Here you and the others in your team sit distributed among the clients you’re pitching to. By mixing things up, you’ll kill the feeling of ‘us and them’ and make it easier to build a relationship. Conversations move over the entire table instead of back and forth. You can strategically position your team around the table. Does someone in your team connect well with a client you don’t get on with? Position them closely together. But be aware: if there are multiple people giving the pitch, make sure they’re sat together – you don’t want to play pitch ping pong. Side-by-side

This is for small meetings (two to three people). When you want to make a pitch very personal and collaborative, sit side-by-side. It creates a personal vibe of understanding and collaboration: great when you’re meeting in smaller teams with non-dominant types. READY. SET. PITCH! • 133

you should give it both your time and attention. Of course, I do it with a smile on my face, but the message is really clear (years of practice with kids helps here). I simply stop my pitch in the middle of a sentence or end a conversation and turn to the disconnected person and say “Sorry. Is something wrong?” Or, when they’re constantly looking at their phone: “Is something important happening that needs your attention?” In most cases this is enough to make them pay attention again. For me personally, it doesn’t matter if it’s the CEO of a billion dollar business or an intern I am confronting. People should be respectful to each other at all times; regardless of their standing in the corporate hierarchy, or whatever type of car they drive. Decide for yourself if confronting people feels appropriate, since I’d imagine that in some situations your job could be dependent on a given situation. But then I wouldn’t want to work for someone who doesn’t show employees any respect. Are people having one-on-one conversations during the meeting? Control the meeting and keep it central. One way of doing this is stopping your presentation to let them finish. Mostly this will make them aware of the situation and stop. If they keep going, ask them to keep the conversation central. It’s totally okay to take control if you’re presenting a pitch. Be clear about the meeting’s goal

Everybody’s ready for your pitch and knows what to expect, right? Are you sure? Always check before you begin. Ask everyone in the room what they expect the meeting to be about. Or start the pitch by describing the goal of the meeting and ask if everybody has the same agenda. Never assume. There will be meetings where you’re not the organiser and aren’t able to invite people properly. In some of these situations people are accidentally (or purposely) invited under false pretences. Or perhaps they 138 • PITCHING IDEAS

expected it to be about something else when they accepted the invite. Not long ago I was in such a meeting. I was invited to pitch a project plan to two new clients at a company I already worked for. The client I knew had asked me to prepare the pitch and had invited the others, so they could decide whether they wanted to work with us. The moment I was introduced, I saw a flabbergasted look on their faces, which they tried to hide. Instead of starting my pitch, I asked them what they’d expected and they confessed they were surprised I was there. I smiled and said that the looks on their faces kind of gave that away, after which they relaxed a bit. At the same time, I asked the client I knew if she could give the others some extra context. After that they fully understood the meeting’s goal and agreed that the topic was important. In the end we won the assignment. Set the ground rules

Before you begin your pitch, be very clear about when you want others to respond. Will you allow questions during the presentation or afterwards? You could say you’ll allow questions when something’s not clear in the presentation itself, but would prefer all others after. It all depends on the structure of your pitch and your personal preference. Some people are open to questions during their presentation while others want to be in ‘the zone’ and give their presentation in full before tackling questions. They find it uncomfortable to answer questions during their pitch, as it can be difficult for them to get back into the flow. Whatever you prefer, in both cases it helps to clearly set the ground rules before you start. Keep in mind that as long as you’re clear about the rules, people will follow them. Also, when people ask questions in the middle of a pitch, you should take control. Answer them directly or say you’ll answer them after the presentation, or at a later point in the presentation READY. SET. PITCH! • 139

When to let others score? Will the idea die without this person’s approval? yes

Wil your relationship improve if you let him/her score?



She let you win every game until you were 12... Let her score!




Do they already see your value?

Is it your mom?


The choice is yours. Let the other score or do it yourself!


Will it slow down your career if you yes don’t score yourself?


Let the other person score!



Would he/she return the favour?


Score yourself!

Your body language People will create a first impression based on how you look and behave during your meeting. So you can imagine how important it is to radiate confidence and competence. You must own the moment. Always be aware of this during meetings and it will eventually become second nature. Stand up straight when pitching the idea

Standing while delivering your pitch shows you’re confident and in control. You are higher than everyone else and have a good overview of the room. Always a good option – unless you want to make it more intimate. When seated, sit straight and lean forward

Sitting back sends a message that you are too relaxed and a bit disengaged. Leaning forward is all about focus, interest, and engagement – which is exactly what you want. Keep your shoulders relaxed

If your shoulders are not relaxed you will appear tense. Look people straight in the eye

Keeping good eye contact is a signal that you’re interested in keeping attention and that you’re paying attention yourself. But looking for too long will make people feel like you’re staring, so remember to gaze away. Use your hands when speaking

For me this is not even a thing to remember, since I do this automatically. It’s an engaging way of speaking and emits energy – as long as you don’t overdo it.


Pitching Ideas  
Pitching Ideas  

We are good at designing beautiful products and we offer good services. We always know exactly what the user wants and we know dozens of met...