This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Pitch Anything" by Oren Klaff. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything about? How do you pitch an idea or a proposition in a way that compels your target to actually consider it?
In his book Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff teaches you the key principles and strategies of effective sales pitching. The main premise is that the success of your pitch depends on your ability to appeal to your target’s primitive and emotion-driven “croc brain.”
Here is a brief overview of Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal.
Pitch Anything: Book Overview
Too often, when we pitch an idea, product, or project, we pitch it incorrectly. We use too much detail and analysis as we try to make our target’s neocortex (the analytical part of the human brain) fall in love with our concept.
Unfortunately, it’s the “croc brain,” not the neocortex, that does the falling in love. The croc brain is the more primitive part of the brain, highly attuned to recognizing danger and driven by emotions and “gut” responses.
When a person encounters new information—including your pitch—she listens to it first with her croc brain, not her neocortex. If her croc brain filters it out, your message is ignored. The key to making a successful pitch is to figure out what the croc brain wants to hear.
In his book Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff teaches you how to appeal to your target’s croc brain by understanding what makes it tick and working with its primitive instincts. The process starts by establishing your agenda and your perspective as dominant over your target’s, through what we’ll call “frame control.”
Frame Control Is the Key to a Successful Pitch
A person approaches every interaction, social or business, with a particular “frame.” A frame is how a person views the world, and how she expects the world to view her.
When two frames meet, they compete for dominance. The winning frame controls the tone and agenda of the meeting, and the losing frame is stuck in a reactive position, responding to the dictates of the person in control. The key to a successful pitch is establishing your frame as the dominant one.
There are three common frames you will encounter as you move through the business world, and each has its own set of techniques to counter it. These are:
- The “power frame”
- The “analyst frame”
- The “time frame”
The Power Frame
A person using a “power frame” is accustomed to being in control of the room. She is often arrogant, controlling, and dismissive. You can counter a power frame, and transfer her power to you, with a “power frame disrupter”: a small act of defiance or a denial that lets your target know you are not playing by her rules.
Find an opportunity to deny your target of something or to defy her in some small way. For example, if you’ve brought visuals, and you catch her sneaking a peek, take them away and say playfully, “Not until I say so.”
A power frame disrupter tells her croc brain that you are in charge, not she. The key to doing this successfully is to use humor. If you don’t, your defiance comes across as arrogant and will put her off.
The Analyst Frame
A person with an “analyst frame” views the world through cold cognitions: problem solving, rational thinking, analysis. However, you need your target to see your pitch with hot cognitions—desire, excitement, emotion—to excite her croc brain.
An analyst frame can kill your pitch by getting mired in details, derailing its momentum, and freezing excitement for it. You want to keep her focus on the bigger picture, which will emotionally connect your target to your concept. To do this:
- Separate your pitch’s numbers and technical details from the rest of your materials.
- Answer questions about specific financials competently but briefly, and pivot back to the larger vision.
The Intrigue Frame
Sometimes, your meeting still gets lost in analysis mode, despite your efforts. You can direct your target back into her croc brain by grabbing her attention with a suspense-filled story. Our brains can’t function in analysis mode and narrative mode at the same time, so hijacking her croc brain with a story overrides her neocortex. Go to each meeting ready with a personal story to pull out if your meeting gets stuck in analysis.
- It should be brief and related to your pitch.
- You must be the protagonist.
- It must have tension and serious consequences.
- It should demonstrate your skills in action and have a human element. People naturally gravitate to and understand stories about humans better than they do about numbers.
For example, your intrigue story may sound something like this: “I was working on a $15 million deal where it was my job to come up with $8 million of it. At the last minute, one of my investors disappeared, and the bank wouldn’t wire her money, putting the whole $15 million in jeopardy. I couldn’t find her anywhere but I managed to track down her husband. I explained the situation and asked him for a signature—as her husband, his would do—but he told me he’d separated from his wife six years ago and would rather cut off his finger than help her out. As soon as I heard that, I jumped on a plane and headed to his town.”
The most important element to using an intrigue frame is to leave your story unresolved. Stop at a tension-filled spot. Redirect your audience back to your pitch, and finish your story later in your presentation. Leaving your target in suspense keeps her attention sharp and tells her croc brain that you are in control.
The Time Frame
The “time frame” is a time constraint thrown at you by your target. It is a way for her to assert her dominance by setting the rules and forcing you to work within her restrictions. Our croc brains are highly attuned to rule-setting: The person who sets the rules is the one in control.
Don’t confirm your target’s dominance by acquiescing to her time constraints. When faced with a time frame, counter with a time-frame disrupter. For example, your target may tell you that she only has 15 minutes to meet with you. Counter with an even tighter time frame: Tell her you only have 14 minutes. Be lighthearted about it. But mean it.
Alternatively, you can refuse her time constraint and offer to reschedule. This tells her croc brain that you value your time, and by implication, so should she. Refusing to accept overly-tight restrictions raises your value in your target’s eyes, and is part of a technique called “prizing.”
The Prize Frame
A prize frame is a frame you can adopt at any time to counter any oppositional frame you run into. This technique positions you as a reward to be pursued, thereby activating your target’s desire instincts in her croc brain.
In a prize frame, you make your target feel as if she is trying to win you over, rather than the reverse.
- Don’t act overly grateful to be meeting with your target.
- Never appear needy, of either her business or her social approval.
- Be willing to walk out of the meeting if your standards are not met.
- Make your target justify herself to you: Ask her to explain her track record, or ask her why you should consider partnering with her.
The key, as always, is to use humor when prizing yourself. Be lighthearted, not arrogant.
Projecting Status Is Crucial
When you are in a position of higher status, you command attention effortlessly and more easily get your pitch heard. You find it easier to persuade others and drive them to a “yes.” From a lower status position, your pitch is far more likely to be ignored.
Your status is how others measure your worth in terms of wealth, power, and popularity. You can’t do anything to change your global status (your status as determined by your professional position, your wealth, and your reputation), but you can attain situational status for the duration of your meeting by understanding and managing how our croc brains perceive and establish status. This starts by recognizing and avoiding “beta traps,” and continues by grabbing “local star power” to propel you to a dominant position.
Your target’s higher status is reinforced with “beta traps”: business procedures and social rituals that confirm her status as alpha and yours as beta.
Beta traps are small ways that your target sets the rules. Remember, our croc brains recognize that the one who sets the rules is the one in command. When we enter a lobby and are told to sign here, sit there, and wear this badge, our croc brains get the message: We are following the rules, not making them.
Beta traps make us feel like outsiders and needy for social approval. When we are asked to wait in the conference room, for example, while our audience trickles in chatting and laughing, we feel excluded from the group and expected to seek approval through small talk. It triggers our croc brain’s fear of isolation, making us feel inferior and anxious.
Be aware of the beta traps you encounter, and avoid whichever you can. Follow the guidelines of the business you are visiting, of course, and don’t come across as unprofessional, but look for small ways to defy them. For example, instead of sitting in the lobby where they direct you to, stand, leaning against a wall. Above all, don’t engage in small talk.
Capturing Situational Status
To capture the higher status position at your meeting, you will need to seize “local star power.” You can do this by following a series of steps that positions you as the dominant player.
- Become the star of the show (your pitch meeting) by being more knowledgeable, competent, and skillful than the others in the room in some specific area.
- Maintain your status by keeping the conversation in the areas of your expertise. Ignore all irrelevant conversational threads that arise.
- Solidify your status by redistributing some of your power to others in the room. Get one of them to agree with you on something, thereby recruiting them to support your position as alpha.
- Make your target confirm your status by making a statement qualifying herself. Ask her to convince you of why she should partner with you, or ask her to explain a recent deal—make her feel she is chasing you.
To effectively command your target’s attention—not just spark her interest, but hold it—you must understand the factors that control attention.
A person is paying full and close attention only when she feels both desire and tension. Desire is your croc brain telling you that this thing in front of you will improve your life or your chances for survival. Tension adds consequences, making it feel important.
Create desire by positioning your idea as something new and interesting. Then create tension with a series of “tension loops”—“pushes” and “pulls” designed to make your target feel you are rejecting her and then accepting her again.
For example, say, “We might not in fact be right for one another,” and then pivot to, “But then again, if we could find a way to work together, we’d accomplish a lot as partners.” She’ll feel tension from this exchange and will keep her attention focused on you.
Finally, no matter how terrific your pitch, wrap it up after 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, your target’s mind will begin to drift and she’ll start to forget what you’ve told her.
Making the Pitch
Now that you understand the basics of frame control, status, and attention, you can focus on the specifics of your pitch.
Your pitch will have four parts:
- Introducing your pitch, yourself, and your idea (5 min)
- Discussing the numbers, the competition, and the secret sauce (10 min)
- Offering the deal (2 min)
- Creating hot cognitions by stacking frames (3 min).
1. Introducing Your Pitch, Yourself, and Your Idea
Introduce your pitch by assuring your target that it will be brief (20 minutes). This will put her at ease, knowing what to expect and knowing she won’t be asked to sit for an hour.
Introduce yourself with a brief overview of your past successes. Mention one or two prime accomplishments only.
Introduce your idea using a “Why now?” frame. A “why now” frame appeals to your target’s croc brain by making your idea seem novel and timely, activating its “fear of missing out” instinct. With a “why now” frame, you’ll position your idea or product against three market forces:
- Economic forces: Has anything changed financially in your market or the larger world that positively affects your idea?
- Changes in interest rates, inflation, and the value of the dollar are strong examples of forces that can open up business opportunities.
- Social forces: Have peoples’ behavioral habits changed in ways that will support your idea?
- Newsworthy topics like concern for environmental issues are often a strong influence.
- Technological forces: What changes in technology are driving your industry or making your idea possible?
- Such changes can flatten existing business models and create new ones. Showing that you are ahead of the curve here can create excitement.
Then, outline your idea with a quick, top-level overview highlighting key elements.
- “For [target customers]
- Who are unsatisfied with [current market options]
- My idea/product/project is a [new idea/product/project category]
- That provides [key benefit]
- Unlike [competing idea/product/project]
- My idea/product/project [has these key features].”
- For companies maintaining server rooms on the west coast
- Who are dissatisfied with their inefficient air-conditioning systems
- My product is a wall-mounted panel
- That provides equal cooling power with 25 percent more efficiency.
- Unlike portable air conditioning units,
- My product uses minimal electricity and has no moving parts, ensuring easy maintenance.
2. Discussing the Numbers, the Competition, and the Secret Sauce
This part of the pitch is most susceptible to the trap of analysis, cold cognitions, and boredom. Of course, these specifics can’t be glossed over if your message is to be credible, but the key here is momentum. Be brief, competent, and efficient.
Start with the budget. The budget is often the most difficult piece to put together and present, so if you nail it, you’ll set yourself apart. Spend relatively little time on your projections: these are numbers that are easier to put together and are taken less seriously anyway, as any potential investor will expect you to paint an overly-rosy picture.
When discussing your current or potential competition, focus on answering these two questions:
- How easy would it be for competitors to enter the market?
- How easy is it for customers to switch from your product to your competitors’?
The Secret Sauce
The secret sauce is the one thing that will give you staying power against your competition: the “unfair advantage” you have over others, and what your competitive edge is based on.
Resist the urge to dwell on this. Say it with confidence and move on, keeping in mind your target’s short attention span.
3. Offering the Deal
Describe to your target what benefits she can expect when she does business with you. Tell her what you will deliver, when, and how. Explain any roles and responsibilities she will take on.
4. Creating Hot Cognitions by Stacking Frames
To finish strong, and leave your target emotionally connected to your pitch, wrap up your presentation by running through the following four frames in quick succession. This is called “frame stacking.”
Earlier, we discussed how you can use these frames during your pitch as a response to various oppositional frames from your target. At this point in your pitch, you will proactively adopt these frames in order to drive the presentation.
- Frame 1: Intrigue
- Frame 2: Prize
- Frame 3: Time
- Frame 4: Moral Authority
Frame 1: Intrigue
Start your frame-stacking by grabbing your target’s attention with an intrigue frame. You can tell a quick, short story, as discussed earlier, or you can dangle something irresistible in front of them: something they’ll want but cannot have right now. For example, maybe you have an eccentric and interesting partner who’ll be brought in once the deal is finalized, or some other perk of the deal that will materialize later.
Frame 2: Prize
As discussed earlier, the prize frame positions you as the reward in your deal, instead of the other party. As you wrap up your pitch, hit this theme again, leaving your target with a lasting impression of you as the prize.
- Paint yourself as a hot commodity, in demand in the market. “I’ve got three other firms begging me for this deal, but if you work hard and play your cards right, you can earn your way in.”
- Make it clear you’re choosy about who you work with. Hint that you want to work with her, but need to know more before making a decision. Ask her for some materials to prove herself, or ask her what previous business partners have said about her.
Frame 3: Time
Proactively impose your own time constraint, increasing tension and adding stakes to your pitch. Our croc brains have a built-in scarcity bias and a fear of missing out on opportunities.
For example, you might say: “Folks, I’d love to give you a month to think about it, but the market’s not going to let me do that. If you don’t want the deal, don’t do it, naturally. There’s no pressure. But we’re going to need to know by the 15th whether you’re in or out.”
Frame 4: Moral Authority
The moral authority frame is one in which you claim the higher ground for reasons of professionalism, ethics, and fairness.
Our croc brains instinctively recognize a moral code that sets us apart from the animal world. Reminding your target of this code positions you as an enforcer of rules, and we know that her croc brain recognizes that those who set the rules are in control.
Painting yourself as the enforcer of moral code also plays on her croc brain’s sensitivity to peer pressure and its craving for acceptance. By invoking the rules of “the group,” you implicitly threaten her exclusion from it, and position yourself as a leader of it.
Highlight your impeccable professionalism as a person who holds their business partners to the highest standards: “We care very much about our reputation, as well as the reputation of our partners. We don’t play games, and we do things right. We give you a fair price, and expect a clean deal. Are you able to play by these rules?”
Putting It All Together
There are three principle insights into how you can win over your target’s croc brain.
- Package your ideas correctly. Speak about them in ways that generate hot cognitions and avoid cold analysis. Create desire, with a sprinkle of tension.
- Be alert for oppositional power frames. Win the resulting frame collisions.
- Use humor, and have fun. Even while under the surface you are fiercely fighting for dominance, you must do it all lightheartedly.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Pitch Anything summary :
- An approach to the art of pitching that appeals to prospects' primitive instincts
- How to establish your frame as the dominant one
- The four parts of a successful pitch