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What Can Reality TV Teach Us About Making a Great Pitch?

Ever since it dropped onto our screens ten odd years ago, the existence of reality TV has permeated many parts of our daily lives. We have related to the characters, have become absorbed in the various (semi-real) story lines and have eagerly awaited the next week’s shenanigans.

While it all may seem slightly trivial and purely superficial at times, there is often a streak of the genuine and engaging that not only keeps us coming back for more but teaches us a lot about how we present ourselves to others, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

From the seemingly unending stream of American Idol or indeed Australian Idol contestants and winners, much could be gleaned from a talent management perspective. For example, over the years  when the show was at its peak it became clear that the obviously qualified and safe candidate was not always the best person to hire. Solid, competent singers with long histories in the industry were often outshone by the underdog, the untrained master coming into their own.

The phenomenon of MasterChef brought with it a separate set of lessons about creativity, and being prepared for anything. Being asked to create something from scratch that you may have never done before, with potentially unknown ingredients, and all at break neck speed and with the certainty of assessment by your peers at the end is something we can all relate to in one form or another. From each of the contestants comes a lesson about attitude: you can either rise to the challenge, or throw in the towel and walk away the lesser for it.

Based on the worldwide television series format Dragon’s Den that originally aired in Japan, Shark Tank sees aspiring entrepreneur contestant make business presentations to a panel of potential or ‘shark’ investors. For the contestant, the formula to have investors grappling for your product can seem simple, namely have a great idea and present it to a group of willing people for investment. In practice however, successfully presenting an idea to a market of investors can prove to be a real art form.

At the heart of the show is the premise that if the entrepreneur can empirically prove that a business service or product has proven market traction in a large market, the five investors will be fighting to get in line to be the first backer. The flip side, if the idea is deemed as an unworthy one, it is denied any investment from the ‘sharks’ and is sent back into the ocean of potential ideas from hence it came.

For entrepreneurs, or indeed anyone who is required to make presentations on a regular basis, there is a lot to be learnt from Shark Tank. Namely, how to put your best foot forward and get the undivided attention of your audience:

  • Get Your Elevator Pitch Right

Much of the impact you will make in any presentation will be done in the first few minutes, even the first 10 seconds. This is true of your word choice, your body language and your energy level. For the best possible result, make sure you have your elevator pitch down to a sentence long. Ensure that you can summarise quickly and succinctly what it is you are proposing, and why you are passionate about it.

  • Be Clear and Have Conviction

Some ideas on Shark Tank have been flatly laughed out of the room for either appearing to be flimsy, lacking in clarity or being just plain unfeasible. To make sure people around you aren’t having similar thoughts about your idea, ensure that you are clear about every aspect of what you are proposing. With clarity in your own thinking will come the conviction you need to convince others of the value of what you are proposing. The slightest sense of doubt you have in yourself will often be seen and felt ten times over by those you are pitching to.

  • Do Your Homework and Know Your Audience

Before you present any idea, be sure you know who you are presenting to. This means knowing more than just their title and what they do. Make the effort to learn more about their history, what they value and what gets them engaged. The more you do your homework and garner a greater understanding of who you are presenting to, the more you will be able to tailor-make your presentation to speak directly to them. Remember, different people care about different things. Knowing this and knowing who is in your audience will mean that you will be able to deliver the best and most customised version of your presentation you can.

  • Speak to Specifics, Not Just Generalities

Each entrepreneur walking up to greet the sharks have gone to varying lengths to prepare their presentation. Some are all flash and no substance, while others go the extra mile and spend a lot of extra time fine tuning their presentations to be visually appealing, while also having the substance to back it up. You could turn up with the best idea in the world, but be let down by a poor presentation that lacked the substance and detail needed to get you over the line. Spend a lot of time on your presentation and know it inside and out. Be able to answer any questions you may be presented with not only with vague generalities, but with specific details and logical reasoning.

  • Listen Up and Learn

Perhaps the most valuable part of making presentations is in the feedback you will receive with each one you complete. Regardless of whether you sink or swim, there are valuable lessons to be learnt along the way from those you are presenting to. If you are lucky, your audience will freely give feedback and will provide you with insights that you can carry on into your next venture. In some cases, you may have to press a little bit more to get the answers you are looking for regarding feedback. Be persistent but not too pushy, and learn as much as you can from each venture you pitch.

Read through LMA’s free resource 6 tips for effective communication before heading into any high pressure presentation situation. Print this poster out, share it on social media and keep it as a reminder.