Five Tips For Acing Your Next Big Pitch Meeting

by | Jun 26, 2019

Representing your company at a big client pitch meeting can be a nerve-wracking experience.

I mean, the only things at stake are your pride, your reputation, the ramifications of losing the big account, your company’s quarterly financial outlook, the impact on your teammates, and your future job security. No big deal, right? 🙂

For the average businessman or woman, public speaking in general is a stressful experience, and the stress is only heightened by the pressure of landing a big account. Add to that the many uncontrollable variables—client mood and demeanor that day, alignment between your proposal and the client’s vision, any political factors at play, etc.—and it amounts to a very difficult experience to plan for!

With many dozens of pitch meetings under my belt over the past decade, I’ve experienced every end of the success spectrum, from utter nightmare to total triumph. And while you can never fully prepare for or predict what will happen in your next big pitch meeting, there are a few strategies you can always implement to give yourself better odds of success.

Here are five of my tried-and-true tips…

1. Do your research.

One of the variables of your next big pitch meeting is that you will likely be in a completely foreign environment when you meet. So, any intel you can gather on the building, or better yet, the specific roomyou’ll be in will be immensely helpful. Prior to any pitch meeting, my team and I find out everything we can about the expected environment/setting.

Here are a few of the things we always try to find out ahead of time:

The “show” computer.

Have we been in the room before? If so, what do we remember? Were there any challenges? Typically the name of the room can be obtained by simply asking your client or direct point of contact. And if it’s a room we’ve never been in before, we always try to obtain a few pictures—either on our own (if allowed) or via directly asking the client.

Existing audio/video infrastructure.

Does the room have built-in A/V? If so, what type? Do I need to bring any extra cabling in so that my computer “plays nice” with their system? And if not, what kind of portable infrastructure (projector, portable screen, etc.) can we bring in? Hot tip: ALWAYS prepare an A/V backup plan, no matter what.

Room layout. 

How large is the room relative to the expected attendee list? Are there existing tables and chairs? Are they built-in or moveable? How can we best maximize the layout for the experience we want to create at the meeting?

Cellular reception and/or Wi-Fi connectivity.

 Are there any connectivity-dependent components of our meeting, such as streaming video/music, screen mirroring, text blasts, or real-time online survey-taking? If so, what is the reception like in the room for the major cellular networks (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile)? Does the building have in-house Wi-Fi? If so, what is the login process like? Are the upload/download speeds fast enough for our needs? Would we be better off with a mobile hotspot solution?

Expected attendees. 

How many attendees have been invited? Do we have enough materials to accommodate all of them? Do we have enough extra/backup materials in case there are walk-in attendees? Hot tip: If the meeting has been organized by your client via Microsoft Outlook, the Scheduling Assistant feature will reveal the full invite list.

2. Test everything.

John Wooden once said, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Unfortunately, I’ve learned this the hard way through a lack of A/V testing prior to a meeting. Sure, it’s important to rehearse your speaking points and study up on your budget—but if you don’t have A/V to drive your presentation, you may not have a meeting, so test it, too!
Here are a few things we always test out the night before our pitch:
The “show” computer.

Is it fully charged? Do I have the latest draft of every file loaded on my desktop? Does at least one of my teammates have the latest show files on their computer in case we need it for backup?

Cabling.

Is our HDMI/VGA/DVI cabling working properly?

Videos.

Do our videos play as planned and with full sound?

PowerPoint clickers.

If we’re planning any real-time activities, have we already tried them out with a beta audience? Are our props working as planned?

3. Expect for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Maybe I’m a little sadistic, but leading up to a big pitch meeting, I always like to ask myself the following question: What is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen during our meeting? Then, once I’ve envisioned the answer, I plan an emergency plan to ensure that everything will still be okay if that “worst thing” comes to fruition. Here are a few worst case/emergency plan scenarios:

Worst Thing That Could Happen:

My computer completely dies in the middle of our presentation

Emergency Plan:

Announce a three-minute break and play some up-tempo chill music while you get your computer (or your backup) back up and running

Worst Thing That Could Happen:

The client asks a question we are completely unprepared for

Emergency Plan:

Humbly communicate the validity of the question and the fact that you don’t feel prepared to answer it at this time; ask if it would be acceptable to respond in writing by the end of the day

Worst Thing That Could Happen:

Upon arrival, the client says you’ll be using a different meeting room than you were previously told

Emergency Plan:

Utilize your pre-strategized A/V backup plan in the new room

Worst Thing That Could Happen:

Your team/meeting leader comes down with the flu (or sleeps in) and you have to fill in for him/her

Emergency Plan:

Study the entire presentation in advance just enough that you can at least carry out the meeting solo without embarrassing yourself (Hot tip: If someone on your team truly “goes down,” be honest with the clients about it—there’s a good chance they will be understanding and extend grace!)

4. Meet in the room.

I once had a conversation with a great facilitator who had just finished leading an upbeat session with about 200 attendees. Immediately after the session broke, I asked him if he ever got nervous speaking in front of crowds like that. I’ll never forget his response:

“Nervous? Of course not! Before I allow myself to walk on-stage, I shake the hand of every participant in the room. That way I’m not talking to ‘an audience,’ I’m just talking to my friends!”

I’ve found this principle to be so profound in reducing facilitator-to-participant tension, and it’s extremely easy to implement in smaller environments like most client pitch meetings. When your attendees arrive, simply greet every one of them and even try to ask a question or two. Now, once you begin, you’re just chatting with your friends!

Bonus: If you implement this strategy, you’ll have one or two conversation starters at your disposal for everyone once your meeting is over and the small-talk resumes!

4. Start on your terms.

One of the most sweat-inducing situations that can pop up in a client pitch meeting is an unexpected fire alarm. Maybe your computer decides to perform a software update minutes before you’re scheduled to begin, or the client requests that you begin immediately (before you’re ready), or you can’t get in the in-room Wi-Fi to work properly, or you accidentally damage one of your visual aids. 

The helpful tip I always try to remember is that, in a client pitch meeting, YOU are 100% in control of your time—not the client. So if you have a 90-minute window for the meeting, then you have full control of what happens within those 90 minutes and when. Think about it: It’s not like the clients are going to go anywhere else! So, if you experience an unexpected fire alarm, remember that you do not have to begin until you’re ready. Simply keep the pre-session music going and have your teammates engage the clients in conversation while you troubleshoot the problem(s).

While it’s true that you can never fully prepare for what will happen at your next big client pitch meeting, there are fortunately several things you can always do to help ensure a positive outcome. So study up, expect the best, prepare for the worst, and embrace the rush of the unexpected. You very well may win the job!