If you’re a managing director with 15 years’ experience winning deals and your own personal Rolodex of corporate executives, you might question who the hell Paul Boross is tell you about pitching. After all Boross hasn’t been a banker. He hasn’t even worked in finance. Before he set about teaching people how to pitch, Boross was a TV presenter, comedian and pop star. You can see him here and here showcasing his talents as part of Morris Minor and the Majors, a pop group from the 1980s.
For all his unconventional beginnings, however, Boross (who’s also a trained psychologist), has built a reputation as something of a pitching authority. His clients include Google and “various banks”, such as Natixis, which says he’s excellent and in “global demand”. However experienced you are – however good at pitching you think you are, Boross says you might be doing it all wrong – especially if you’re in London.
“Senior bankers often forget that their job is about rapport,” says Boross, who also goes by the alias of “The Pitch Doctor”. “An American banker once came to me and said that people in Europe seem to want to “show up and throw up.” – Europeans come to a pitch armed with all their information and statistics and they throw it at their audience and hope that some of it sticks. It’s like going on a date and talking non-stop about yourself.”
Needless to say, it shouldn’t be like this. The best pitches are conversations, says Boross. And the best pitcher are listeners – not just to what their clients say, but to clients’ body language. Instead of bombarding clients with a diatribe, they need to be attuned to what clients want, and to shift the conversation accordingly.
“It’s all about looking at the audience,” says Boross. “You don’t need to be a psychologist to know when someone’s bored, but if you’re not looking at them and are focused on your own presentation, you’re going to miss the cues. The real job in the pitch isn’t to make your presentation, it’s to connect with the person in front of you. And the easiest way to do that is to ask questions and to be responsive to what they want.”
This is why going into a pitch with a hefty pitch book and working through it is a massive mistake. Some bankers get this. Goldman Sachs’ head of M&A Gregg Lemkau said in 2014 that pitchbooks are mostly window dressing and that clients – particularly in down-markets – just want to be entertained. Others don’t get it. “I’ve been brought in to completely amend pitchbooks,” says Boross. “I’ve seen 50 pages of waffle and nonsense, or tiny writing and too many flowcharts and pages about organizational structure. The audience doesn’t care about that.”
Details can be sent through afterwards to back up a successful pitch, but the pitch itself needs to be concise, says Boross. “My question is always, ‘Why should the audience care?’,” he says. “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.”
Ideally, he says pitch books need to be no more than 10 pages, and to contain, “big clear messages.” – “You need to understand that the pitch book is not your pitch,” he says. “It’s an aid to your pitch. You want people to come away with a connection and three or four clear points that you’ve made.” This means that MDs need to be prepared to ditch prepared pitchbooks entirely if they’re not grabbing an audience’s attention, or to dip in and out to maintain the audience’s interest. “Ask people what three things want to learn from the pitch,” says Boross, “And then change the structure of the pitch accordingly.”
All of this takes skill, flair and charisma. And this can be problematic if pitching is seen as something to be afraid of and the pitchbook is seen as a crucial crutch against psychological meltdown. “People make pitching a scary thing in their own minds,” says Boross. “It’s not – it’s just like a conversation.”