Pitch Anything | Oren Klaff

Published: 2014

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The negotiator Oren Klaff believes that the human brain has developed in three separate stages: (1) the old brain (“crocodile brain”) which filters information, generates fight-or-flight responses and is generally primitive in its decision-making, (2) the midbrain which assesses the meaning of something as well as social situations and (3) neocortex that is developed with a problem-solving ability. Man’s thought process is similar to our evolution: first survival, then social relations and then problem solving. To reach the logic center of the receiver, we must pass three guards. The most important thing is to get and keep attention.

THE OLD BRAIN IS PRIMITIVE. The old brain perceives complicated language as a threat. To pass this filter, complex ideas must be translated and simplified into the language of the listener. The words that come out of the mouth of the person doing the pitch must originate from the modern and smart part of the brain (neocortex). But the information is received by the audience’s part of the brain that is five million years older, and works more instinctively. This “instinctive” brain interprets messages by (1) if boring -> ignore it, (2) if dangerous -> fight or flight and (3) if complicated -> sum up arbitrarily.

THE SOCIAL INTERMEDIATE FILTER. The midbrain responds to social structures and early impressions. Klaff says that it does not matter how good your logic is, if you do not have good social status you will not get attention. When a surgeon plays or talks about golf, his status drops while the golf professional rises. This lasts as long as the surgeon is in the domain of the golf professional (this is called “local star power”). Also, avoid comments like, “So, what do you think?” – this is validation seeking and clingy.

THE LOGICAL BRAIN. Neocortex is very rational but has a short ability to concentrate. When it does not get anything of value, its attention stops, either because it does not understand or because it has already “solved the puzzle”. To capture someone zoning out, a short and relevant story can be useful.

FRAME CONTROL. People who meet each other each have a “frame” – a collection of ideas, personality and status. These frames meet and the one who gets the upper hand gets “frame control”. Mother Teresa persuaded doctors to donate money as rational explanations did not win over the moral authority framework. Defiance and light humor are the key to frame control. Keep it fun, do it with a smile on your face. No one likes to be dominated, so when you keep the frame, use it in ways that are fun and interesting. “It needs to be playful and interesting, with just a little edge to it.”

PRACTICAL RECOMMENDATION. The audience will always wonder: why is your idea relevant and why is it important right now. Describe the core of your idea, how it was developed and the opportunity you identified. The background is always interesting. A checklist would look like this: (1) calm your audience by telling them that your pitch will be short (after 20 minutes the brain will start to forget what it has learned) and that you do not intend to stay for long afterwards (the crocodile brain will be present and feel safe). (2) Give your background and what you have succeeded in, (3) show that your idea does not come from a sudden stroke of genius, (4) admit that there is competition and (5) paint the picture on how the idea moves from an old to a new market (the brain likes movement and patterns).

HOT & COLD. Nothing will freeze your pitch faster than reviewing numbers or details. Problem solving, numerical calculations and statistics are called “cold cognitions”. Emotions such as need and desire are “hot cognitions”. People are not able to have hot cognitions and cold cognitions at the same time.

STEP 1: INTRODUCTION. First you present your big idea and yourself. This is not a long review of all the places you have worked at. People usually think in terms of averages from information. It is not better if you say one great thing, one pretty good thing and two mediocre things. Stop at one amazing thing. And have a common thread.

STEP 2: THE BUDGET & ”THE SECRET SAUCE”. Explain what problems your idea solves and how it works. The risk of giving too little information is as great as the risk of giving too much information. What you really want to do is to tune in to the same frequency as the target. To keep the pitch alive, you need to create excitement. No one keeps their attention if nothing is at stake.

STEP 3: OFFER THE DEAL. The listener may like your deal or be afraid of it before he even has details about it. Describe for what they will receive if they decide to do business with you.

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