Your Pitch Isn't as Good as You Think

Rodney Mason Reviews 'Pitch Anything'

By Published on .

Like it or not, every day you and the brands you market are engaged in a never-ending pitch. That's because, according to "Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal" by Oren Klaff, pitching is a direct result of our basic quest for acceptance and survival. A quest most of us approach poorly, because we don't really understand how the brain works.

Mr. Klaff, an investment banker who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars by applying neuroeconomics, contends that we have highly evolved brains and very sophisticated thoughts. What makes pitches fail is that we misunderstand how people receive, process and interpret them. He explains that our brains were developed in three separate stages and that each one processes information differently. He presents those stages as original brain or "croc brain," the mid-brain and the neocortex.

The croc brain is where messages are first received and filtered before moving on to other more highly evolved parts of the brain. It has very little capacity for reasoning and thinks in basic "fight or flight" terms. Fail to satisfy your audience's croc brain, and you're done before you've even begun -- which is exactly what happens to most pitches.

The mid-brain begins to work after the croc brain has indicated it is safe to proceed. It determines the meaning of things and social situations. This is the part where your audience actually listens to and understands what you're saying.

And then there's the highly evolved neocortex, which is focused on problem solving and reasoning, and is most capable of evaluating the pitch's details. Or said another way, this is the part of the brain that can close the deal.

That's why Mr. Klaff believes that instead of just thinking about the end of the pitch, it is far more effective to focus on commanding the audience's attention first, then proceed to the details. Not because it's creative and different, but because it's literally how the brain works.

This is an extremely compelling idea for anyone in marketing, since it essentially mirrors what marketing itself has evolved into: a mixture of science and salesmanship that work together to stir and move an audience to action.

So how do you get past the croc brain and through the mid-brain, to the decision-making neocortex? Mr. Klaff uses a method he calls STRONG, which stands for: Setting the frame; Telling the story; Revealing the intrigue; Offering the prize, Nailing the hook point; and Getting a decision.

In some ways, Mr. Klaff believes that "setting the frame" is the most important part of this process, because it's how you package your authority, power and status. Own the frame and you win the game, because you have captivated the croc brain. Then use the other five points in concert to build the rest of the pitch.

For example, "telling the story" is an overview elevator pitch that begins with results you can deliver and segues into a top line of how you get to those results, while not going overboard on the details -- lest the croc brain shuts you down.

"Revealing the intrigue" builds anticipation and pulls your audience in by cleverly packaging the most-compelling part of your pitch into a two-part, cliffhanger story that begins mid-pitch and is concluded at or near the end of the pitch -- much like a good talk-show host who begins telling a compelling story, then takes a break right before the climatic ending.

"Offering the prize" illustrates the value you specifically bring to the table that is distinct and highly relevant for your audience. And "nailing the hook point" is about identifying the very specific outcome you are there to achieve and serving it up succinctly. Mix this with a nice dose of outside pressures such as time constraints or other interested parties, and you're well on your way to the neocortex -- and "getting a decision."

"Pitch Anything" is time well spent for anyone responsible for the art of persuasion. Mr. Klaff's perspective is fresh, digestible and leaves you wanting more. But that could just be my brains talking.

Rodney Mason is CMO of Moosylvania, an independent ad agency. He can be reached at
Most Popular