At this point in the pandemic, we’ve all learned how to set up flattering lighting and stage a professional background for video calls, making the most of our WFH attire and makeshift home offices. But pitching (and, more importantly, winning!) new business virtually is a brave new world requiring a completely different set of skills. Here are three tips to help you level up your virtual pitch game and close the deal from behind any screen.
#1 Make time for a tech-check. (And then re-check!)
I know it’s tedious, but a thorough tech run-through and rehearsal are critical to the success of any pitch, let alone a virtual one.
While Zoom has become synonymous with virtual conferencing, plenty of potential clients, customers and partners use other platforms. Be prepared to learn and adapt to their preferred system—whether that’s Microsoft Teams, Google Meets, Cisco WebEx, etc.
And don’t wait until the last minute. Make sure everyone on the team has the latest software version installed (buy the premium subscription if necessary) and rehearse on that platform for every meeting leading up to the pitch. Get familiar with the interface, know how to optimize presentation mode for video and sound, and make sure you plan for hard-wired internet when necessary.
Remember to turn off notifications (that Slack ding will kill the vibe), charge all devices, double-check headphones, and do several tech rehearsals to work out any kinks well in advance.
#2 Read the virtual room.
Once you have the tech situation nailed down, plan for the chemistry and flow parts of the meeting. Remember that social cues like first impressions, handshakes, eye contact, and body language are trickier to read, so you’ll have to adjust.
Avoid awkward moments like long pauses or people talking over each other as much as possible. Establish meeting ground rules and communicate them to the group during the introduction. For instance, if you prefer your client or prospect not to interrupt throughout the presentation, ask that everyone please mute their computers until the dedicated Q&A session at the end.
Since you won’t have the usual verbal or visual cues to signal that things are going well, just assume they are! Jokes won’t always be met with laughs, but pretend they landed and keep rolling. Say people’s names, improvise, and find ways to connect—like referencing something one of the clients has said in the past. Remember that this is a pitch, not a TED Talk.
#3 Plan for everything so nothing throws you off.
Create a murder board of scenarios to mentally prepare yourself and/or your team that anything that could happen. What if the primary decision-maker is late—will you start without them or get going? What if sirens go by while you’re speaking? What sort of small talk can you prepare to avoid those awkward first five minutes where everyone is still joining the meeting? What if someone submits a text comment or question that the presenter misses?
During the pitch, create a “second screen environment” where the team can communicate off video—phones with an open group text or Slack channel underneath raised laptops is an easy set-up. Designate a secret “cruise director” to help you navigate the meeting—someone from your pitch team who has a smaller speaking part so they can keep an eye on the potential clients’ reactions while others are presenting. They can send texts or Slack messages like, “Client X seemed to be really into that, lots of head nodding, go into that further.” This person should also have universal host privileges to be able to mute a participant who is accidentally causing background noise.
If you have smart plans for the usual (and unusual) interruptions, clients will appreciate that you’ve made the meeting feel more seamless and comfortable.
Ultimately, once you adjust for logistics, virtual pitching is a lot like in-person pitching. You need to be prepared, think on your feet, and connect with your audience. Now you just need to make sure your kid doesn’t scream or your dog doesn’t bark while you do it.
About the Author: Genna Franconi is co-founder and managing director at Trade School.