“Always be pitching.”
by Ikenna Nwachukwu
Ikenna Nwachukwu is a freelance writer currently based in Lagos, Nigeria.
Photo Credit: Geralt, pixabay
It’s now the cliché parting admonition from your average self-styled marketing guru. They lob it at you with the sort of light, graceful touch you would usually associate with the dispensing of profound wisdom by grey haired griots.
In their words, you should never tire of selling your merchandise; you should never cease to put your brand before the potential customer’s eyes. And because your would-be customer may be found anywhere, you will need to sell your stuff everywhere you go.
Pitching – the practice of presenting a structured, tailor made account of who we are and what helpful service we can offer the person with whom we’re speaking – isn’t the exclusive preserve of the bothersome salesperson.
Managers and section heads at corporate organizations pitch ideas to their CEO’s all the time; CEO’s pitch proposals to each other. Politicians pitch themselves and their ideas to the public. And (I say this with a mischievous wink) young men pitch themselves to women they’re looking to get romantically involved with.
If you are an entrepreneur trying to get your conversation partner interested in your services, you could whip out a pre-rehearsed thirty second ‘who we are and what we do’ speech from off the top of your head. If you would want to capture the attention of someone you’ve wanted to date, you might prefer to chat them up with some smooth lines you have memorized.
There’s a simple reason for this: these pre-designed statements tend to come off better in speaking than rough communication. Because most of us don’t speak impeccable Shakespearean off the cuff, we might prefer an easy remedy: come up with the words and store them in our mind’s lockers until we need to use them.
But there are problems with this.
Dishonesty in Pitching
The very idea that we have to compose our address to others beforehand seems lazy and a little inauthentic. Of course, we wouldn’t mind listening to a person read a script if we expected that it might happen (as it does at certain types of public events).
But shooting out impressive pre-memorized lines at the start or middle of a conversation with someone who genuinely thinks you’re weaving the words together on the spot strikes me as slightly dishonest. Perhaps I’m an excessively sensitive jerk, but this is what I think (and I’m aware that a lot of other people think this too).
However, the main gripe I have with pitching is that it seems to cast the person at its receiving end as less than a complete human being.
It presents them as objects to be ‘pitched’ at, as target boards to be aimed at and hit. We ready ourselves for an encounter with a prospect by filling our mind’s quiver with sharp arrows (words), and practice taking shots in front of mirrors in our rooms or offices.
When the time comes, we get out into the world to strike our prospects down. If we succeed, we ‘incapacitate’ them and drag their now submissive wills into our sphere; if we miss the mark, we go back to our closets to adjust our strategy or replace our word-arrows.
The less than genuine nature of these pitches often becomes evident only after they have taken down their targets.
The politician who gets into public office via the votes harvested from people she convinced soon becomes oblivious of their plight, and fails to serve them as she had pledged in her pitches.
A man treats with contempt the lady whose heart he had captured with sweet memorized words. These things happen even with relationships founded upon real convictions. It’s easy to see why there could be more prevalent outcomes with connections initiated by a pitch, given that it makes it easier to be insincere, and allows wider room for skin deep commitments to be made.
What’s the alternative then? And how do we wean ourselves off this façade-building, truth-obscuring way of communicating with each other?
As an advocate of plainness and authenticity, I would suggest that we let go of our preference for ‘canned’ ready-made speeches.
Maybe your conversation partners may not be patient enough to wade through your garbled, fumbling words with you. If that’s your fear, you can deal with it by learning to be a better communicator.
Note that this is quite different from stuffing your head with lines of flow-chart-like language meant to be regurgitated as occasion demands. Instead of memorizing eloquent speech, work on becoming an eloquent speaker. Train yourself to convey your thoughts coherently.
When you have made a fair amount of progress on this, your communication will be much better. You won’t have to sound robotic at one moment (as you rattle out your predetermined words), and stumble through mannerisms in the next. Even more importantly, you will be treating your audience like the humans they are.