Interview with Gary W. Hankins, Author, The Power of the Pitch

As every entrepreneur knows, learning how to pitch your business is one of the most important skills to master. Whether you're looking for funding, or selling a product, knowing how to present your product and business to the world can make or break your business. Gary Hankins is the Los Angeles-based author of a new book, The Power of the Pitch, which tries to address pitching skills, and I thought it would be interesting to hear about his thoughts on pitching skills and the book.

BK: What's The Power of the Pitch all about, and what inspired you to write the book?

GWH: During my former life as a stockbroker, I sat through hundreds of road shows. Frequently I became interested in new businesses by reading the promotional materials that were distributed before the meetings. However, about 80% of the time when I listened to the entrepreneurs who started these businesses, I was turned off by the boring, disjointed pitches they made. The printed material sold me, but the ceos unsold me. In every case, the talented men and women who created these intriguing new businesses didn't realize the awesome power of making a great pitch.

I wrote The Power of the Pitch to give executives a complete formula for ensuring that their presentations are persuasive. One of my clients calls the book a "tool box" because it contains all the concepts, strategies and lessons you need to make powerful pitches.

BK: What is your own background, and how it is that you got into the business of helping people improve their pitching skills?

GWH: After I graduated from Army Officer Candidate School, I was asked to teach public speaking to Army personnel. It didn't keep me from going to Vietnam a year later, but it did get me interested in helping people become better communicators. When I got out of the Army, I became a stockbroker and grew my business by conducting investment seminars and hosting my own television and radio shows. In the late '80's I finally realized that my passion was speaking and that my calling in life was to help people become the best communicators they can be. It was then that I founded Pygmalion, Inc.

BK: I find it interesting that you cover things such as how to dress and how to present yourself--topics which most books I've read gloss over or totally ignore. Why did you decide to cover the topic?

GWH: The people who listen to your presentations will make a decision about you based on three elements: how you look, how you sound and what you say. By far, the most important is how you look. If people don't like your facial expression, non-verbal gestures and the way you dress, your presentation is over. They may sit politely and listen to your presentation, but they have made up their minds. The unfortunate result is that you don't get the business.

BK: So are you saying that looks are more important than substance?

GWH: The way you look is more important initially. But, once people like how you look and sound, what you say becomes crucial. Now you must be able to deliver a powerful message that will cause people to do what you want them to do.

BK: I have lots of readers who are entrepreneurs, making their first pitches to investors. What advice would you give them on sharpening their ability to make a persuasive case for their business?

GWH: My advice to every entrepreneur is to adopt the Rock Star Attitude. In The Power of the Pitch, I tell the story of Garth Brooks. Although he was talented, he didn't make it in the country music business until he understood that it took more than skill to become a star. After many years of mediocre success, he finally realized that he needed to connect with his audiences. One of his friends advised him to find something he liked in everyone that came to see him. When he did, people couldn't help but like him back. It was when he started to give his audiences "some love" that he signed a record deal with Capital Records. Amazingly, within a decade he had sold more records than the Beatles.

Having a great idea, product or service is merely the price of entry. To win, entrepreneurs must show investors that they like them. Start by maintaining eye contact and smiling. You may find this hard to believe, but this is the biggest challenge that our clients have. Why? They are concentrating so hard on what they're saying that they forget about their facial expressions. The perception is that they're aloof, self-focused and egotistical.

BK: How does this match up with high tech, an industry where there seem to be lots of big egos i.e. Larry Ellison of Oracle, Steve Jobs at Apple?

GWH: If you want to connect to people, you have to put your ego aside. This applies just as much to high tech CEOs as it does to rock stars. If stakeholders don't like you, it will only be a matter of time before you're fired. Wall Street is littered with the bodies of CEOs who have failed to understand the importance of The Rock Star Attitude.

BK: What is the biggest mistake you see people making when making a pitch?

GWH: Not being prepared for The Killer Three. In every pitch, you have the potential for three questions that, if you aren't prepared for, will kill your presentation. No matter how good your pitch is, if you can't powerfully respond to difficult difficult questions and objections, it's over. Good bye. Thanks for coming.

BK: Do you find it's hard for your clients to learn some of the techniques you recommend on how to pitch their product/plans/ideas?

GWH: Learning is not the difficult part. As readers have told me, "The Power of the Pitch" is an easy read. The tools and techniques of making pitches are not hard to learn. It's using them to win business that becomes challenging. Unfortunately you can't microwave presentation skills. It's just like golf, skiing or using the computer, if you want to become proficient, you have to practice. That's why we build extensive coaching into our training programs, so that we can help clients practice.

My recommendation is to practice one concept, strategy or skill from the book every day for one month for next 12 months. Perhaps one month you practice active listening. If you consciously develop this skill every day, in 30 days you will become a great listener and you won't even think about it. Then pick another subject for the next month and another for the next. Before you know it, a year will have passed and you will have perfected 12 powerful skills. As that happens, watch your business grow as you close more and more busies. No you will be experiencing the awesome power of the pitch.

BK: Thanks for the advice!


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