Practice Management

8 Pitch Nightmares and How to Avoid Them

By Leila Martin

You’re wearing your best shoes, your best suit, and your best smile. You’re totally ready for this pitch. You are going to wow this prospect. And then – disaster. But with a little bit of planning, here are eight pitch nightmares you can plan to avoid.

NIGHTMARE 1: Too Many Attendees
You’re told there will be five committee members, so you bring 5 sets of handouts/gifts – and seven people show up.

Always plan for extra people – stakeholders tend to come out of the woodwork when you’re selling something, because people tend to want a say. It’s a good rule to pack a few extra sets of whatever you’re planning to hand out.

NIGHTMARE 2: Living in the Stone Age
You’ve got this amazing online demo – but your prospect’s wifi is down. Argh!

It seems ridiculous to have to plan for this in our connected age, but always have backups. If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with how to use a mobile hot spot, so you can create your own internet connection if your host’s is down. And if for some reason you’re presenting in a cave with no internet access, it’s a good idea to have slides/screenprints saved locally to your device.

That way, you don’t have to depend on someone else’s connection – and you look amazing for being able to carry off your presentation in the face of the prospect’s technical difficulties.

NIGHTMARE 3: We know we told you twenty minutes, but…
You’re told you’ll have twenty minutes to present, so you prepped your twenty-minute pitch. Except whoops – now you have five.

Know how to compact your story – have your elevator pitch ready to go. Practice in the prep session, and know the three main things you need to cover, regardless of time. Everything else is bells and whistles, but being prepared ahead of time means that even in just five minutes, you’ll be able to say exactly what you need to say. (Bonus points: you’re likely to look super impressive for being so concise under unexpected pressure!)

NIGHTMARE 4: Last-minute Presentation Changes
You’ve got your presentation saved locally on your computer. You even printed copies for everyone. Except that now you have to make changes and need new versions before the meeting. (Cue the Charlie Brown groan.)

It’s tough to keep presentations up to date when everything is changing so fast all the time. Find out ahead of time where you can go near your location to get the revised versions printed, and give yourself enough time to get it done.

NIGHTMARE 5: Your Ordered Materials are MIA
You didn’t print anything yourself for this meeting, but you did order a bunch of materials – and you have no idea where they are.

Make sure you have your tracking information with you so you can check on your order. And just in case it’s definitely not going to show up, make sure you have PDFs of all the materials you were planning to hand out saved locally so you can high-tail it to a local print location and run copies before your meeting.

NIGHTMARE 6: That One Guy with a Jillion Questions
There’s always that one guy (or girl), isn’t there? The one who hijacks your presentation in the first few minutes and keeps asking questions with complete disregard for your time limit and all the information you need to cover.

The key word here is agility: it’s a great idea to treat your presentation as modular, so you can jump around to different sections rather than getting stuck because your long speech got interrupted. But if you’re still running hard against the clock, don’t be afraid to ask to extend the meeting, or to take a pause from what you’re saying to do a time check. It’s as easy as taking a deep breath and saying something like “Let’s do a time check – we’ve got a lot of great questions and conversation. Can we extend our meeting with you so we can cover everything, or do you want us to table [xyz] part of the discussion for another meeting?”

Let the prospect decide – and if you do get caught up with questions, this is another place where that elevator speech comes in handy to make sure you’re at least covering the basics of your main points.

NIGHTMARE 7: Herd in the Headlights
A question is asked in the finals…and everyone just looks at each other.

If you’re presenting as part of a team, decide as a group ahead of time who’s on point to answer or direct questions. That way, nobody gets caught looking unprepared.

NIGHTMARE 8: Technology Won’t Play Nice
You bring your computer and you’re ready with your offline demo and presentation – but your computer can’t talk to the host’s system without an adapter. Which you didn’t know you’d need to bring, and they don’t have one. (Of course.)

Even if you planned ahead for problem wifi and have your presentation on your desktop, it won’t be much use to you if you aren’t able to show it. Have adapters ready for any situation – especially when you need to get Apple and PC devices to talk to each other via a physical connection (like if you’re connecting to a projector, etc.). It also doesn’t hurt to have your materials saved locally to your computer so that, at worst, you can print copies if you have to.

It’s a fact of life that the real situations you face are almost never exactly the situations you were expecting, but a mix of smart preparation and quick adaptability can keep your presentation running like a well-oiled machine, no matter what challenges you face.