You may be used to pitching to customers in person, but what if video conferencing is your only option? Toastmasters International’s Michael Collins shares his tips for selling through the screen …

In the furniture and interiors sector, you’ll be used to pitching to customers at in-person meetings. This is particularly the case when you have samples that you want them to touch and see in all their glory – but how can you get your pitch across most effectively when using video conferencing?

Know your audience

Ensure you research the client or clients you will be presenting to. What will be most motiving for them? Avoid a long biographical introduction. A better idea can be working elements of your background into the pitch. For example: “What my MBA didn’t teach me are the lessons learned from failures – these came from industry experience.” 

Ultimately, if the pitch is good enough and a client feels the need, they will research your credentials afterwards. What’s most important is to get to what’s most important to them, as quickly as you can.

Stay in control

If you know in advance or are concerned that an individual may derail your pitch or ask an awkward question at the outset, using a simple phrase like “if there are no objections, I’m going to give a brief overview for five minutes before inviting questions” is appropriate. This shows you are in control. 

Encourage questions

Many business schools will teach you the traditional flow of how to deliver a pitch. The classic five-step elevator pitch includes the introduction, the problem and solution, a call to action, and closes with the presenter maintaining control of the next steps of any future engagement. While this approach may work in person, it is based on an attentive client who is in the elevator. 

When delivering a pitch in person, there are tell-tale signs of a disengaged audience, including people looking at their phones or their eyes glazing over. It is more difficult to judge interest levels through a remote presentation, as attendees may be working on something else in parallel. For this reason, it is important to create a pitch that encourages questions throughout. If they have questions – about materials, colour, or the latest trends, for example – let them ask as you go along. 

Authenticity will help build rapport

In person you can catch up over tea or coffee before a meeting starts – video conferencing offers alternate ways to build rapport. The initial few minutes while attendees may be joining the video call offers you this opportunity. Ask about your client’s business, or share hot-off-the-press industry news that’s relevant to them. Make it about them, and not you. Finally, ask “let me know when you are ready to begin.”

It can be easy and convenient to hide behind technology, but take opportunities to show you’re as human as your audience. Encourage them to relate to you. As an example, if the call is facilitating a different time zone, add to your good morning/afternoon/evening by sharing something personal that your audience can empathise with.   

Using technology well

Performing a sound check of your mic and speakers in advance is important. Soft furnishings can help address any echo – and in your business, you may have plenty of that to hand! Don’t draw attention to issues around video technology – instead, mention that you look forward to meeting the client in person.  

While stock images are available as a background for use with video conferencing tools, these lack authenticity. It is important that your background complements your pitch without being distracting. Remember that it’s you as the speaker who should stand out and be remembered, not the painting on the wall in the background. 

Another tip is to wear clothes that don’t blend in with the background. Also, your clothing needs to be appropriate. We’ve all become accustomed to wearing more casual clothing while working from home, but it is important to show that you have dressed for the occasion.  

The camera and eye contact

Think of the camera lens as your sole audience (this is counter-intuitive to much of what you may have learned about including the whole room as part of an in-person presentation). The camera should be horizontal with your eye level, and you framed from the chest upwards. 

It is important to remember that although you may be presenting to a number of people, each individual member of your audience is experiencing a one-to-one situation. In a room full of people, you can become both the presenter and part of the audience by joining them in looking at a slide, but in an online presentation, if you read from a source to your side, you are not looking directly at the camera. Maintain eye contact with your camera lens. Having notes in bold font, close to the camera, may be helpful, but treat them as a back-up.  

Time for preparation

Avoid falling into the trap of assuming that preparation means working on PowerPoint slides. This should be the last thing that you consider. Verbalising your ideas before attempting any script is crucial, as the spoken word is different from the written word. Develop your muscle memory by delivering your pitch out loud many times. Everyone has a different style of delivery, and the more you practice, the more you will be comfortable with discovering your own natural style.

If you are more comfortable standing and using charts in your home office, this approach can offer a welcome diversion from slides, while also allowing you to use appropriate hand gestures as you speak.  

Online, you don’t have the opportunity for your audience members to sit on your latest chair or sofa, or directly experience the texture of new fabrics. However, all your in-person presentation and pitching skills are equally applicable when delivering a pitch virtually. 

Don’t let the technology be a hindrance. Build rapport, and use well-chosen words to describe your new products, and you’ll be well on your way with a successful pitch.