Recently, I had the privilege to connect with Steve Yastrow, a former marketing executive and the founder of Yastrow & Company, a consulting organization that helps businesses improve results through breakthrough marketing, customer relationship, and sales ideas. Steve’s new book, Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion, makes the case against a standard sales or elevator pitch, in favor of a more natural and conversational type of communication. Of course, his application of improv in business strikes close to my heart, and we discussed how improvisational lessons can make you a better salesperson, teammate, and leader.
Why is the standard “pitch” an ineffective form of persuasion?
There are two key reasons: If you create a pitch ahead of time, the odds that you will say the right thing at this moment are about one in a million. Second, when you deliver a prepared pitch, it won’t feel personalized; it will feel generic.
What are some improvisational techniques that are useful to gain support for a new idea?
The most fundamental improvisational tool is paying attention so you can notice the overt and implied cues you are given. If you are alert and completely in the moment, listening and observing, you can be sure that you will discover exactly what you should do or say next.
Another important improvisational technique is to explore and heighten a conversation by finding out what your boss or colleague cares about and then building a fresh, spontaneous conversation around these things that are important to them.
Without a defined pitch, how can you maintain confidence that you will communicate your ideas properly?
Improv teacher Mick Napier says improvisation is “the art of not knowing what you are going to do or say next, but being completely ok with that.” The confidence to be “completely ok with that” comes from paying attention, listening and observing. As I mentioned earlier, this alertness to your surroundings will inevitably reveal cues about what to do or say next.
Although our natural conversation style is improvised, why do people tend to be so nervous about improvising moreprofessional situations like interviews and negotiations?
They are nervous, but they shouldn’t be! People who are fluid and spontaneous with their friends tend to put that natural ability to improvise away when they get into business situations. The fact is that improvisation is more natural for human beings than reciting a prepared script. In much of my work, I am trying to get people to retain their authentic self in their business communications.
How can you ditch the pitch when negotiating a new salary?
Focus the conversation on your boss and on the company, not on you. You won’t earn a big raise by delivering a prepared pitch about yourself, and you certainly won’t earn it by talking about how much you need the money. Instead, center the conversation on the company’s needs. Further, every time you become a topic in the conversation, ensure that the subject matter is about how you can contribute to the company and make it more successful.
These are things your boss cares about, so this kind of conversation will keep her engaged. More importantly, it connects you directly to what she cares about, and she’ll be more likely to give you the big increase if she sees how it can benefit her.
Steve Yastrow is the author of Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion (SelectBooks; January 2014) and the founder of Yastrow and Company.