I’ve tested these strategies out with engineers who were looking to lead projects, founders who were looking to raise money from investors, and even entry-level employees looking to get their first job of career!
1. It’s not about you.
I’ve noticed that many people just sit down and start talking about themselves, and what they need. They don’t take the time to thank the other person for their time, and get to know what their interests are. Start by giving the other person 3-5 minutes. Let them speak and share their background.
You’ll notice that they’ll put their cell phone down and that they’ll pause to reflect and then speak. They’ll open up to you, because you asked them to. They’ll also tell you something you can use to persuade them: what matters to them and what doesn’t.
2. Talk vision, not skills.
Pitches are about possibilities. I’ve come across many engineers who say, “Oh I’m a Ruby on Rails developer.” Instantly the person on the other ends think, “Oh too bad I was looking for a Python developer, moving on…”
The engineer should have instead said, “I’m a backend engineer, who has built web applications for growth stage startups. I pick up new frameworks pretty quickly. In fact, here’s an example of a time I had to learn iOS within a weekend for a hackathon…”
3. Offer unique expertise.
If you are a domain expert, highlight that, and give clear examples. Think about your own experiences and how that has led to you have a particular expertise.
Go out and find something that only you can offer so you – and your ideas – are truly irreplaceable.
4. Build trust.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. People are concerned about their ass being on the line if they back you in any capacity: hiring, financing your idea, even working with or for you. So you need to take the time to mitigate any concerns they have about risk.
You can have a set of referral customers, highlight where you went to school, past employers who are reputable, tell them about awards you’ve received and showcase things you’ve built. Even writing and speaking builds trust.
5. Call out the competition.
If you’re doing something that everyone else is doing that is OK. It’s not about being original, it’s about how you’re better than the other person, and better also means highlighting how you’re different.
6. Plan – but experiment, too.
Clear visions are important, but you also need to bring it down to reality. Show how you are going execute. It’s OK to present people with a plan, and make it specific, and acknowledge how that plan might evolve or change. It shows great foresight
7. Explain the urgency.
Don’t end the meeting wishy washy. Tell them why you need their backing now, not five years from now. When someone isn’t interested, ask for intros for others. Just because they aren’t interested doesn’t mean their friends won’t be.
8. Practice, practice, practice.
If they aren’t asking to follow up or asking insightful questions, then they aren’t interested. This is not a sign of failure. This is another step closer to your turning point. You edge closer with each request as long as you stay self-aware and read their cues.
Ask for feedback, process it and address what you think is relevant to future meetings. Commitment to this strategy will help bring your project to life.