Great ideas don’t speak for themselves – how effective communication will win you more business

By Richard Newman

Have you ever pitched to a client, knowing you were the best in the market, then watched them buy from your competitor? In these situations you may feel frustrated, question the ethics of the competitor or perhaps wonder what is wrong with your product or service.

Ultimately, if you are unable to find a solution that helps you win more business you may find yourself losing money, time and sleep, wondering if your business will ever grow to the heights you deserve.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could take the same pitch back to the same client and turn that failure into success? That’s exactly what happened for a recent client of mine. He runs a catering company and was looking for investors so that he could grow to the next level. Everywhere he went people turned him down. So he attended a half-day workshop with me, which focused on business storytelling. I met with him six months later and asked how things were going. “You made me £500,000!” he said. He explained how he had taken the same business idea and the same numbers back to the investors, this time using a storytelling approach to explain his vision. One of them who had previously rejected him agreed to give him £100,000 per year for 5 years.

How did he do it? By applying the simple laws of stories to his numbers. After all, as Daniel Kahneman once said (Nobel prize winner in economics) “Nobody makes a decision based on a number, they need a story.”

This doesn’t mean that you go into your next pitch and say ‘Once upon a time…’ Even confident speakers trip up when they attempt to tell stories. Robert McKee, who has trained screenwriters that have won 60 Academy Awards, says, “Listening to lots of music doesn’t mean you’ll be a great composer. You need to understand the fundamentals.”

So what are they? Here are the three critical things you must get right, for your business pitch to succeed:

1) Camels on a rock – A man walking through the streets of Egypt saw a camel sitting by the side of the road that was moaning loudly. He asked the camel’s owner what was wrong. “He is sitting on a rock,” replied the owner. The man asked, “Well why doesn’t the camel just move then?”. “Ah,” replied the owner wisely, “I guess the rock isn’t sharp enough to make him want to get up and move.” The same is true for your potential clients. They may complain about issues in their company but do nothing about it for years, until the rock feels sharp enough. If you want them to act now you need to sharpen the rock. This doesn’t mean sleazy manipulation. Instead you need to discuss the current challenges they are having, how much time and money the problems may be costing them, then…paint a negative version of the future. “If you stay as you are this is realistically where you could be heading, which could ultimately cost you ‘X’.”

At this point the client will feel the rock is sharp enough to change the way they do things. Next you need to excite them to move in your direction.

Most people make a huge error at this point, but just describing their product or service and giving lots of data and spread sheets. This isn’t going to entice anyone. So what will?

2) Describe a better future – when people are frustrated with where they currently are they don’t want to look at a graph. They want to hear from someone who knows a better way of doing things. They need a thought leader who can describe a better future. So instead of talking about your company or service, explain what life will be like for them after they have worked for you. Rather than just creating some Disney-like fantasy, you can talk about other clients you have worked with, who are just like them and tell the story of the results you helped them achieve.

3) Describe the journey – At this point you have won them emotionally. Now it’s time to use logic. This is when you go through the steps they will need to take to move from where they are towards that better future. You can show graphs and data at this point in order to back up your claims, but don’t overload them. All classic stories use the rule of three. We find three things easy to follow and remember. So split your information into three major areas, to ensure they follow you.

By following these steps your potential clients are much more likely to be convinced and compelled by your ideas.

To find out more you can buy the new book ‘You Were Born To Speak’ from

Richard Newman is an award-winning corporate communications expert whose consultancy, Body Talk, has coached more than 50,000 people from 45 countries worldwide and clients include a Formula One team, celebrities and international business leaders. He won the 2014 Cicero Grand Prize Award for Best International Speechwriter, selected from 500 professionals worldwide, and his groundbreaking research into non-verbal communication, conducted in conjunction with UCL, was published by the Journal of Psychology in 2016. The research showed that professionals can increase the rating of their leadership skills by 44 per cent with a few simple changes in their communication style.

See also: How to make a great business pitch presentation

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