Communication — Pitching Your Projects

PODCAST | With Guest Oren Klaff | 15 December 2017

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified with PMI, we'll help you stay ahead of the trends as we talk about what that means for the industry and for everyone involved.

Stephen W. Maye

I'm Stephen W. Maye for Projectifed with PMI. For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and PMI.org/podcast. In this episode we sit down with Oren Klaff, pitch expert and author of Pitch Anything. Oren explains why the art of pitching is a crucial skill for project leaders, he describes ways we can increase buy in to our ideas, proposals and recommendations, and sell our vision of the future to our stakeholders and teams. Oren also shines a light on common pitfalls people encounter while working to inform and influence those around them.

Stephen W. Maye

Oren, you and I have had an opportunity to talk a little bit about your work and what you've been able to capture in Pitch Anything, I think we agree there's a real relevance to project professionals, in some ways it might be easy to dismiss kind of the idea of pitching, but I think what you're really talking about is persuasion and influencing and, in some cases, presenting and maybe,more importantly, being heard. Am I misstating what you're after here?

Oren Klaff

Well, I think one thing that I see all the time is a group or a person will come in and pitch a project, and they'll be in the zone and they'll be excited about it and passionate about it and they'll just hit all the right marks, and the audience or the buyers or the stakeholders are just in the right mood and it's just that perfect day, and the project gets approved and it's on the way. Then, it's time to come back in for report status update, wherever, and we forget how new the project is and how shifting these environments in and how shifting budgets are, and we don't repitch it. So, then we give someone an update and then the tough questions come in, where are we? You know it's all the analytical stuff. So, I view it, like when you go in to pitch a project, and get it signed off on, and you're sort of a lowering a dome, there was a show under the dome, you're lowering the dome over you and the stakeholders and the buyers and everybody, and then you're building a world under that dome which has rules that you create, it's your project, and so then, when the project gets approved and everybody's bought in and people love it, the dome rises and you go back into the greater world. When you come back in to report on that project, to talk about what's been doing, what's gone right, what hasn't gone right, where the budget is, where we are on the Gantt chart, you drop a line, what milestones we hit what we didn't, it's best to drop that dome back over, to create this environment, and that requires a lot of the same processes that you used to win the project in the same place. I'm not saying you have to come in and win it all over again but I'm saying it is worthwhile to come back in and create the excitement, the passion, the interest, the intrigue, the novelty, the colour that initially got this thing kicked off.

Stephen W. Maye

I love that, and I had not heard you describe it that way before, so I will be using that. I love the idea because I think that especially where a project is very forward looking and has a significant change component, part of what's under that dome, and again, I'm throwing this out there for you tell me if I'm understanding you, part of what's under that dome is an understanding of the future, because so much of what's outside of it, when you lift that dome and you walk out of that meeting, is all the stuff from today and from yesterday that we're fooling with, but the project maybe about something that's not today's reality, so is that a part of it? So spending today's reality in getting the future under the dome?

Oren Klaff

Projects are about the future, especially in my business when you go out and you're trying to raise money, you're telling people give us $10 million and we'll make this version of the future happen, and somebody's only going to give you $10 million, $20 million, $50 million, whatever it is, if what you're saying feels very likely to happen. So, how do you make the future feel likely to happen? You give very strong supports to the things that have to happen, so, for example, if we're going to do a start up we have to get the website up, the traffic funnel has to start coming in, we have to get the cost of acquiring a customer down below a dollar, the customers have to use the software or the service for more than a year in order to make it, so, these are the assumptions about what we're creating. So, in order to tell somebody something's going to happen in the future, you have to boil it down to assumptions, and then you have to make those assumptions feel very, very likely to happen. And so, when you're coming back in and reporting on a project that's been started, or trying to win a new project, it's all about boiling down to a few measurable things that everybody can focus on, because nobody knows the future, it's a complete crystal ball, making those things feel very likely to happen, and that's the job of selling the future.

Stephen W. Maye

We've got to know, what were the rules we established for the reality under this dome, you know, I mean, that's what I think I hear you saying.

Oren Klaff

For sure. What happens is, people come in to sell, pitch, repitch, report, and it is too grandiose a scheme, it's too many details, and the focus is what are the assumptions that really will make the project work. Where are we on those assumptions. Because people can argue with you on all kinds of things that don't matter, people are argumentative. So, the big thing is, when new stakeholders come in they want to show their social worth to the project leader, which is all the time in finance, a new analyst shows up and you're reporting on a project, and they go, what about this thing that they've caught in their mind, right, and they're trying to show their project leader how smart they are by noticing some trend line or some minor issue about your project, you could spend an entire meeting chasing these conversation threads, and I think that's a big take away for me, not every questions deserves an answer, a full investigation, an explanation or to take up part of a meeting, this is the number one place where people get tripped up, a question comes up that's a semi-legitimate question that's technical or analytical in nature, but this meeting is an hour long, there's 35 minutes left, to go down this wormhole will just chew up time and not actually accomplish anything.

Stephen W. Maye

I don't recall if you addressed the issue of trust directly, but I would think there's a strong connection between trust and the degree to which people are willing to enter into that agreement, where they will, okay, we're going to assume for now that the machines do what they say they're going to do, and I understand that could be a thousand different things, but staying with the example, where's the trust connection?

Oren Klaff

So, trust is something that, truthfully, when you're pitching a project and you're in the early stages of it, you're trying to shortcut trust, and there's some ways to do that, because trust takes time to build, and what you're trying to do is bridge the gap of we don't have enough time to build a human scale relationship with trust in it, that requires cycles, and so what are the things that can replace trust? Credibility is one for sure, social proof is another, but, for me, what I think is one of the strongest tools you could have here is autonomy, right? When you're giving someone information, when you're asking them to decide in your favour or believe your projection or believe your results, or believe your version of the future, there's a process you want to go through, we can talk a little bit about it, that you want their buy in, you want to influence them to make a decision, you want them in go forward mode. The reason sales people can feel cheesy, slimy, greasy, is because they never give you autonomy to decide on your own, they're leading you the whole way, and so we want to make strong arguments that are well supported with good information in the right order, but we can't forget to give autonomy, because if we had a year, you know, if you and I had a year, two year, a five year relationship, if we went to college together, and you had jumped in and helped me with my mid-term when I couldn't make it happen, and then you were breaking up with your girlfriend and I stepped in and I talked to her and you guys got back together, and then we were drinking buddies, and then we got our first jobs together and then, you know, we vacationed in the Caribbean and something happened, you know, we just build this relationship over years, then I could just say, Stephen, just trust me on this one, right, and we have that huge, huge rapport and trust, and you go, I don't like it, but I've known you for 15 years, you're the real deal, if you say it's good it's good, I'll go with it. We don't have that. So we have to replace it with something, and that is to make a good argument, well supported, and then get to the point and say, look, I can't tell you what to do, I've laid out the case, I believe in it, we think this is the best solution, but in terms of what we what we just laid out how do you want to approach it?

Stephen W. Maye

I think that's a huge point for the project professional out there, so many, in this space, have such a high level of integrity and professionalism about their work that there can be a reluctance to really want to influence, or want to bring persuasion, or maybe take some of the steps they need to take to be heard, and I think a point you just made is the point that keeps their integrity intact, so it's, look, you've got to give that autonomy, you keep the decision rights with the person that should have it, that doesn't stop you from bringing the kind of influence and persuasion that you should be bringing.

Oren Klaff

So, I think about it like this, especially for analysts and project managers, we tend to want to over rely on our information to do the persuasion, the influence and be compelling, but we have to understand, information has no convincing power, it leads me to maybe the three major problems that I see in every presentation. Presentations fall into three categories, one is the information dump, we have so much good information, we give as much of it as quickly as possible and we leave it to the stakeholder, the buyer, the other side, to organize the narrative and just be convinced by the information, and we have had time to live with the information to understand how it all fits together and why it's important and how it's compelling, we can't leave it to the audience, the listener, the other side, to organize the compelling information, but we have a sense in our own mind, hey, if we just give them all these bits of compelling information they're going to form an argument in their head, or any one of these pieces is going to be so convincing they'll just fall into our way of thinking, so the information dump is a problem, and there's a solution for it. The second one that we see pretty frequently is the all bun no meat, I think, today, if you watch the news, they're calling it a nothing burger, might call it an air biscuit, whatever, it's a big white bread with mayonnaise, maybe a salty old pickle, but there's no meat in there. I can tell you, when we go and pitch private equity firms, you know, a company will go into pitch for an hour, these private equity firms, they literally want seven pieces of information, and they'll just sit there, slumped in their chair, looking at their iPhone until they get one of those pieces, they'll write it down, check it off, be alert for a minute in case another piece of information they need is coming down, and they've learned over time it's better just to let the company spin talk for an hour, get the pieces of information they need, but, this is why it looks like people aren't paying attention, they're checking their phone, their eyes are glazed over, yes, you probably ran too long, the span of human attention is 20 minutes, but really, you're not answering the questions that are in their mind in the order that they're having it, I can tell you, people ask me all the time, they say, hey, Oren, how do you deal with when you're giving a presentation and you're really in your groove and somebody interrupts you with a question, I'm like, I don't know I haven't had that problem for ten years. Real presentations are organized on a narrative arc, we'll talk about that in a minute, such that you are answering the questions that are going to pop up in the audience's mind, in the order they're having the questions. So, if you're answering the questions as they come up you're not getting interrupting questions, you're not getting big questions at the end. So, we had a company come in I don't want to pick on them, but they're a Uber, for women, by women, so it's a safety message, and they're in PR and they're a client of ours, and Cassandra was giving the pitch, and I asked her a question at the end and she goes, oh, I always get that question, I go oh my god, for god's sake, if you always get this question why isn't it baked into the first three minutes of the pitch? Let's get rid of the obvious questions during the presentation. And it's a good story there. Anyway, we were summarizing the three problems, one is the information dump. The second is the nothing burger, the all bun no meat. And the third is, you've got the right information but it's in the wrong order. And so those are the three presentation problems, you know, if I see a thousand presentations in the next six months 990 of them will have those problems. So, you very likely have the right information, it's putting it correctly on the narrative arc, and I think, for project managers, it is this understand that's most important. A presentation, whether it's the first one to win the project or a follow on one, it still has to follow a storyline, stories have a set up, a path to pay off and a pay off. Same structure, but now it's a little bit more nuanced. So, the set up is we're lowering the dome, creating a social environment in which we control the assumptions and a lot of the social rules, society is out there but we're closed off in this room, in this meeting, on this Skype call, whatever it is, and we are establishing the rules, and there's ways to do that without offending people, without shocking people but we've got to lower the dome. Then there has to be a set up, and the set up is to get people into your swim lane, stop them thinking about what's on their phone, the other projects they're involved in, where they're going on vacation, but you don't know what's in the minds of others, right? But what we do have to do is give a palette cleanser, and that is the set up, that is the big idea, right? And all set ups that I've ever done successfully follow one basic formula, what is changing in the world dramatically, how that change is likely to affect people and the notion that companies, projects, people, that don't prepare for the new world order, the way things are going to be after the change, are going to be the back markers, are going to be the least profitable companies, they're going to be the projects that don't fail or the projects that aren't successful or the projects that are completed but aren't useful.

Stephen Maye

Now, just to be clear, so when you give this idea of what's changing in the world, is the scope of that world different in every context?

Oren Klaff

It is.

Stephen W. Maye

So it can literally be what's changing in the world or it can be what's changing in my department.

Oren Klaff

Yes, but it is change. 90% of the human mind is dedicated to detecting change, and we're very responsive to fear, because this is how we evolved today. One of the most useful tools in communicating things in our worker day is e-mail, however, if anything goes wrong in a project we all know that e-mail will be subpoenaed, sequestered and gone through out of context, there is going to be a new world order of people who know how to sequester and project and defend their e-mail so they're not brought to task for something that was not their fault, so, that will make people put down their phone, stop checking e-mail, stop making mental lists and pay attention because something is changing and people who don't adapt to that change are going to fall behind or be punished in some way.

Stephen W. Maye

What's behind it? What's the most significant for us to understand in terms of the research and the science behind the messages that you bring?

Oren Klaff

Once we start to understand what are really the mechanics of the mind and what are really the things that trigger fear and excitement and desire in us we can respond to the business world around us a lot easier.

Stephen W. Maye

You talked about a number of things around creating context, around bringing people under the dome, you talked about the importance of sequencing, that often we bring the right information but we're not always bringing it in the right order, tie that back to the science? And I know you've talked a bit about neuroscience in other settings, you've written about it, tie that back, that sequencing and so forth, selection of information, back to the neuroscience.

Oren Klaff

So, let's go back into some formulae, because I know in project management we like formula. So, clearly a formula is a set up, path to pay off, pay off. Right? So let's use that as a formula. If we begin a meeting with something that is already known, well understood and has been covered before, what happens is, the neo-cortex of the people we are trying to communicate to shuts down, largely or almost entirely, because the neo-cortex, that is the smart, linguistic, language capable part of our mind, has some rules, and so as the brain starts to send the neo-cortex, a very specific part of the brain, information, one of the rules the neo-cortex has is, don't send me problems that I have solved before, the neo-cortex does not like to do work, it has to be enticed to do work, and so if you are giving it information, a problem, ideas that it's already familiar with, or problems that it has already solved, it won't engage, it wants to reserve, conserve energy for a serious problem.

Stephen W. Maye

So, what you just described a moment ago with people coming in and sharing information at the start of the meeting, that everyone at least feels like they've heard before, you've described a pretty big percentage of status meetings. I think one of the things that we, as project professionals, need to understand is that this notion of pitching, which I hope by now everyone realizes isrelevant to us, isn't reserved for the new project, it's also about coming back and building support for a body of risk that we've discovered, building support for a way of mitigating that, building support for shifting the way resources are being used in a project, am I overstating that?

Oren Klaff

No, absolutely.

Stephen W. Maye

Okay then, we're going to pick up this conversation with Oren Klaff in the very near future, he has a lot more detail to share on this crucial and often neglected subject of presenting and pitching your project work. Stay tuned and thanks for listening. For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and PMI.org/podcast.

 Subscribe to PMI Podcasts

Apple Podcasts Google Play Music Stitcher SoundCloud