Book Review: Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal by Oren Klaff
Oren Klaff is an investment banker and deal-maker who, by his own account, has spent more than ten thousand hours developing a “neurofinance” approach to presentations and deal-making. Klaff uses a variety of brain-based techniques to control the flow of discussion and to keep the meeting participants engaged and curious.
A Game of Frames
Klaff has developed an entire vocabulary to describe his process. He spends a great deal of time on “frame control” – both setting one’s own frame and breaking through frames set by one’s opponent. In Klaff’s world, nearly every meeting is a war of frames – the presenter tries to control the frame, while the listener does the same.
Winning the frame war is important, Klaff says, because the winner will control the discussion and loser will be reduced to fumbling ineffectively for responses to the other’s questions.
Klaff describes a meeting where shortly after the presentation began, the venture capitalist took over the frame by interrupting the flow of the presenter and demanding to know what the firm’s expenses were and how much the executives were paid. This derailed the presentation, put the presenter on the defensive, and let the VC win the frame war and control the discussion.
Power frames, where one party demonstrates his power in different ways, and time frames (“I can give you 20 minutes today.”) are common, and Klaff explains how to break through them with an opposing frame of your own. For example, interrupting the flow of the would-be power-framer is a power frame of your own. Similarly, an attempt to dominate by setting a time frame can be beaten by establishing an even tighter time constraint of your own. The trick, he says, is to make these moves in a playful, good-natured way, to avoid offending or creating conflict.
Other steps in Klaff’s process include “telling the story,” “revealing the intrigue,” “offering the prize,” and “getting the decision.”
Klaff says people are hardwired to be bad presenters, and, more importantly, they are wired to be unreceptive:
Because we are a soft, weak, slow species compared to just about everything else out there, we survived for millions of years by viewing everything else in the universe is potentially dangerous.
Hard-core neuroscience buffs may be disappointed by the minimal amount of actual brain science in Pitch Anything – Klaff spends most of his brain time talking about the “croc brain,” the most primitive part of our brain which drives fear and other elementary reactions. While neuroscientists may find this part of the book overly simplistic, the book’s target audience of salespeople and negotiators won’t miss the brain structure detail.
I found Pitch Anything to be an thought-provoking read. Applying Klaff’s techniques in your own situation may take some creativity and practice. While he provides a wealth of examples from his own deal-pitching experience, they may not translate easily into, say, selling software or asking for a contribution to your charity. Still, the book is worth the price if you can use even one of Klaff’s ideas to avoid getting intimidated on your next sales call or negotiation.