Pitch Anything - Critical summary review - Oren Klaff

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Pitch Anything - critical summary review

Pitch Anything Critical summary review Start your free trial
Marketing & Sales and Management & Leadership

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0071752854

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education

Critical summary review

In “Pitch Anything,” Oren Klaff claims that “there is a fundamental disconnect between the way we pitch anything and the way it is received by our audience” and offers a few simple formulas to resolve this problem. So, get ready to discover them and be prepared to learn how to win the deal!

The three parts of the human brain

Most neuroscientists today agree that our brain developed in three separate evolutionary stages, and that, as a consequence, it can be separated into three major sections:

  • Crocodile brain. The most primitive part, the lizard brain. Its aim being survival, it controls only our most basic instincts, producing strong emotions and generating most fight-or-flight responses. 
  • Midbrain. The monkey brain. It deals with the majority of our emotions and “determines the meaning of things and social situations.”
  • Neocortex. The most advanced part – the only part of our brain that can produce answers using reason and can think about complex issues and abstract ideas emotionlessly and objectively.

Because of the internal division of our brains, we have no choice but to process information on three levels. For example, when you hear someone shouting while you’re walking to your car, at first, you’ll react instinctively, with some fear. This is your crocodile brain at work. But just a second later, your midbrain will take over the reins and try to put some meaning into the sound and determine whether it comes from an animal, an old friend, or an angry parking attendant. Finally, your neocortex will figure it all out: “Oh, it’s just some guy yelling out to his buddy across the street.” “Our thought process exactly matches our evolution,” concludes Klaff. “First, survival. Then, social relationships. Finally, problem-solving.”

The STRONG method

You can probably already sense an issue: to get to someone’s neocortex, you first need to get through their crocodile brain. This is the fundamental issue of pitching: even though all pitches are sent from the most advanced and smartest part of the brain, they are received by its most primitive and least rational segment.

Given the limited focus and capacity of the crocodile brain, nine out of ten messages that reach it are either discarded or coded before being passed on up to the midbrain and then on to the neocortex. Simply put, the crocodile brain isn’t interested in details and can only understand “big, obvious chunks of concrete data.” Its filtering instructions look something like this:

  1. If it’s dangerous – fight or flee.
  2. If it’s not dangerous but familiar – label it as boring and ignore it.
  3. If it’s new and exciting – summarize it as quickly as possible and pass it to the midbrain in severely truncated form.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t bother the neocortex with ordinary things.

Because of the specific way our crocodile brain filters information, when you pitch something to someone, your best ideas might never reach the place where ideas are processed – the neocortex. Instead, they’ll come bouncing off the other person’s crocodile brain and crashing back into your face in the form of “objections, disruptive behaviors, and lack of interest.” This was Klaff’s big revelation: to make a successful pitch, one needed to “bridge the gap between the way the neocortex and crocodile brain see the world.” After years of experimentation, he came up with a six-step formula that can be represented by the acronym STRONG:

  • Set the frame.
  • Tell the story.
  • Reveal the intrigue.
  • Offer the prize.
  • Nail the hook point.
  • Get a decision.

Own the frame, win the game

We all have different points of view on the world. In most cases, this is a good thing: we need someone else’s perspective to refine ours and learn how to see things better. However, in the business world, perspectives communicate with each other at a much more basic level – that of the crocodile brain. Consequently, they don’t collaborate but are extremely competitive and seek to sustain dominance. When you pitch something to someone, your perspective will never blend or intermingle with that of your client; instead, they will collide, and the stronger frame will absorb the weaker.

Klaff refers to these croc-brain perspectives as “frames” and defines them as instruments for packaging “power, authority, strength, information, and status.” Whether you’ve realized it or not, if you’ve ever been to a business meeting, you’ve already used some kind of a frame. Frames create context and relevance but do not coexist at the same time and place for long. Only one frame will survive at the end of the exchange, absorbing all others. If that frame is yours, then you will enjoy frame control, where your ideas are accepted (and followed) by the others. However, if your frame loses, then you’ll probably lose the client as well.

“This is what happens below the surface of every business meeting you attend, every sales call you make, and every person-to-person business communication you have,” remarks Klaff. “Understanding how to harness and apply the power of frames is the most important thing you will ever learn.”

Understanding opposing frames

There exist three major types of frames: the power frame, the time frame, and the analyst frame. There are also three major response frame types that you can use to meet and conquer these frames: the power-busting frame, the time-constraining frame, and the intrigue frame. Finally, there is also a special kind of frame, deployable against all others: the prize frame. Let’s understand how these pairs of frames collide in practice:

  • The power frame vs. the power-busting frame. The power frame is the most common frame you’ll encounter in a business setting. People who use it – egomaniacs and big shots – think they are more important than everybody and assume that everybody feels the same. They’ll try to engage you in meaningless small talk, tell you how little time they have for you, and even how to make your presentation better. They will inevitably expect you to adopt their frame and bow to their alpha-status: they’re used to seeing obedient people around them. The good news is that therein lies their biggest weakness: they never expect resistance, so the power-busting frame almost always takes them by surprise. Instead of observing the common power rituals in business situations, once you notice you’re dealing with a power framer, instigate a power frame collision through “a mildly shocking but not unfriendly act.” Use defiance and light humor. For example, if your client says that they have only 15 minutes for you, reply with “That’s okay, I only have 12.” Say this with a smile, of course, but let your client realize that you are pretty serious, too.
  • The time frame vs. the time-constraining frame. Time frames are usually used by clients who have lost control of the initial frame of the encounter and want to take it back at a moment of confusion. Its most common manifestation is the following sentence: “Sorry to interrupt you, but we only have a few minutes left – so let’s wrap this up.” If you allow a member of your audience to say this, you will lose the frame because then you will have no choice but to react to their restlessness. Remain always in control by being the one to voice the sentence first. When you notice that your audience is starting to lose interest, set your time constraint immediately, regardless of how much you’ve left to say: “Hey, looks like time’s up. I have a few more things to say, but I guess it’s better if I wrapped this up and get to my next meeting.” Remember: if your audience is interested in your pitch, they will ask for more.
  • The analyst frame vs. the intrigue frame. When someone is interested in the technical details of your presentation, they are using the analyst frame against you. This frame focuses on hard facts only and favors numbers and stats to creativity and ideas. It is a deadly frame because once you’re trapped in it, you can never get out – not only because numbers rarely tell the whole story, but also because few people are interested in them. The most effective way to conquer the analyst frame is with an intriguing story: nothing breaks analytical thinking as well as narrative discourse. An intriguing story has several traits: it’s brief, relevant, and it includes the narrator as the main protagonist; it also contains “risk, danger, and uncertainty,” as well as tension, time pressure, and serious consequences in case of failure.
  • The prize frame. The prize frame works well against all frames you might encounter in a business situation: if you convince your audience that they are the commodity and you are the prize, then they won’t even try to disrupt your frame. Try to reverse the fundamental relationship of selling and act as if your client needs you more than you need them. For example, if the key decision-maker isn’t in the room when you’re supposed to make your pitch, wait for a few minutes and then say that you will have to reschedule. It’s not bad if you come across as someone picky about working with others. It’s actually good. It means that clients don’t get to choose you – but that you choose them. You’re the prize.

The four phases of a pitch

“A great pitch is not about procedure,” writes Klaff. “It’s about getting and keeping attention.” That’s why your pitch should never be longer than 20 minutes and should be divided into four phases:

  1. Introduce yourself and the big idea in five minutes. Klaff’s optimal idea introduction pattern goes like this: “For [target customers] who are dissatisfied with [the current offerings in the market], my idea/product is a [new idea or product category] that provides [key problem/solution features] unlike [the competing product].”
  2. Explain the budget and the secret sauce in ten minutes. This is the part where you describe your idea in more detail and reveal your “secret sauce” – its edge over the competition. Focus on demonstrating excellence in budgeting. 
  3. Offer the deal in two minutes. Keep it brief, clear, and simple. Give all the essential details without leaving room for doubts or questions.
  4. Stack frames for a hot cognition in three minutes. When making business decisions, most of the time, we don’t go with our neocortex (cold analysis), but with our gut (hot cognition). “Deciding that you like something before you fully understand it,” writes Klaff, “that’s a hot cognition!” The good news is you can induce it by “stacking frames.” For example, if you say your offer is temporary and that you’ll need a decision by the end of the day, you’re using the time frame. If you add to this a claim that you have already received a good offer and a thought-provoking story, then you’re piling the prize and the intrigue frame over the time frame. You can even stack a final one – the moral authority frame, that can be summed up in this indirect command: “accept this offer, and you’ll probably help the world.” 

Do all of this correctly, and your target will say “yes” without even knowing what they are saying “yes” to. That’s hot cognition – the only reasoning the crocodile brain appreciates.

Final Notes

“Pitch Anything” is a well-structured book with good, concrete examples. It’s also one of the most popular sales books of the 21st century. A must-read for anyone seeking to improve their pitching skills!

12min Tip

Own the frame, win the game. Remember: “when you are reacting to the other person, that person owns the frame. When the other person is reacting to what you do and say, you own the frame.”

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Who wrote the book?

Oren Klaff is the director of capital markets at investment bank Intersection Capital. Thanks to his pioneering neuroscience-based pitches, the company raised over $400 million of capital o... (Read more)

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