Pitch Yourself – Listen First!

Letting people tell you what they want

We are often so passionate about our product, service or solution that we never realise the person we are with did not get up this morning looking for any of it. They got up with a problem. If you come straight out of the gates pitching yourself or your great idea you may find deep resistance. They have a real need, and may not really be sure what that need is.

“See a need, fill a need”
Bigweld, from the movie Robots

By contrast to a hard pitching salesman, doctors listen to what a patient says and hear what concerns them. Then they start asking directed questions that get to the heart of what actually ails them. As a patient you get to say what you want, then the doctor gets down to what you need – an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Listening, not talking comes first in that exchange because doctors have discovered over the centuries that being really present to a patient’s needs significantly improves their chances of recovery. Recent research has also revealed that it also radically reduces a doctor’s likelihood of being sued (Adams, 2005). I think we learn something from that. Listening is really important to a great pitch, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

It’s common business consulting advice to tell people to “give people what they want”. But how would you know what they want, unless you’ve suddenly acquired the gift of mind reading? For that matter, half the time I’m sure they don’t know what they want either. People know the big picture, “but when it comes to the details… there’s a lot of uncertainty” (Waldschmidt, 2013). I am suggesting that you listen to people, stay curious, ask questions and get clearer. Then, and only then, are you in a position to pitch and here’s why…

In the summer of 1886 one lucky young Londoner had the opportunity to go out to dinner with two prime ministerial candidates, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone made her feel like “he was the cleverest person in England.” She got impressive talk from Gladstone. Disraeli by contrast made her feel like she was the smartest person in England. Disraeli had a winning way with people because he spent his time listening to her (Fox-Cabane, 2012). Listening to people makes them feel really important and that greases the slides for your pitch. Instead of talking about yourself so much (Gladstone), try asking people about themselves (Disraeli).

This helps us understand what they want. We have to find out what the problem is, before offering a fantastic solution. Are you in fact the solution for their problem? How would you know? Ask them what issues they have, and explore what the real issues are. Then make an internal check to see if you can solve it.

Two amazing things will happen… Firstly you will have a much better idea of what they think they want and secondly, they will ask about you. Boom, the door is open, the way is paved for your pitch! After that, it is time for you to shine, and you can carefully tailor what you include or exclude based on the interaction.


Adams, D. “Doctors urged to mind bedside manners,” amednews.com, 2005.
Cabane-Fox, O. “The Charisma Myth,” 2014, chapter 1, pg 9
Waldschmidt, D. “Why giving people what they want is a bad business strategy,” 2013.