Interview Coaching 101: Don’t Step Into a New Business Pitch Before Doing These 5 Things

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Your new business interview or project pitch is just days away and the pressure is starting to mount. You’ve assembled your "A-Team," tightened your PowerPoint and tuned your talking points for a knockout presentation. Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but so has everyone else competing for the business. But competitive project pitches are more about people than ideas, and there are ways to help your presenters stand out.

In my nearly 20 years of helping everyone from covert agents, architects, lawyers, construction managers, and engineers to build their authenticity, connection, and delivery skills, I’ve found that sometimes people overlook some of the most basic and seemingly simple skills when preparing for a big presentation. While there may not be a “secret sauce” to successful interviews, I’ve found that there are some key, “don’t miss” ingredients that can definitely be a recipe to help you prepare for your next business pitch.

Interview Coaching Prep Tips

Number 1 —> Focus on them – not you.

Rookie mistake alert! It’s tempting to go into an interview ready to share all the wonderful things about your team – an enviable client roster, an A-list project team and the mile-high stack of case studies proving you’ve been there and done that. But it’s not about you. It’s about them – your potential client.  Ultimately, it’s your job to focus on their challenges, their goals, and their success, and then tell them that you have the best roadmap for getting them there. Make them the main character of the stories, focusing on their problems and their goals.

Everything that feels like you have something riding on this presentation — like the money and the street cred you’ll get if awarded the project — will reduce your impact. Genuinely be there to help them make their tough decision, and your inner power will emerge.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your history — it’s about where you place yourselves in your stories about them. With your ideas and solutions, you can be the hero, with plans to save their day by getting them to their goals. 

Number 2—> Align your words with your feelings.

We’ve all heard the adage, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” When it comes to interview prep, developing a crisp, concise, and persuasive message is important, but the delivery of that message is also critical because that’s where you win them over as people

What you say needs to match your nonverbal communication, and feelings are the key to convincing body language. Just as you can read the difference between a sincere and begrudging apology, they can see if you mean what you say, based on whether your feelings and words match.

So how do you do this? Simple. Feel your words. If you’re going to profess your excitement, feel excited. If you tell them you care, care as you say it. Feel the feelings that go with your statements and make gratitude (a state created by appreciating) your home base.

Number 3 —> Prepare for the “zinger.” 

You’ve practiced your pitch over and over. However, it’s also important to prepare for the unexpected. Those moments when the potential client poses a question that you hadn’t thought of or asks about your experience in an area where you don’t have a lot of depth.

The key to powerfully responding to a “zinger” lies not in the answer you give, but in how you respond. The system to getting there begins with the recognition that nearly any question asked involves a problem that needs a solution. Start with what is clear to you and build from there. Your mental checklist to great question-answering has four key boxes which can be addressed in any order that comes to you:

    • Did you say who the question relates to?

    • Did you acknowledge the problem?

    • Did you provide the answer, (probably a solution)?

    • Did you state the desired outcome (the goal state)?

This approach positions you as a problem-solver. Make a list of tough questions and practice building out answers for them. Q&A is less an essay test than it is an oral exam, so practice building the answers out loud.

Number 4 —> Project confidence.

It’s natural to feel nervous when you’re facing a high-pressure interview, but the good news is that there are strategies to project more confidence even if you don’t feel confident.  Did you know that making direct eye contact with one person at a time – for about a sentence or long enough to deliver a complete thought – is one of the best ways to show confidence even if you’re nervous? This small but powerful tactic will help you and your audience feel more at ease and creates the feeling of a more intimate, one-on-one conversation. The effect is enhanced with the warmth that comes from appreciating (as mentioned in #2 above). 

Number 5 —> Abandon script!

You’ve prepared the very best words, but they just don’t sound like you. The funny thing is that most of the time, your “in the moment” words sound better anyway because they’re naturally you

So how do you prepare for a controlled improvisation? Babble. That’s right. Grab your list of talking points, ditch the script, and practice chatting your way through your talking points naturally. Most people use improvisation every day in meetings or phone calls, so speaking from the heart is actually your most highly practiced communication skill. Apply it to your interview prep by saying the same things differently each time you do a practice run. Hit the same beats of conversation, but use your “in the moment” words, and balance the freedom of “winging it” with the control and predictability of the mapped-out presentation.

Take Your Interview Skills To The Next Level

Interview presentation coaching and training can help set you up for success for your next big win. When you invest in the up-front work to project confidence and make a dynamic delivery, your team can really shine and stand out from the competition. It’s not just preparing, but how you prepare, that makes all the difference in the world. 

I hope you find these tips helpful the next time you’re preparing for a presentation or sales pitch. In addition to having a confident presence during the big moments, such as short-list interviews, don’t forget that the everyday moments matter, too.  

SagePresence can help you create a larger strategy to engage your entire team as brand advocates and take advantage of opportunities to deepen and strengthen interactions with potential and existing clients. For more information about empowering your employees to become brand advocates, check out our Brand Ambassadorship white papers.

To learn more about interview presentation coaching and training, please visit our website or check out our book, Winning AEC Interviews, with additional tips and strategies to optimize your next interview and help win over decision-makers. 

Dean Hyers