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Pitch Perfect: Articulating With Eloquence #SEJBookClub

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Pitch Perfect: Articulating With Eloquence #SEJBookClub
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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a monthly series of book reviews by the Search Engine Journal editorial team.  Join us each month to discuss our picks on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ using the hashtag #SEJBookClub and via the comments below.

Want to see what other books we’ve covered? Read our other reviews in the SEJ Book Club archive.

“Saying the right thing the right way can make the difference between sealing the deal or losing the account, advancing in your career or stagnating, earning a powerful ally or burning an important career bridge.”

I am an introvert of sorts, so for the most part I keep quiet, but when I am presented with the opportunity to share my thoughts, what comes out of my mouth is often verbose and scattered. On top of it, I love the minutia. I hone in on the details, a characteristic that helps me do my job well but does not make me a strong conversationalist, and I say “um”, a lot.

I want to be a better speaker. I want to be engaging and persuasive. I want to share my ideas with conviction. I want to say things, not just do them. That is why I chose to read this book, and hopefully before my next birthday I will be all those things. That is the goal anyway.

Pitch Perfect: Articulating With Eloquence #SEJBookClub

The Author

Bill McGowan trains people how to be better communicators. His list of clients include the likes of executive leaders at Facebook, Intel, Dropbox, AirBnB, and other tech companies, as well as celebrities, athletes, and average job seekers.

The Book

Pitch Perfect (affiliate link) is broken up into what McGowan refers to as the “Seven Principles of Persuasion”, illustrating strategies that can be applied to everything you could ever want to say at work and in your personal life.

Then, he teaches you how to think on your feet by applying these principles:

  • How do I reprimand employees while keeping them motivated?
  • How do I apologize for a mistake?
  • I’m moderating a panel, how do I gently cut off people who talk too much?
  • How do I deflect an awkward conversation?
  • I’m giving a toast at a wedding. What should I say?

Pitch Perfect is a comprehensive set of tools that teach how to speak eloquently and effectively.

8 Pitch Perfect Takeaways

Err on the Side of Brevity

You will communicate your ideas with more meaning if you err on the side of brevity. When we write or say too much, our message often becomes diluted or worse, it gets lost. So cut out the unnecessary words, then cut a little bit more.

Stop Apologizing

According to McGowan, we apologize during our presentations a lot. “Sorry for the last minute meeting, guys. I promise not to keep you too long.” By setting up your talk this way, you’ve created the notion that people don’t want to be there, so they won’t.

Don’t be Boring

Pitch Perfect: Articulating With Eloquence #SEJBookClub

Theoretical explanations, facts and figures, are not going to captivate your audience or hold their attention, but using a script with dialogue and action will. Stimulate brains by using anecdotes, or create stories to get your point across.

If you lack the apt experience or ability to produce stories naturally, McGowan suggests creating a storyboard to work your way through. To do this, use flash cards. Draw out each step of your story, then lay all the pieces out in front of you so you can see the big picture. Work from there to determine what is missing, or needs to be taken out so that your story is relevant and has a nice flow.

Anticipate Questions

Before you give your talk or presentation, create a list of possible questions that you think your audience might ask, then practice answering them. This will help increase your confidence and reduce stress.

Be a Curious Listener

McGowan says, the best conversationalists are extremely good listeners, and they display three characteristics: interest, generosity, and modesty.

Pause

“… no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain

Allow what you just said to sink into the mind of your listener. The silence adds drama.

Breathe

Pitch Perfect: Articulating With Eloquence #SEJBookClub

When we get nervous things happen to us—we sweat, our heart beats hard, our breath becomes short, and some of us get nauseous or light-headed. This is a horrible way to feel during a presentation and can be avoided with a simple exercise: deep yogic breathing.

Before it’s time to give your talk, take ten minutes for yourself. Put away your notes, close your eyes, and start to breathe, deeply and slowly. Within just a few minutes you will feel much more relaxed and clear-headed, but don’t stop there. Carry this exercise through your presentation—pause, take sips of warm tea, and refill those lungs with fresh air.

Practice

“No matter who you are, you have to put in the time.”

Practice, practice, practice. It is so easy to do and makes all the difference in the world.

To do it properly, you’ll need a mirror and a voice recorder. I practice in the bathroom and use my phone for recording. Once I’ve memorized the gist of my talk, which happens after about 10 or so takes, I pay closer attention to my facial expressions, posture, and hand gestures. Then I’ll go back to the most recent recording and tie up my verbal.

When you’ve completed this initial run through, the next best thing is to jump in front of a camera. Record, watch, and learn. IMO it’s better to do this after the early rehearsals, watching yourself can be a painful experience, and pre-practicing lessens the blow.

Pitch Perfect Applied

Pitch Perfect: Articulating With Eloquence #SEJBookClub

A couple months ago I joined the local Toastmasters club, and being the impulsive nut that I am, volunteered to do my icebreaker speech at the following meeting. Mind you, the last time I gave a speech was in college, seven years ago.

I proudly shared this information with my boss who was very excited to hear the news. No more than 10 minutes later she pings me…

Jenise: “Congrats on completing your icebreaker! I’ve got a new challenge for you. Up for it?”

Jessica: “Yeaaah…”

Jenise: “I’d like you to perform a comprehensive rundown of Pubcon on next week’s editorial call.”

Jessica: “You got it!”

Jessica (in head): omg omg omg omg. You can do this. Everything is going to be alright. Isn’t this what you wanted, anyway? Yes.

Jenise: “It would be great if you could use slides and let’s rehearse next week on our 1on1.”

Jessica: “Alrighty, sounds good :)”

I had less than five days to prepare a presentation detailing the logistics of a project that took me months to plan, then explain the entire thing to a team of 13 within a period of 15-20 minutes.

Needless to say, I was on edge all week, but I’ll cut to the chase and disclose here that the experience was a triumphant success for me. Here are a few reasons why:

  • I kept it short. No time for superfluous words or phrases.
  • I used visual language to create drama. “Our entire team will travel a cummulative 20,000 miles from all over the world to unite in Las Vegas, some of us meeting face-to-face for the first time.”
  • I remembered to breathe. I set aside ten minutes before showtime for meditation and a simple breathing exercise that helped me maintain composure throughout the talk.
  • I practiced. I practiced over and over to myself and rehearsed it twice with my boss.

I can honestly say that McGowan’s principles work. They helped me to articulate my presentation with fluency and effectiveness. I got my point across. As a result, our team felt confident and organized at Pubcon, and the project I had worked on for months played out almost exactly according to plan. That felt good.

How about you? Any Pitch Perfect moments you’d like to share?

Want to see what the SEJ Book Club has read or is planning on reading next? Check out our GoodReads profile and add us as a friend!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Jessica Cromwell

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Jessica directs sales at Search Engine Journal so if you're interested in advertising on SEJ, then she's your gal! Her ... [Read full bio]

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