5 Tips for Effectively Pitching Your Organization’s Value at Customer Meetings and Professional Conferences
Spring is the season of the conferences, professional gatherings and deadlines for funding. These are high-stress inducing activities for NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations – Non-Profits), voluntary programs, philanthropies and social change organizations: their budgets, success and mark in the world depends on how well their message is perceived, and how big a mark they make with their projects, both within and outside of their sector.
If you hail from the Global South (those countries comprising Latin America, Africa, and developing Asia), as I do, it is never easy to be on top of a lot of cultural common understandings. It took me years to understand that people were already planning meeting weeks before the conference with attendees so that they could maximize their time. I also found out that meals and coffee time are often when people converse, pitch and find out about contacts and potential (future) colleagues.
Lessons learned: I messed by attending too many panels, allowing my valuable time and attention to be wasted, and not “getting enough oxygen.” I learned the hard way not to feel flattered by instant attention and praise (since, most of it lacks substance). In addition, it took me time to decode the etiquette, hair and makeup expectations, to grasp the comfy shoe policy, and the importance of the (lifesaver) bottle of water in my bag.
This said, if you are a leader of an environmentalist initiative, a campaigner for women’s rights, an awareness communicator of best practices in digital security and privacy, or a designer of strategies to tackle the European Refugee crisis, these five lessons from the perspective of a business leader from Global South will help you orient your crowdsourcing and funding efforts, and survive the conference you might be about to attend.
Know your Audience
One thing is to know you will be meeting with policy-makers or with social media moguls. Another thing is to know what they want, what language they speak, what the best format is to interact with them, how to share information with them, and even their dress code. You will be surprised at how much time you save by doing your homework beforehand.
Plan your Speech
An elevator speech is key to clarifying your message and your “ask” in front of small audiences. But be prepared for one-on-ones and larger audiences; you never know who is going to be listening in. Oh, and by the way, starting with a personal anecdote is greatly appreciated. It adds a much-needed human element to every story.
Be Mindful of Time and Place
One should know when one’s message is better received. Perhaps a pitch is best delivered in the bathroom than in a crowded corridor, or during a taxi ride, in a coffee shop line, airport waiting lounge, beauty salon, fitness room — all of these can be used as speaking venues. Be careful, though, and make sure to “read” your counterpart: some cultures are more forgiving than other about sharing private spaces.
Share your Message Effectively
To do this, use laughter, happenings, theatre, public appearances as well as social media, online petitions, video, gifs, memes, and Instagram photos. An effective dissemination is ensured when your message reaches the media your audience uses, not the ones you use. You and your message can be shared further via your own circle of friends and professional acquaintances.
Eyes on the Future
You need to be very clear about where you want to be in five years. Your theories of change and road to the future need to be clear and achievable. A simple plan gives you more room to move than you think. It will be always easier to plan the steps of your campaigns when you know where you want to be in the end.
As female leaders in the Global South we have smaller opportunities to pitch, to show our best work and to fund our work. These five tips are certainly going to give you more leeway than you already have. Being noticed because you are “different” and not because you are smart and great at what you do still remains a mystery to me; but sometimes an extra effort, to counteract that, can go a long way. That’s what these five tips are meant to promote.7