You are constantly “pitching” yourself – whether you’re conscious of it or not. When you meet a new person, they decide (based on your words and actions) whether they want to continue speaking to you, start a friendship with you, or do business with you. The business part is typically the trickiest.

Some people work long and hard at being good at their craft, but they don’t know how to pitch themselves, so they don’t go anywhere – while others who are less skilled, but better at pitching go farther. “Selling yourself” can appear to be hard, but there are a few tricks to it. Indulge me in this story:

My niece, Hailey, is 5 years old and obsessed with Disney princesses. She owns all the dolls and, yes, all of the costumes (sometimes she even wants to sleep in them). As an aspiring princess, Jasmine, Elsa, and Tiana are her idols.

Of course, Hailey and her parents have season passes to Disneyland and one of her favorite things to do there is see the princesses live. At the end of the day, she loves to list the ones she saw. But she never counts a princess unless she was acknowledged by her personally–idol or not. “They need to make eye contact and speak to her in order to count,” her mom says.

These famous Disney heroines have hundreds of kids clamoring to see them every day. But Hailey wants to be recognized by the princesses for who she is. After all, she is only 5 but can already count to 100 and read Dr. Seuss books, and they need to know this! Her feeling is, Look Princess, you’re awesome and I’m awesome–so let’s acknowledge each other and have a nice back-and-forth conversation. Because of her tremendous self-confidence and respect, Princess Hailey gets the royal treatment.

Being a first-time entrepreneur in a pitch meeting with the big guys is no different.

When we’re pitching ourselves, sometimes our emotions can get the better of us when we are intimidated–which may result in some bad habits that are detrimental to our pitch. Here are easy adjustments that can help you with CEOs, HR Directors, (or Disney princesses, as the case may be).

Don’t: Over-Compliment

Saying “I’m a big fan of your work” or “Congratulations on your recent success” is great. But some people go way overboard with the complimenting–spewing hyperbole about how incredible the other person is every three sentences. This can cause the person being pitched to feel self-conscious, uncomfortable, or that you are buttering them up–which is ultimately going to make them feel uneasy about the deal. It also puts you in a weaker position.

Do: Research Their Company Like Crazy

Most of us who over-compliment do it out of a place of respect. A better way to show respect in a pitch meeting is to research the heck out of their company. Ask them smart, relevant questions pertaining to your proposed deal. This will not only show that you know your stuff, but that you value their work. Coming prepared always puts you in a powerful position.

Don’t: Self-Congratulate

We all want to inspire confidence when we pitch. But try to refrain from sounding like you’re bragging. Compliments are much stronger coming from other people. If you are constantly saying great things about yourself, it doesn’t give others the chance to say great things about you.

Do: Tell Stories Relevant to Your Body of Work

An instant life hack to fix the perceived bragging problem is to tell relevant stories about your work. Your accomplishments will inevitably come up naturally in the conversation, while you are busy relating to the other person.

Don’t: Use Shady Language

Try to take the phrases “To be honest” and “Trust me” out of your vernacular. Being honest and trustworthy should be a given.

Do: Read the Room

Your pitch will be the most successful if you make your audience feel comfortable. Connect with them. Reading their body language and adjusting accordingly will help you to do this. For example, if you’re with a really casual and laid-back person, chill out. If you are too “in-your-face,” they may completely shut down. If the person is effervescent and excitable, they will probably appreciate you being just as enthusiastic.

Don’t: Hard Sell Them

It’s very easy to come in with an agenda and try to squeeze everyone into the box that we’ve created–because we know that box is awesome! But almost no one enjoys a hard sell–it can come across as desperate and/or narcissistic.

Do: Listen to Them

In order to successfully pitch anything, you must solve a problem or add massive value to the person you’re selling it to. You do that by really listening, in order to fully understand your potential customer’s needs. Ask as many questions as needed to inform and tailor your pitch–even if you only end up speaking 25 percent of the time. The thought and care that you put into the informed pitch will speak volumes.

Formerly a Vice President of Content Marketing, Molly is the Co-Founder of The Unicorn in the Room, as well as a Marketing & Business Columnist for INC and The Huffington Post.


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