The art of pitching

23 min read

A brand strategist and pitch deck specialist, Dorothy has crafted a way to pour herself and her uniqueness into what she does for a living, with so much passion that is clear to see as soon as we start talking.

It started with a degree and a graduation dinner at a restaurant, where she picked up her first gig as a graphic designer - the perfect story of the stars aligning. The things that she loved about her architecture course, and the intricacies of design, seemed to take her in a direction that she didn’t know existed at the time. As she started working, she started problem-solving for clients, which she later discovered was brand strategy.

A self-confessed ‘weirdo’, Dorothy has an infectious energy about her, even on the Zoom screen. She shares fears of not fitting in, shrinking and squashing before finally surrendering to being herself in every aspect of her life.

Jeanette: Today's guest is Dorothy Fulop. She has an interesting bio by being a founder of Pitchcamp. So, she specializes in pitch decks, startups and branding and today, we'll be talking about the art of pitching.

So, Dorothy, welcome and perhaps you'd like to introduce yourself in the way that you'd like to be introduced

Dorothy: Thank you so much for having me. This is so much fun and I couldn't wait to talk to all three of you. Uhm, yes, I am originally a brand strategist, but I work with startup, and they need help with pitch decks, so that's how I became a pitch strategist and I engage with startups in their journey with pitch decks and then we move on to the more exciting and important stuff, that's a print strategy.

Jeanette: I know you just you describe yourself as a loving weirdo and I think I'd like to add to this as being lovely as well as loving and I also know that you're actually a trained architect turn brand strategist now that is quite you know of course it's still within the design world, but a bit of a different mindset. What happened there? Why the change? What was your experience?

Dorothy: Uhm, yeah, that's the weirdo part, definitely. But I don't think any brand strategist dreamed of becoming one in kindergarten. That's such a new job that no one really knew that it existed. Even a few years ago. So, my journey from architecture to brand strategy was that you want to hear the dinner story, right? This is what you want when we did that?

Jeanette: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dorothy: It's a dinner. Yeah, it was definitely a dinner of my graduation. I never had plans to not become an architect, but I definitely imagine architecture being something more different from how school really turned out and I got my first job offer as a designer and I really loved that part of how do we present our plan? the floor plans and the plans of a building. How do we sell that story that people love the building, although it's not built yet, and I did some work for my classmates during university making their brilliant plans prettier. So, it wasn't a big stretch for me to stay in design and I think I needed a break from architecture and I still, I still on that, I'm still on that break. Although I just recently, a few weeks ago became a brand architect, so I guess it's following me.

Yeah, it's really similar and I think doing design projects wasn't enough because of my training in architecture. Because I always, I learned that you have to have a good reason to draw something. So, when I started working with companies designing identities, I really wanted to learn the why, like why are we doing this? Why should I draw something? What's the reason behind? So, without any knowledge of brand strategy existing I just started asking the annoying questions and refusing to just design without a lot of questions and this is what I ended up doing and thank God it turns out that this is brand strategy basically.

So now I have a name for the weird things that I did for the last few years now.

Jeanette: But we've also now sort of diverted from brand strategy to a pitch expert. Now when I say, when I talk about pitch and I think about pitch, I think of the very anxious moments that we see on the telly, on the Dragons Den, Shark Tank and, you know, Sir Alan Sugar asking you know, telling people that they're fired kind of thing. So, I know that's very important, but why are they important and why you know, the setting? Why would one put himself in such a setting?

Dorothy: Well, this was a long journey, but I really love working with startups at the point where I engage with them, they know that a pitch and the pitch deck is really important. They don't know yet that a brand strategy is more important. So, I just made the decision that I kind of like it's really similar. You discuss important things that matter to the business the most and you try to tell a story of the company to the people who care about the company. So, in my opinion it's not that far away, although I had to learn everything about the technical part of creating presentations and pitches, because that's a whole new genre that I wasn't familiar with, although there were instances where I don't know, maybe I just had always done an unnatural openness to creating presentations because I've seen so many times that good ideas are lost because of a not so well put together presentation that I really put an emphasis on. Ok, this it's a good idea, but we also have to show it in a way that people understand, get excited and act on it.

So that was the thing that saved me from a lot of projects in back in school so, it just made sense for me to help my clients in a way where I feel really comfortable and can add value to their companies.

Jeanette: Uhm, my question is always, we always have like 10 slides for a presentation. Something which is really snappy, something which lingers on, and people keep on thinking about it. So, it needs to be like, you know, on the ball and we need to know exactly what is going on. So, how representative is a pitch of a really good idea? Could it be just you know, a really nice packing of something which is not quite that good, or you know what really is a pitch? Is it something that the company really believes? and could there be a way of maybe disguising what you really believe in a pitch? what is the, you know, what's your take on that?

Dorothy: You could, but it's not a smart idea to do that. You can definitely put yourself in a better light, but it doesn't make any sense, especially with startup pitches you're not trying to get people to listen to you, you try to raise money so, it doesn't make any sense to fool someone, so it turns out in a later round that they are not interested. So, we don't do that, and I think the biggest challenge is to just creates to know a company to a point where you can talk about it in a really short time. It's usually less than 3 minutes, 2 1/2 minutes. It's a sweet spot because that's how long people attention spans are hard nowadays. We're long over that so, anyone still listening? Yay, that's amazing because people and these numbers get worse and worse every single year. So, you just have to work until you can do it. It's really, really hard. You can't just do it of the top of your head. You really have to rehearse and usually it takes a lot of time, and you save a lot of time to your audience if you put in a lot of type on the work itself. So that shows really, if you're good, you're able to introduce yourself even in 10 slides.

Jeanette: And from your experience, I guess you've seen the good, the bad and the ugly of pitches. Can you give us some stories about maybe the good ones or the worst ones that you've heard?

Dorothy: Ah, that's a good question. The worst ones are always long. That's a like a general rule if a pitch, and we're not talking about presentations, but pitch is strictly if it's over 10 minutes, like it can't be that good that you; if you're prepared to listen to something for two minutes it has to be so good to still be engaged after 10 minutes. So yeah, bad pitches are always really long. People read slides, which is another. It's almost a pet peeve of mine when you are in a presentation where people just read the slides for you. So weird. I don't know where that thing came from, but it's really, really weird and it's really common.

I would say the worst pitch is that I feel like I heard it before or I've seen it before because you wanna stick out, you wanna be the one that they remember. So, when that's your goal, then the worst thing that you could do is to be just like everyone else, using the same templates that everyone else. Telling the same story of this made-up fake friend. Almost always called Sarah, which is weird, I don't know, but every probably heard the pitch about “this is my friend Sarah” and you can tell if you listen to that. You can already tell that you don't even know anyone name Sarah. Like that's so fake and then I don't even care about the rest. Like they lost the trust with the first four seconds so that's a shame but yeah, not honest. A template based boring pitches are the worst.

The best are good, bad, ugly. Ugly are like in the tech world, you see surprises like, boy, there are some things, but I don't like it. You can always make an ugly pitch nice, but it's really hard to fix a bad pitch. A good pitch is where you're surprised. Uhm, someone sang to me. Which is like that was one of the funniest moments. Like someone at the wrap up of the pitch and started singing. I don't remember what it was about, but I remember her and her company, so that's something that no one else did. So, I like when a pitch is really surprising and it can be anything, someone who shows you something, something that like steps out of the slides and zoom calls and even personal present, something that's like adds another dimension. I love those all. Yeah, those are always, always good pitches. If you, if they make you giggle, if you, if they make you cry, that's amazing. If you can engage people and make them excited you just won.

Jeanette: So, you've just mentioned a rollercoaster of emotions that would make would constitute a good pitch. But I do appreciate when you're pitching it does become you know one of those become rather anxious and possibly emotional and you not, but you don't have butterflies but possibly locusts in your stomach as well. So how would? It's true, isn't it? Especially if you're asking for money, so to speak. It's a nerve wracking because especially when you get so close to our project, it becomes like your baby almost. So, whoever talks badly about your baby, you'd be very protective over it. So, if you were to have an emotional breakdown, I don't know, possibly, you know, freeze or cry or whatever it is that you know how you express emotion. How could you bounce back quickly in a pitch scenario?

Dorothy: Ok. First of all, you just made something that probably not a lot of people made that day, so that's good. You will be memorable. Maybe not the way you planned it, but definitely people will remember and if you're a really emotional person, who can freeze from the magnitude of this you have to look for an investor if we are still talking about the you're pitching for money. You're not just pitching for the money, but you're almost like, uh, you're looking for a partner, someone who gets you, someone who understands you. So, if it's a good fit they will see that you care. They won't see that, oh, they're crazy, like they will see that you're so invested in this that made you emotional and I'm a very emotional person, probably this is why I chose the field where you have to flood your words with emotion, so you can start, you can talk about a startup especially in the tech space, which is not the best material, it's not stand up material, but if you over flood it with emotions it can be really, really important.

So, I would think about it that it This just shows that I care so much. You can always say I care so much about this, sorry for being distracted for a minute. I need to get over myself. Give me one second. It happens always with a technical difficulty and you, your first reaction if you are, if you are an empathetic person and hopefully an investor will be an empathetic person, they will see that. OK, I feel you. They will find you more attractive in a way that this is a real person, not a robot.

Jeanette: So, I mean, what you've just mentioned is really interesting because it needs to be a curated set presentation. You need to say what's more important, you need to be passionate about what you're saying. So, there is like multitudes of levels and it's almost like brand strategy on steroids. It's needs to be really spot on. So, no wonder people get, you know, anxious and quite emotional when saying this because thinking about it alone is making me anxious. My heart palpitating and so isn't it right so?

Dorothy: Oh, absolutely. I'm a really nervous when I have to pitch, which I always do once when we're done with a pitch deck, we reverse roles and I'm the one who pitches to the client. I'm a mess. It's really, really nerve wracking, so I'm so glad that I'm not doing that part of pitching professionally. I love being behind the camera, but the only thing that helps is and I heard this from Errol Garrison “are you really anxious when you're tying your shoe? probably not because you did it so many times.”

So, the biggest lesson from for me is the more I rehearse and rehearse to till I don't even need the presenter notes and I don't even like I can jump in at each point and move on from there. If you rehearse it to the where your surroundings, they hate you for repeating it over and over again, the anxiousness will start to decline. So yeah, think about shoelaces and think about being a real person will help your cause here.

Jeanette: And I guess the ultimate cherry on the cake would be if you get your audience to feel emotion as well. That is when you think, yeah, these people are as passionate as I am in the subject and that is where you start linking and finding the people of your own tribe as Seth Godin would probably describe it. So, I think that's the best feeling ever, this feeling of that you can't trust these people with what you're doing.

Dorothy: Yeah, absolutely. I remember a few times where you really could tell that people understood the messaging. I saw tears and I heard some words that I'm not going to repeat on a podcast and that's always a really good sign. When you feel like people weren't expecting something like that. You could almost shock them in a really, really good way. Uhm, that's where you feel like, OK, this went well. Silence. People not reacting as the “is the worst.”

Yeah, but if they if you feel like you could bring them up to the same level of excitement where you are probably that's where you are winning in pitching.

Jeanette: Well, I guess, uhm, there was a really interesting quote by Elie Wiesel, I think. I apologize for the pronunciation, but she's a writer and I think she was also a Holocaust survivor, and she famously said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” And I think this is where you start realizing that, you know, if they are blasé about it and yeah, you've gone, yes, you've come, yes, you've gone, and there is no, you know, no common grounds that have been hit. There is nothing that really attaches oneself to whatever you're saying. You haven't planted any seeds, no thinking behind it. That is when indifference kick in and that is the issue, I guess, when it comes to pitching, it's easy to see within these few minutes.

Uhm, but another thing I better touch upon is culture. Now we possibly use culture in many, many different ways, but so there the internal company counter, there's a culture where you know the people that you're actually presenting to. How does culture really feature in pitching? How conscious do you need to be of these different kinds of what we call culture to be able to have a successful pitch?

Dorothy: It always depends on what you're pitching. If you're pitching something that is really about your unique culture. Then the most important thing that you can do is to…

Jeanette: Luis is just being very naughty now.

Dorothy: No, he's amazing. Thank you. Ok.

Jeanette: His microphone is not working, so yeah.

Dorothy: He made it. He made it happen.

Ok, so if it's really specific, if it's important for them to understand your culture then you have to introduce it. If you just want to find common ground and this is surprisingly easy. We're all people no matter where we are from, so it's, you just have to dig deep and find something that you have in common. Something that they care about because your first job, so you're raising money and you have to ask for the money, but that's only the third job that you're doing there. There are two more important things that come before asking for the money, and the first one is to make them care and one way to make people care is to just find common ground. Find something that you can be both enthusiastic about. Find something in common with you, and again, I'm keep referring back to if it's a right fit there. It won't be that hard to find something that you, both of you love, or something that both of you hate. So, you have to start with making them care, and it's only then when you can move on to make them understand what you're saying, and then you can move on to the third step. Asking for anything, money or attention or whatever you want, but it has to start with making them care. It has to; you can't skip making them understand, and only then can you ask.

Jeanette: Yeah, I think the key would be to show them that you see them, you feel them, you hear them, and you are one of them. So, if we were to compare business relationships to actual, you know, relationships between people, pitching would possibly be related to speed dating.

Dorothy: That's a good analogy. I love that.

Jeanette: Because that is how you are going to be attracted to this person or to this project and really believe in it to have a second date. Maybe. So, finding this common ground that we're talking about is all also important.

Dorothy: Absolutely, although I for long years I haven't done any dating and I wasn't never like really good at it, so I can't say that I have good experience at it and then especially speed dating. But yeah, it makes it makes sense. Like you have to introduce yourself in a way that makes sense for the other one. Also, you have to be really respectful and empathetic towards them. And uhm yeah, I guess, I guess and we're never gonna find out about my speed dating skills. But I can see how they would make sense. You don't have time. There's a lot at stake. It's high pressure. Hopefully no one is judging your appearance. Maybe that's a good, a little bit better, but yeah, you're trying to make a very important start, a very important relationship in a really short time.

Jeanette: Yeah, and you, as you said before, you really have to be prepared at doing this because you have to really hit the nail on the head so those really make those 2 1/2 minutes really count and, in this respect, when getting ready for the pitch how important is brand strategy or how powerful is brand strategy in this? what part can we use? Because brand strategy is you know, quite a long process really, but you've got to get the message out so quickly. So, how did the two relate?

Dorothy: I think that's why I, it was an easy choice for me because how I've been doing brand strategy is my methods change from client to client.

It really has to be tailored to their needs, but the structure and the core of it, it's always learning a lot about you and your company. Finding out who will love you and making a connection between the two, the two parties. So, if I translate that to pitching, it's definitely learning about you like everything, so you need to learn so much to make it so simple and so easy to understand for someone who never heard about you before. You really have to understand the company there. So, that's done. What's left the other person, it's interesting because it's not a customer, it's not a client or a consumer. It's someone who you're trying to onboard, but it's again another party that you are serving and trying to make a connection. So, you have to understand what they are curious about. You have to make it simple and digestible enough for them and you just have to use the same tools of design connecting the two people or the two parties. So, I think that the core is the same how I've been doing grand strategy and what's most important in pitching or basically telling any idea it all comes down to empathy, so I think they're closer than they look for at the first time.

Jeanette: I think the first thing that comes to mind when we have to present is the us versus them and so we are, we are doing this, we've done it on our own. They are the ones that judge us about it and I think one of the things that we need to take care of when we're presenting is not to have this divide, not the us and them but we are in this together and this is how we can bring things together, you know, to make a project work or to make whatever it is, work. So, yeah, the empathy is very important, but I think you can't have the empathy without understanding the other person, so, which is unfortunately very difficult in a pitch because you are doing the most of the talking if you are the person doing the pitch or you're doing most of the listening. So, it's very one way for from the beginning. So, it's tricky to get that, and I think we were speaking about this recently, Luis and I, that the way that people express themselves with their body language, so the way they look or they smile with their eyes or they may be changed position in their seats would actually tell you a lot more, but again, you're going to be so conscious about this during of what you're saying in the picture set that you might be losing these cues. One maybe or few tips of a foolproof way of pitching to be able to empathize with someone that you don't know and possibly have met for five seconds before you started speaking. How would you tackle that? How would you calm your nerves and say yes, this is the way I need to go?

Dorothy: Can I use your example, and can I go back to speed dating? I don't know like. So, I've been trying to follow every advice that any person gave me too this is how you find the love of your life and at the love of your life, and this is how you have to behave, and you know, you've probably heard the same tips and all that. What's out there? How you behave on a first date? or something like how do you talk to someone you really want to make a good impression on it? Uhm, the last time I did I wasn't really clear that I am meeting my future husband. I just was the weirdest person ever, and it turned out he really enjoyed it, so I never did anything. I just behaved like myself, because I never, never knew that I got a chance. Like I never knew that what was at risk. Like are we doing this for real? So, I never bothered to follow any advice and I just was the real goof that I am, and it doesn't bother him and thank goodness it doesn't bother him since then.

As we are going with that analogy, I would just say be prepared, do your job, make a really nice presentation and rehearse it but after that, don't try to portray someone else because it's going to be a relationship, and if you show up like someone who you're not, then you have to keep that fake persona for the next few years if this works out and also it makes you more nervous and then you have to rehearse that so don't bother. Like the weirdest things about yourself is something that someone the right person will love about you. Do your job, be prepared, rehearse and be yourself.

Jeanette: What you've just said really resonated with me and what Brené Brown also talks about the vulnerability to show who you really are and if you're having a bad day, unfortunately, it's a bad day. If you're having a good day, then you show it and it ties back to what we're talking about before if you have an emotional you know, few minutes it's part of being who you are and part of being vulnerable, which also ties in what we said is that you know you have to be passionate in these few minutes that you have to present and you have to present it with you know, care and show all you've done. So, it really comes full circle to really be yourself while you're doing this.

So, ok, pitch done. Successful. Bye, bye. What happens then? I know, she is a product of her mom and dad. Bye, bye.

Dorothy: A very good product.

Jeanette: So, she's the weird one because she's got my weirdness together with Luis’ weirdness. So yeah.

Dorothy: Come on, like this is what we were talking about. You just embraced the weirdness and look what amazing thing came out of it, like, yeah, exactly.

Jeanette: So, as I was saying, pitch successful and what happens then? How do you follow up? what do you do? How best to proceed from then?

Dorothy: OK, so uhm we usually create this two-minute almost like it's almost like an ad. It's not the usual 15 slides, long conversation because sometimes you don't get time to do 15 slides and you also want to keep them hungry. So, very good feedback after the pitch is done is when you hear OK, tell me more. So, that's what I know we can put a check mark next to it. We're done with the first assignment. The second part of how we work with our clients is to, OK, now build, let's build a case. Now they are curious. They are excited. They care about us. Let's help them with the information what they need. So, then we switch formats, and we just provide a very digestible and easy way to understand the numbers, because in 2 minutes you can't possibly introduce the financial part of the company and all the details, but it's and it's also not suited to a conversational format like you have to see the numbers. So, again, if you have your audience in mind, if you're being really empathetic with them, it would be really hard for them to understand and remember your revenue just by you telling them. So, it's easier to just create a document and this is something that I never seen someone else do to separate the two steps of getting them engaged and providing the information so for us that's the second step and then it's that's where we stopped for a while before we move on to an actual grand strategy, hopefully with a founded startup.

Jeanette: I hope whatever is listening is taking down notes, because last but not least, can you touch upon some really actionable, you know, tangible points, some takeaways, things to think about, things to consider, maybe for the different stakeholders as well, if you're a part of the general public who's getting pitched to by a local council, by the government, or a business owner, or designer. What would be these little points to keep in mind?

Dorothy: I would go back if I could change one thing in the business world altogether I would, I know that you say, well, don't mix emotions in it it's business. I would mix a lot of emotions in business. I would make it more fun, more emotional, more happier, sometimes more sad. I would be any person that takes part of doing business, if they would do it with more empathy, we would have happier people and better businesses.

Jeanette: This was Dorothy Fulop, and you are listening to the Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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