It has all of the excitement of the big game, the high school play and your first illicit smoke rapped up in one. It’s “all you can eat night” at the adrenaline junkie café.

I’m talking about the night before the pitch for the big piece of business—it could be the final interview in an RFP process, a proposal meeting with the big prospect or the next step with your biggest client. Regardless, it’s show time and you and your team, (which could be no more than your pet, yourself and your coffee pot), are up late getting ready with all of the final details.

I’ve been through it a million times and I’ve watched dozens of clients go through it. This experience has taught me some key things that you should do to get it right in getting ready. But before I do that, let me share my worst mistakes ever…

• Opening the shrink-wrap on a software package that we had decided to use to create some of the elements of the next day’s pitch for the first time at 2am the morning of the meeting.

• Taking the red-eye from one pitch to get to the next pitch – that day I got the names, business issues and even the terms of the deal mixed up so badly that the prospect asked us to come back in the afternoon when we were a little clearer on the details (this one is so painful, almost 20 years later I can hardly write about it)

• Taking a team of the CEO, CFO and COO to a meeting on which they had not adequately been briefed, assigned roles and gone through a Murder Board exercise (see below). They spent the majority of the meeting arguing with each other on the assumptions in the presentation in front of the client.

I’m not going to tell you that you should have prepared beforehand and that it is about organization and planning, blah, blah, blah. You already know all of that and you’re still pressed for time up until the last minute. What I will tell you is that if you focus on the wrong things, you may get through the pitch well, but you may hurt your chances of getting the business.

Here are the right things to prepare …

Who’s the “Shoe?” In Vegas, when you’re playing cards, the cards are dealt by the dealer from a box called “the shoe.” In our terms, whoever is playing your master of ceremonies is the shoe—he or she is managing the meeting and the movement through the presentation as well as fielding the questions from the audience and selecting members of the team to answer. There can only be one shoe in a meeting for your team—pick them early in the process so that you can always ask this question in preparation to that person: “Do you understand this and can you run this part of the meeting?”

People over slides. Lots of preparation I see is around the presentation slides—as if the slides will tell the story. They don’t. So work the people hard. So much so that you can cut slides. What will they say? What prop will they use? And what questions will they ask the group you’re pitching? REHEARSE YOUR PEOPLE’S QUESTIONS TO THE AUDIENCE.

Murder Board. Everyone on your team has a secret fear that he or she might be the one to screw up. Ask this question to yourself and your team: What questions could they ask us in this presentation what would absolutely kill us? Then make certain you have the questions answered well and the person responsible for answering the question assigned. A fast, strong answer to a killer question is a great tone setter for the meeting.

Never trust your technology demo. Be prepared to pitch without smoothly transitioning if it blows up. I have seen techno demo become techno-drama several times. It may be an important part of your pitch. It might even be the whole reason for the meeting, but if it blows up, you have to be prepared to address it and move on.

Get 5 hours of sleep. You don’t need a full night’s sleep. But adrenaline and caffeine work better with a foundation to sit on and 5 hours of sleep will give it to you.

If you are a part of big pitches, you may have some of your own war stories to share. I would love to hear them.


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