How to be Authentic When Pitching

This week’s blog is from Ilise Benun, great friend of The Creative Coast, author, speaker, founder of and more important, a fountain of useful knowledge for creative professionals and entrepreneurs!  Read on as Ilise shares a few presentation pointers which you will be surprised to hear, and a better speaker for it! FYI – The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonders. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map… .


First, the bad news: this is not an article about the right way to pitch, because there is no right way.

Now, the good news: that means you can find what’s authentic for you. “I think audiences and listeners respond best when they get a really authentic version of you,” says communications coach, Eleanor Handley, of GK Training Communications and speaker at the upcoming conference, HOW Design Live. .

“Genuine Know-How”

The G and the K in the communication firm’s name stand for “genuine know-how” and their aim is to give people repeatable, actionable tools they can use to come across as their most genuine selves, with emphasis on the word genuine. I’ve learned so much from Handley since I met her in Hoboken last year at the New Jersey Tech Meet Up, a monthly event very much like the weekly 1 Million Cups chapter meeting in Savannah. In Hoboken, Handley is brought in to critique the three start ups that pitch at each meeting, to give them feedback — on the spot and in public — with quick tips to improve their pitch. .

Don’t Stifle Yourself

Says Handley, “I think that one of the problems that people run into, particularly in professional and high stakes settings, is that our idea of what good communication is narrows. There’s this idea that you have to be serious and clear and articulate, but that stifles our more authentic selves.” Handley suggests re-framing how we think about pitching and presenting. “Start thinking about presentations as conversations, regardless of how many people you’re speaking to.” The most impactful communicators realize that great communication comes from being focused on the other person, and actually delivering a message. When the focus is turned inward instead — “How do I sound? Do I sound smart? Am I saying that right? Am I pausing long? Am I speaking too quickly?” — that ultimately diminishes your impact as a communicator. .


One of the ideas she brings up very often in her critiques is what she calls “transparency.” “Transparency is this idea that we’re all human beings, and you’d be amazed the latitude an audience will give you if you include them in the experience you’re having. And I’m using that term ‘audience’ to mean the one other person in the room or the 50 people in the audience.” Handley suggests that, rather than letting a mistake distress you or take you off course, like a technical glitch or a slide snafu or even forgetting a big chunk of your material, you can simply say, “Wait, I forgot to say the most important thing. Let me go back.” Or “I’m sorry. I misspoke. Let me start over.” Or even, “I’m feeling a bit nervous today. I’m not used to being up in front of a room with this many people.” In my recent podcast interview with Handley, she even modeled transparency. I asked her a question and she started to answer it, then she said, “Let me start over.” I thought maybe we should edit that out but decided against it because that’s exactly what she says makes us authentic. “You’d be amazed the effect it has. Taking them with you, including your audience, leading them through the experience you’re having, they’ll give you a tremendous amount of latitude.” .

Counter Intuitive?

Handley adds that it actually does a number of things that might seem counter intuitive:
  1. It makes you seem spontaneous, which people love. They love to feel that this is happening in the moment. It’s not just some regurgitated speech you’re pressing “play” on. .
  2. It makes you seem more trustworthy, because you’re able to acknowledge what’s actually happening. .
  3. It shows your listeners that you care. In fact it shows that you care more about providing the information than performing perfectly.
“I’m a big advocate for transparency and I think it’s probably one of the most underutilized tools. We get up there and we feel this pressure to be perfect. But I would like to say, aim for flexibility not flawlessness.” .

The 3 Fs of Transparency

At the same time, there is no need to flag every single glitch for the audience. At GK, they use The 3 Fs of Transparency:
  1. Fake it. If no one knows it’s happened and it’s not going to throw you off completely, let it go and move on. .
  2. Feature it. If you’re particularly quick on your feet, try turning it into a bonus, “Oh, I’m glad I forgot to say that because it gives me time to mention A, B and C.” Or if you can turn it into a joke and get an audience laughing, even better. .
  3. Fix it out loud. Let the audience know what you’re doing. “I’m just going to get these slides working. There we go.” This is probably the most useful one. Just fix it and move on. .

The Take Away

At some point, we all need to present our ideas, whether to a boss, a client, a team or a big auditorium of strangers. And we need to do it with impact and clarity, with confidence and, especially, with authenticity. That’s why I love Handley’s strategies. Try them for yourself next time you have an opportunity. Ilise . Ilise Benun is the founder of, the go-to online resource for creative professionals who want better projects with bigger budgets. She is a national speaker, the author of 7 business books, including The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money, a business coach, host of the Get Better Clients Bootcamp and a Program Partner for HOW Design Live, adjunct faculty at Pratt Institute and Maryland Institute College of Art. Follow her @ilisebenun, subscribe to the and sign up for her Quick Tips here:]]>

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