Oren Klaff, the legendary investment banker and author of Pitch Anything and Flip The Script, has closed well over $1 billion in deals.
All he needs is 20 minutes to take control of any meeting, deliver a pitch, and regularly walk away with millions of dollars of funding. How?
With his method of “frame control,” rooted in human psychology, which commands interactions and gets incredible results — even if the audience is hostile.
I chatted with Oren to share how you can control meetings, what you should never say during a pitch (that everyone else does), and how you can take action and start winning more deals right now:
Imagine walking into a room to deliver a pitch and, immediately, they say to you: “I’m sorry, what’s your name again? What was this about? I didn’t see it on the schedule. I got another meeting to run to, it got pushed. I really only have about half an hour.”
What do you do? How do you shake it off? And how do you walk out of there with a deal in hand?
That’s what Oren often has to overcome when pitching to massive firms.
“Starting from that point to having someone write you a check for $5 million, you learn how to pitch anything,” Oren explains. “When you walk into somebody else’s office and you take control of their environment where they’re responding to you and you’re not responding to them, that’s ‘frame control.’”
Frame control is about introducing fresh, novel, humorous, and interesting perspectives, called “frames,” to business situations that make people pay attention to you, have them take you seriously, and convey the sense that you have high status and are a peer.
Because in all his years of work, here’s what Oren learned: You walk into a room and, almost always, the buyer believes that they have a higher status than you—and that’s a problem.
“They have the money, they control the contract, and they feel that they can find 15 of you, whether you sell plumbing supplies or you have an Internet startup you’re raising money for,” Oren explains. “They feel like they’re the king and they’re there to award you the money so therefore you have to prove to them your value.”
So what do most people do when that inequity exists and the buyer feels they have all the power? The seller supplicates. Oren gives a humorous, fictitious example of what someone might say when they have zero status:
“Thank you for letting me have this meeting with you. I’ve been excited for this meeting and really prepared hard for it and I hope, Mr. Buyer, that when you see the quality of my company and my presentation, you’ll become a customer of ours. And if you do become a customer, you will be the happiest customer in the world. I will bend over backward to make you happy. As a matter of fact, I will give you my Mom’s cell phone number; if you can’t find me, you can call her on a Sunday afternoon. I will come in and service your computer, make you happy, do whatever you want. We’re here to make you happy.”
Yet when you supplicate, all you do is you further the existing frame where buyer thinks they own you, control you, and determines your fate. It perpetuates that they have high status and you, therefore, have low status.
“That is the worst possible setup that you can sell into,” says Oren.
From his research and experiences, as well as many experiments in the real world and in psychology, when you have low status, people are less likely to believe what you say is true. On the other hand, the higher status you have, the more someone believes what you say is true and the more likely they are to buy from you.
“Most of the work we do is just trying to get the presenter, salesperson, and the pitchman to get up to being a peer of the buyer as opposed to being a subordinate of the buyer,” Oren explains. “If you communicate to the buyer that your his peer, even if he gave you a check at that moment, you wouldn’t take it because you don’t know enough about him to take that check.”
That’s why the first step is to lower the buyer’s status and raise yours.
Stop Saying Certain Words
To improve your status during a pitch, Oren helped me build a Devil’s Dictionary: The things you don’t say anymore in meetings.
“On the top of that list is ‘thank you,’” Oren explains. “You flew across the country, you drove across town, you spent hours preparing a presentation, and you took time out of your day for no guarantee of pay to come help that buyer understand and gain some of the knowledge that you have. Why the fuck would you tell them ‘thank you’ for you having to spend all that time for no guarantee of making money? They should be thanking you.”
He also scrapped words and phrases like:
- I appreciate
- I appreciate the time
- It’s great to see you
- What do you think?
- Is that something you’ll be interested in?
- What price were you thinking about?
“Remove the question mark,” Oren adds. “In an average 45-minute meeting that I’m in, I will not ask questions of the buyer; I will allow them to give their opinion, but I’m not asking them questions.”
But it begs the question, “If those are in the Devil’s Dictionary, what is it that we do say?” Wouldn’t it be so rude and insensitive to walk into someone’s office and not use these common greetings?
He offered a practical example of something you can say — without using the Devil’s Dictionary — that is a reasonable, straightforward, and fair:
“Hey guys, it’s good that we can each find the time to meet today. I know you’re incredibly busy as are we. We just launched Version 2.0 of Product X and the market is keeping us busier than we have resources to respond with. I’m glad I could find the time to meet with you today.
I see it’s just cresting 2pm and we said we’re going to kick this off. Does anyone need fluids in or out? If not, let’s get started. Why don’t you tell Joe, Mr. Big CEO, that we’re going to get started if he wants to pop in. Otherwise, he’s going to be playing catch-up.”
“The reality is if Warren Buffet can say it, if Alan Greenspan can say it, if John Doerr, the Founder of Kleiner Perkins can say it, then you can say it,” says Oren. “Those guys don’t want to take advantage of people — they have a personal brand. They do things that are plain vanilla, businesslike, and straightforward. Grown-up businesspeople go:”
“We agreed to meet at 2pm. It’s 2pm. Why don’t you get the rest of your people and we can kick this thing off. Does anybody need a cookie or a bottle of water? If not, let’s get started. We have to get out of here by 3pm and have another meeting to jump to and we got a lot to cover, even in the first 20 minutes.”
As Oren explains, nobody will look at you twice other than with respect and, by the way, you didn’t have to say, “thank you,” “please,” or “I appreciate” during that whole process.
“That’s something that you can do without getting everybody mad and have people respect you,” he says. “Your status goes up when you start a meeting the way meetings are supposed to be held.”
Create A Time Constraint
For example, there’s an extremely common problem for most pitches:
“In my experience, meetings start to get on this track that’s very predictable,” Oren explains. “After 15 or 20 minutes, it’s pretty clear where it’s going. The buyer generally knows at that point what your product is, where your pricing is, the meeting just sort of winds its course down a track and the buyer knows where that track goes.”
The problem with having predictable meetings, however, is the audience will stop paying attention to your pitch. That’s why it’s important to get frame control in the room so you can have the buyer start reacting to you.
“One way to get it is with the ‘time constraint,’” Oren explains. “Buyers know that the seller will stay in a meeting as long as he can so you don’t just go, ‘Hey I’ll stay here as the meeting wobbles to a messy conclusion.’ You don’t have to be snotty. Just say:”
“Look, it just so happens that at the end of the year we are so busy and I’m thinking this is the right agenda. For the first 20 minutes, will pitch you our product and our company, we’ve got that prepared, and we can zip through that in a way where you can be happy.
Then I’ll give you some time to reflect, ask questions, and we could see if it’s a fit for each other and how well our circles overlap. And if it makes sense, we can choose some points to move forward and agree on the next steps.
Then we got to scoot to our next scheduled meeting and let you get back to work. But I think we’re going to have a fun time together in a little bit a time that we made for each other today.”
Don’t Chase Them
“People want what they can’t have,” Oren states. “That is a fundamental characteristic of the human condition.” It’s the chase that people want and, once people get what they desire, it’s not as valuable anymore.
“That’s why, when you walk in a room and say, ‘I’m here to sell you and all you have to do is say yes and I’ll take your check,’ you’re lowering your status and the meeting is not likely to go anywhere,” he explains. “Because they know they have you, they can get it at any time, and they start to lord over you and control you.”
He gives an advanced example of him in London, in the lobby of an ad agency that just did an acquisition and finished a $20 million renovation of their building. He walked with the CEO of the firm through the lobby and said to him:
“I really like the way you started doing the renovation. I’m excited to see when it’s finished, but it’s good to see you started it and got a little bit of something going. Maybe I’ll come back in here in 3–4 months when it’s a little bit further and more well-developed.”
“That is grabbing frame control because that is not the start of a meeting he’s expecting from somebody who’s trying to sell him services,” Oren says. “Now, you have to know what to do with that because if you carry it too far, he’s going to be insulted so you have to carry it the other way and make it humorous, but that is advanced frame control.”
Oren left me with two simple tips that you can do right now to start taking frame control in your life:
- Build your own devil’s dictionary — the things you don’t say anymore.
- On your next meeting, say:
“I’m glad we could make the time to meet with each other. I’ve got a little less than an hour today. It would probably make sense to get kicked off. In terms of an agenda, for the next 15 -20 minutes, I’d like to take you through an agenda that we’ve prepared.”