Stop Pitching; Don't Make Them Duck

Let's say that your friend Carla calls and asks if you'll be home in the next hour; she wants to stop by to show you "something." You invite her to come on over. You're guessing that she has either a new convertible or collie -- she's been talking about buying both.

When she arrives -- without new car or pup -- she chit-chats a few minutes and then announces, "So are you ready for my big news?"

"Sure. What?"

"I've changed jobs!"

Surprised, you asked the next logical questions: "What happened? When? How do you like it?"

Then two minutes later, she pulls out her laptop and you see it coming -- the sales pitch: "So I'm selling security systems. And I wanted to give you a demo and see if you're interested?"

At this point, would a little protective screen drop down between you: Ooops, how do I get out of this situation?

My guess is that you'd try to keep the two-way conversation going as it had been before she pulled out the laptop to show you her new product: "I didn't know you'd changed jobs -- how did you find it?" "How's the commute?" "Do you like your new boss?"

That ducking reaction occurs almost automatically when we walk into a department store. The sales associate asks, "May I help you?"

You say, "No thanks, I'm just looking."

Two minutes later, you call the sales associate over and say, "Can you help me, please? I'm looking for jeans -- low riders, boot cut. Where can I find those?"

A caller solicits money for a worthwhile cause. What's the immediate reaction? Hang up -- unless you recognize the name and stay on the line long enough to listen.

The typical reaction to a "pitch"? Duck.

My second guess about your persistent friend Carla is that she would answer distracting questions quickly and then try to refocus on the one-directional pitch, telling you about her security systems. But if she were smart, she'd take a cue from your body language, dial it down a few notches, move back into friend mode, pick up the conversational string again, and wait until you expressed interest in seeing her new product.

Pitching -- whether a formal sales appointment, an elevator speech, or a crafted commercial -- causes people to duck. A conversation, on the other hand, invites people to engage and exchange information.

If you intend to persuade -- whether selling financial services in a client meeting or talking about college to your teen in the backyard over barbecue -- make sure you're conversing. Otherwise, people will likely ditch the pitch.