Small talk sabotage: Why banter is killing your pitch


Small talk has long been touted as the gateway to building social connections, breaking the ice, and creating a sense of camaraderie. It’s the bridge we traverse to navigate unfamiliar social waters, the glue that binds us in everyday interactions. But what if I told you that when it comes to pitching, small talk could be your Achilles’ heel?
Jonathan Pease. Supplied.

In a situation where every word and every moment counts, the seemingly innocuous act of engaging in small talk or ‘banter’ with your audience can have dire consequences for the success of your pitch.

Small talk dilutes your message

Small talk dilutes the impact of your communication. It wraps your pitch in a comfortable, cozy blanket when what you truly need is a jailbreak style spotlight to illuminate your unique value proposition.

It creates an atmosphere of familiarity and security, which is precisely the opposite of what a successful pitch should achieve.

Small talk sends a subtle signal to your audience that nothing groundbreaking or exciting is about to happen. It encourages them to sit back and half listen, undermining the very essence of your pitch – the power to motivate and get that illusive YES!

A pitch should be a journey into the unknown with a narrative that leaves your audience on the edge of their seats. It should be an opportunity for you to shine as an outsider bringing something fresh and exciting to the table.

Holding a conversation on an entirely separate topic – such as the weather, traffic, or other day-to-day scenarios – can cause you to lose track of the purpose of the pitch or meeting itself.

Your focus drifts away from the core message, and your confidence may wane as you find yourself entangled in irrelevant chatter.

So, now we know that small talk is risky business, how can you break free from its tempting trap?

Aim for uncommon ground

Presenters often use small talk as a crutch to calm their own nerves and establish common ground with their audience. But here’s the twist: instead of seeking common ground, why not aim for uncommon ground?

The start of any pitch should be a moment where you and your ideas stand out, not blend in. It’s the time to be daring and bold, not run-of-the-mill and ordinary.

I suggest designing the start of your pitch to be surprising and fresh. Begin with a compelling story or a keen observation about the people in the room.

Infuse some witty humour to engage your audience right from the get-go.

Consider the ‘cold opener’ approach, which is where you jump straight to the middle of your content… and then pause, inviting a discussion. This approach grabs your audience’s attention immediately and sets the stage for meaningful dialogue.

Silence over small talk

Never underestimate the power of silence. Yup, plain old silence.

Take a moment to look around the room, make eye contact, and share silent acknowledgments with your (undoubtedly) captive audience.

It’s the direct opposite of laughter padding or overtalking, where presenters feel compelled to fill awkward silences in order to create the illusion of a more relaxed or enjoyable atmosphere. In almost every instance, filler doesn’t pay.

Instead, silence is a clear signal to the audience that you’re so confident you can take all the time in the world and that you’re in control of the pitch rhythm. Breezing straight through the conventions and taking charge of the situation in a fresh, new way can feel thrilling.

Silence is a total power move.

Respect your audience

Avoiding small talk isn’t just about confidence and power. It also demonstrates that you respect your audience’s time and that you’re not willing to waste a second of it.

Chances are you’re pitching to busy people who are making space in their diaries for you. It’s respectful to signal to them from the outset that you’re here to give them something different and high value and worth paying attention to.

There’s no better signal that you mean business: you’re here, it’s important, and they need to pay attention. Because you’re not there to fool around and make small talk.

You’re there to pitch (and win).

Winning the Room by Jonathan Pease is available to pre-order now and is on sale from October 24th and available from Mango Publishing, Booktopia and selected bookstores.

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About Jonathan Pease, author, Winning the Room:

Jonathan Pease, widely known as JP, is a distinguished creative and communications expert with more than 25 years of experience in the marketing and media sectors.

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