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Smith Terps Learn to Make the Perfect Pitch with Bill McGowan

Apr 05, 2016
World Class Faculty & Research


The Center for Leadership, Innovation, and Change (CLIC) at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland – in partnership with Smith’s Department of Alumni Relations, the DC/NoVA Alumni Club, and the SmithNY Alumni Club – had the pleasure of hosting Bill McGowan, founder and CEO of Clarity Media Group and author of “Pitch Perfect: How To Say It Right The First Time, Every Time” at events in Washington, D.C., and New York.  McGowan gave presentations to Smith Terps on how to enhance their public speaking skills. Research from CLIC shows that many executives see innovation as essential to growth but don’t always know how to best pitch their ideas.

McGowan, who has trained many high-profile personalities, such as Sheryl Sandberg, Eli Manning, and Jack Welch, gave alumni a number of guidelines for how to captivate their audiences through the art of storytelling. Here are some of the tips McGowan passed along:

  1. Balance abstract points with visual information in order to connect with the audience. Stories drive the abstract points.
  2. Use images, rather than words, in PowerPoint presentations to stimulate the visual part of the brain. This helps speakers to jar their audience out of distraction.
  3. The opening of a presentation is crucial. Strong openings are essential as the presenter makes an impression in the first seven seconds of speaking. Opening presentations with an agenda, rather than a story, is not different or distinct enough to hold the audience’s attention.
  4. Eliminate the use of apologetic language such as “so,” “thought,” “just,” “kind of,” “quickly,” “sort of,” and “probably.” All ideas should be presented with confidence.
  5. Spontaneity is the enemy! Preparation is key as all thoughts need a beginning, middle and end. Practice does make perfect – Steve Jobs gave incredible speeches, but he practiced nearly 70 times before each one!
  6. Use your phone to record yourself and watch how you are doing. This helps you identify rough transitions and see where you lose energy. Athletes even watch footage of themselves during a game – this is how you can improve quickly.
  7. Be concise. The more concise you are, the more impact you make. McGowan calls this the pasta sauce principle. As you reduce a pasta sauce it develops more dynamic and memorable flavor. Stretching the sauce to create more volume makes it bland and forgettable. Lack of conciseness waters down your point.
  8. Warm up before the presentation! Say the first two minutes out loud to warm up your vocal chords and create better transitions.
  9. Be engaged and look happy to be there, rather than neutral. This will help people connect with you and improve chemistry with the audience.
  10. Practice authentic engagement and look people in the eye. Land on someone and connect with them for the entire thought. Divide the room into quadrants and find someone who is an enthusiastic and encouraging listener to look in the eye in each of the quadrants.

To learn more about McGowan’s speaking method, read his book, “Pitch Perfect: How To Say It Right The First Time, Every Time.” The book covers his seven principles of speaking.

To learn more about the the Center for Leadership, Innovation, and Change (CLIC), visit:

- Alison Scharman, MBA Candidate 2017

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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