You've made it this far – congratulations! You have a meeting with a decision maker. But you haven't even scratched the surface. You think you're a ball of nerves calling them up on the phone or sending a cold e-mail? Try showing up with a handshake and a smile, knowing that the fate of your business and all of your hopes and dreams hang on your ability to deliver in that one little half hour. Nervous, much?

Don't worry – we've got you covered. Here are the most important things you need to know about pitching:

Asking Someone If They Can Make the Decision

Just because you went through the hard work of finding a decision maker and scheduling a meeting doesn't mean that people can actually make the decisions you need. Coming out and asking, "Are you able to make a decision on this?" is actually liable to get you lied to half of the time. People – especially those in a rigid corporate hierarchy who are speaking to a complete stranger – have a hard time admitting when they don't have the power to make a deal happen. So all too often, you'll get lied to so that they can protect their ego, and then they'll just never call you back. It's not a class act, but it is the way most people operate.

Change the way you ask. Here are three variations on the question that are more likely to yield the information you're trying to squeeze out of them:

  • 1Use the passive voice. "When decisions like this get made, who is usually involved?"
  • 2Beat around the bush. "What's the usual process for making a decision on offers like this?"
  • 3Fish for names. "Is there anyone else on your team who would be interested in learning about this offer?"

Tell a Story

People have been telling stories as long as we've had language – in fact, it's likely that a large part of our linguistic capability is due to our propensity for combinatorial fiction. Who knew? Besides people with English degrees, that is.

Well, you can put the power of storytelling to work for you in your pitch, as well. Stories activate more parts of our brain when we're listening than a rote repetition of facts, so we're more likely to engage with stories –and storytellers.

To effectively incorporate storytelling into your pitch, use the following tactics:

  • 1Write it out first. Of course, you can't stick to a script, but if you read a story several times before going into the meeting, you'll be able to rattle it off correctly and quickly when the moment is right. Study up so you don't forget a crucial part of the story – the last thing you want to have happen is to get them hooked, and then leave them hanging while you fumble for the denouement.
  • 2Plan story intervals when possible. If you know that a pitch has long stretches without much to engage the person you're meeting with, try to schedule a story when you're writing your pitch out beforehand. As long as you can launch into it in an organic way that doesn't sound like you planned it, it can be an effective tool for re-engaging a decision maker whose attention has begun to wander.
  • 3Make yourself personable and likeable. Tell a story that spins an image of you as a folksy, neighborhood problem-solver – not a slick salesperson. Whenever possible, tell stories from early in your career, and take the opportunity to self-deprecate at any possible moment. People relate to each other's flaws, not their strengths, so don't swagger into a story intending to flare your peacock feathers; use it to illustrate your decency and (if you have any) humility.

Know When To Shut Up

Ever heard that old saw about silence being golden? It's doubly so in a business development pitch. This is because people naturally get uncomfortable whenever there is a period of silence with a new acquaintance. Since they don't know what to do – and they feel compelled to fill the silence – they'll start talking.

If they're holding back on looking interested in order to preserve the leverage, or holding out on other information that might be useful to you, you can purposefully deploy silence to prompt them to tell you what's on their minds. However, you've got to do it skillfully.

First off, what information do you want from them? Their interest level? Their budget? Once you've figured that out, pick a point in your conversation to make a leading statement about that information, then quickly go silent. Eventually, your counterpart will crack and give you the information you're looking for.

Of course the hardest part of this tactic is maintaining silence yourself. It's going to be weird and uncomfortable – get used to that – but if you can start putting silence to work for you, you'll have a powerful new pitching tool in the toolbox.