Insights + tips

Get a connection in online pitches

" No one will ever say to you 'I feel like you listen to me too much and understand my needs too well' "

‘How can I get an emotional connection online?‘ is one of the most frequent questions I get in the Q&A at the end of a keynote or workshop.

Getting an emotional connection online is clearly an, er, emotional subject in itself – I recently conducted an online poll on LinkedIn asking people whether they thought that getting an emotional connection online was easier, about the same, or harder. Within the first hour, I had over a hundred responses with the clear majority saying that it was harder to get an emotional connection online.

Suddenly, the world was thrown into chaos and my client faced several serious problems at once:

  • Their audience was not ‘tech-savvy’ and would need to be educated on the switch to virtual calls
  • Meetings would, by their nature, become formal and more structured.
  • A key outcome of the meeting – building rapport and connection was going to be much, much harder to achieve.

I asked to watch one of the calls and what I saw was absolutely awful, and that phrase is the polite version of what was actually going through my mind.

However, it wasn’t awful because of the obvious reasons of the difficulty with online tech, or the fact that the meeting was more formal and structured – it was because the person running the meeting hadn’t made any adjustments for the new medium, he was trying to replicate what he used to do in ‘real’ meetings in a new, and unfamiliar environment.

For the first 10 minutes, he tried to engineer some small talk – the usual salesperson stuff ‘How are you today?’ ‘How are your kids?’ ‘Isn’t the weather awful?’ However, the peculiar nature of the online environment meant that this small-talk decreased his emotional connection – it was stilted, forced and awkward.

I learnt several things from this:

  • Online is a new environment and, as Darwin taught us, you have to adapt in order to survive.
  • Most people need some emotional connection before they really beign to listen to you and believe you. It’s almost impossible to believe someone if you don’t have *some* kind of emotional connection with them first.
  • Empathy is a key word here. If someone knows that you are truly listening to them, and understand theirneeds it will be always be easier to have a true and meaningful connection with them.


  • Prepare in advance of the meeting. Online, you don’t have any opportunity to waffle, or engage in small talk which isn’t useful to the other person. Of course, you may need some small talk at the beginning of a meeting, but you need to do in 2 minutes what used to take ten. In a sales call situation, you must be clear before the call on the problems your prospect is facing, you must know how to articulate your solutions to those problems in ways which are meaningful and memorable, and you must be clear on what action you want someone to take as a result of this call. Role-play can be very useful here.
  • Remember the old phrase – ‘facts tell, but stories sell. Use stories, case studies, metaphors, images, and so on – you don’t need to tell long, rambling tales but using visual imagery, short narratives and quick comparisons can make your points easy to understand and remember, which really helps to build rapport.
  • Focusing on needs can be a great way to build rapport. These 4 needs needs are particularly powerful in a sales environment: 1. The need to be heard and understood (people need to know that you’re genuinely engaged with their world) 2. The need to feel stable and in control (the world is a chaotic place, and online meetings can be clunky and distracting) if you can give people a feeling of stability sand control (for example, precise timings, pre-call information, clear processes and transparency) you’ll get better emotional engagement. 3. The need to feel special and important. All of us love getting a free coffee at Pret, an upgrade at the airport and *that* special armband to the VIP section of a party. Let the person on the call know that they’re important – both in the words you use and also in your behaviour – being punctual, bering prepared, being respectful of their time, and so on. 4.The need to belong and contribute. Very few of us want to feel like we’re a commodity, or a meaningless cog in some vast machine. If you can help show people that you’re working together to create somehting that you’re both a part of, it’s a terrific way to build rapport online.
  • Emotions are contagious – your audience will pick up on your enthusiasm and belief (or lack of it!) through the way your voice sounds, and your face looks. In the online environment, you’re in permanent ‘close-up’ and you have the power to strongly affect another person. Rehearsing is the key here – film yourself rehearsing a pitch or presentation and watch it back to see whether or not you’d be emotional engaged in the right way.

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