The Mindset Shift To Take Control Of Any Meeting And Raise Billions
Lessons from interviewing a famous investment banker
Oren Klaff, the legendary investment banker and author of Pitch Anything and Flip The Script, has closed over $1 billion in deals.
All he needs is 20 minutes to take control of any meeting, deliver a pitch, and regularly walk away with millions of dollars of funding.
With his method of “frame control,” rooted in human psychology, which commands interactions and gets results—even if the audience is hostile.
In this interview, Oren explains how to control meetings, what you should never say during a pitch (that everyone else does), his keys to success in a cut-throat industry, and how you can take action today.
What inspired you to write about your experiences and idea of “frame control?”
“The truth is, if you know how to raise money and go into a room and stare down some rude, nasty, bored dudes with a lot of money and don’t want to give it you, and walk out of that room with millions of dollars, you learn about the basic conditions of human psychology.
When you walk into those rooms and the guys say, ‘I’m sorry, what’s your name again? What was this about? I didn't see it on the schedule. I got another meeting to run to, it got pushed. I really only have about half an hour.’
Starting from that point to having someone write you a check for $5 million, you learn how to pitch anything.
When you walk into somebody else’s office and you take control of their environment where they’re responding to you and you’re not responding to them, that’s ‘frame control.’
Now you’re able to pitch anything and take their money.”
I like how your concepts are based on psychology. Tell us about the concepts of frame control and how you discovered them:
“There are thousands of cognitive biases that psychologists study in the lab and then try to turn it into a book or an online website—and they're all interesting.
But can you fucking use them?
In a business context? In a way that's authentic, that's reasonable, that's expected, or surprising, but fair to the other party?
If you go into a billionaire’s office, a hedge fund’s office, a venture capitalist’s office, or your rich uncle, and you try to throw some random cognitive biases that you learned 10 minutes ago at them, you're going to get sent out—with a doughnut.
The space that I come from, I did this for years and observed the occurrence in human psychology that is practical and can be used.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You walk into a room and, in all likelihood, the buyer believes that they have a higher status than you.
They have the money. They control the contract. They feel that they can find 15 of you, whether you sell plumbing supplies or you have an Internet startup you’re raising money for.
They feel like they’re the king and they’re there to award you the money so therefore you have to prove to them your value.
When that psychological set up exists, you come in and say:
‘Thank you for letting me have this meeting with you. I've been excited for this meeting and really prepared hard for it and I hope, Mr. Buyer, that when you see the quality of my company and my presentation, you'll become a customer of ours. And if you do become a customer, you will be the happiest customer in the world. I will bend over backward to make you happy.
As a matter of fact, I will give you my Mom’s cell phone number; if you can't find me, you can call her on a Sunday afternoon. I will come in and service your computer, make you happy, do whatever you want. We’re here to make you happy.’
And when you say that, all you do is you further this contraption that exists of the buyer thinking he owns you, controls you, and can determine your fate.
That is the worst possible set up that you can sell into.
What you perpetuate is the idea that he has high status and, therefore, by definition, you have low status.
What we know from experiment after experiment in the real world, in psychology, and what has existed in the last 2000 years of commerce is that, when you have low status, people are less likely to believe what you say is true.
The more someone believes what you say is true, the more likely they are to buy from you in the higher status you have.
So job one is to lower the buyer’s status and raise yours.
There's some practical ways to do that.
For example, people want what they can't have: That is a fundamental characteristic of the human condition.
Once we have it, it's not really that valuable—it's the chase that we want.
That is why, when you walk in a room and say, ‘I'm here to sell you and all you have to do is say yes and I'll take your check,’ you're lowering your status and the meeting is not likely to go anywhere.
Because they know they have you, they can get it at any time, and they start to lord over you and control you.
Those are some of the basics of psychology I think are important.”
Your approach is so different to what people usually do. Were you scared at first? When did you realize your method actually worked?
“Well, not only was I scared, but I also fucked some major deals up.
I worked for a guy that was very aggressive, very bombastic, very contrarian, and we were in a four-man group. We were doing deals alongside JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, then Bear Stearns, and some of the major bulge bracket banks. He was a contrarian and a natural at frame control and so I learned from him.
More so, he’d let me exercise my superpowers. But the superpowers were really unpredictable early on and I screwed some serious deals up.
Frame control is not something you just learn on this interview and you go out and start slapping billionaires around.
To be practical, why don't we build the Devil’s Dictionary: Things you don't say anymore in meetings.
On the top of that list is ‘thank you.’ There's no need to say thank you.
You flew across the country, you drove across town, you spent hours preparing a presentation, and you took time out of your day for no guarantee of pay to come help that buyer understand and gain some of the knowledge that you have.
Why the fuck would you tell them ‘thank you’ for you having to spend all that time for no guarantee of making money? They should be thanking you.
While we're at it, why don't we just eliminate, ‘Please,’ ‘I appreciate,’ ‘What do you think?’ ‘Is that something you'll be interested in?’ ‘What price were you thinking about?’
Remove the question mark.
In an average 45 minute meeting that I’m in, I will not ask questions of the buyer; I will allow them to give their opinion, but I'm not asking them questions.
Other things you should never say again: ‘It’s great to see you.’ ‘I appreciate the time.’
So it begs the question, ‘If those are in the Devil’s Dictionary, what is it that we do say?’
People think, ‘I can't come into a meeting with a billionaire, a Fortune 500 company, a hedge fund, a venture capital group, and start firing off missiles in their office and letting them know what time it is.’
But a practical way you can do it is say:
‘Hey guys, it’s good that we can each find the time to meet today. I know you’re incredibly busy as are we. We just launched Version 2.0 of Product X and the market is keeping us busier than we have resources to respond with. I’m glad I could find the time to meet with you today.
I see it’s just cresting 2pm and we said we're going to kick this off. Does anyone need fluids in or out? If not, let’s get started. Why don't you tell Joe, Mr. Big CEO, that we're going to get started if he wants to pop in. Otherwise, he's going to be playing catch-up.’
That is a reasonable, straightforward, right down the middle, plain vanilla way.
The reality is if Warren Buffet can say it, if Alan Greenspan can say it, if John Doerr, the Head and Founder of Kleiner Perkins can say it, then you can say it.
Those guys don't want to take advantage of people—they have a personal brand. They do things that are plain vanilla, businesslike, and straightforward.
Grown-up businesspeople go:
‘We agreed to meet at 2pm. It's 2pm. Why don't you get the rest of your people and we can kick this thing off. Does anybody need a cookie or a bottle of water? If not, let's get started. We have to get out of here by 3pm and have another meeting to jump to and we got a lot to cover, even in the first 20 minutes.’
Nobody will look at you twice other than with respect and, by the way, you didn't have to say, ‘thank you,’ ‘please,’ or ‘I appreciate’ during that whole process.
So that’s something that you can do without getting everybody mad and have people respect you.
And your status goes up when you start a meeting the way meetings are supposed to be held.”
The first time I read “Pitch Anything,” it seemed aggressive since frame control sometimes destroys other frames. Tell us how you do it in a fun and humorous way.
“In my experience, meetings start to get on this track that is very predictable.
After 15 or 20 minutes, it's pretty clear where it's going. The buyer generally knows at that point what your product is, where your pricing is, the meeting just sort of winds its course down a track and the buyer knows where that track goes.
They mentally go to sleep and stop listening to what you have and stop paying attention.
That's why it's important to get frame control, to have frame control in the room so you can have the buyer start reacting to you.
One way to get it is with the ‘time constraint.’
Buyers know that the seller will stay in a meeting as long as he can.
You don't just go, ‘Hey I'll stay here as the meeting wobbles to a messy conclusion.’
You don't have to be snotty. Just say:
‘Look, it just so happens that at the end of the year we are so busy and I'm thinking this is the right agenda. For the first 20 minutes, will pitch you our product and our company, we've got that prepared, and we can zip through that in a way where you can be happy.
Then I'll give you some time to reflect, ask questions, and we could see if it's a fit for each other and how well our circles overlap. And if it makes sense, we can choose some points to move forward and agree on the next steps.
Then we got to scoot to our next scheduled meeting and let you get back to work. But I think we're going to have a fun time together in a little bit a time that we made for each other today.’
Now, I can take you through what is super-advanced frame control:
I was in London, in the lobby of an ad agency that was just fucking incredible. They just did an acquisition and did a $20 million renovation of their building and it was done.
I'm sitting with the CEO of the firm in the conference room and we walk through the lobby and I said to him:
‘I really like the way you started doing the renovation. I'm excited to see when it’s finished, but it's good to see you started it and got a little bit of something going. Maybe I'll come back in here in 3-4 months when it's a little bit further and more well-developed.’
So that is grabbing frame control because that is not the start of a meeting he’s expecting from somebody who's trying to sell him services.
Now, you have to know what to do with that because if you carry it too far, he's going to be insulted so you have to carry it the other way and make it humorous.
But that is advanced frame control: Telling someone who just put $20 million into the lobby to make it gold gilded and with $1 million pieces of artwork that it’s a ‘good start’ and you'd like to come back when it's ‘further along.’
But both of those is introducing fresh, novel, humorous, interesting frames or perspectives to business and social situations that make people wake up, pay attention to you, and take you seriously and convey upon you the sense that you have high status and being a peer.
Most of the work we do is just trying to get the presenter, salesperson, and the pitch man to get up to being a peer of the buyer as opposed to being a subordinate of the buyer.
If you communicate to the buyer that your his peer, even if he gave you a check in that moment, you wouldn’t take it because you don’t know enough about him to take that check.”
In your own career, what were of the biggest things you did to become so successful in your industry?
“Here’s what I believe is fundamental to the success that I have:
The grass is always greener on the other side so just choose something and focus on it.
If you look at the real successes you admire today—Dropbox, Craigslist, Business Insider, Tinder—there were iterations of businesses that were public, that were successful, that owned the market when that stuff came out.
They just really focused and ground it out.
Whether you win or lose is too random for you to control.
If you look up at the startup math—if you take a look at Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia, Crosslink, True Ventures, NEA, a16z, any of the top 100 firms, they have hundreds of billions of dollars with massive experience. They can waste money, spend money, and have all the tools in the world.
And they cannot create a success 1 out of 10 times, 1 out of 20 times.
It is impossible for you to expect from yourself that with one try, you’re going to create a Dropbox or you’re going to be the next Yahoo or Google.
It’s not wrong to think that you might—it’s important to have faith, which means the possibility is there.
But it’s also important to be real about your circumstances.
I’ve seen the inside math in these investment scenarios: You need to make 146 bets on very early-stage companies—2 guys a computer and a dog—to get the alpha.
So the reality is you can start eight companies: It’s not enough to move into the mathematical expectation that you would get a win.
(What I mean by a win is that sort of unicorn; go public, exit for $100,000,000, you make $30 million. That cannot be your goal.)
So don’t focus on that.
The world is too random. Business is too difficult. There’s too much competition.
Just focus on doing good work, that’s important, that you’re passionate about, and do it better than anyone else.
Get to the end of the day and take care of your family and your body. I know we all have weeks where we work to midnight and wake up to 6am; I’m not saying never do that. I’m saying, in the long term, take care of your family, take care of yourself, step back, and go:
‘I did the best I could today. That’s real work. I’m willing to put my name on it. It’s the best that could be done, and where it goes, it will go. I’m proud of what I did.’
That would be my advice rather than getting addicted to an outcome, which you cannot control.”
What’s the one thing people can do right now to start taking frame control in their lives?
“Number One: Build your own devil’s dictionary — the things you don’t say anymore.
Number Two: On your next meeting, say:
‘I’m glad we could make the time to meet with each other. I’ve got a little less than an hour today. It would probably make sense to get kicked off. In terms of an agenda, for the next 15 -20 minutes, I’d like to take you through an agenda that we’ve prepared.’”
This article was originally published on medium.