[Professional Development] Swimming with the Sharks: Lessons from Reality TV

Features - Business Strategy

Do high-stakes sales presentations make you nervous? These five lessons from the “Shark Tank” will boost your confidence.

June 25, 2013

I must confess to a guilty pleasure — I love the ABC TV show “Shark Tank,” which gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to realize their dreams with a business deal that could be worth millions.

Though “Shark Tank” is highly entertaining — although, at times, unnecessarily brutal — it’s also quite instructional when it comes to high-stakes presentations. With so much on the line, wanna-be entrepreneurs must give the pitch of a lifetime — one that requires them to project confidence, credibility and conviction from start to finish.

Here are five lessons from “Shark Tank” that you can use in your next presentation:

1. Be shark-centric.
Smart entrepreneurs know that their “pitch” is not about their great product or service. Instead, it’s about how the sharks can make money. Rather than making your presentation all about you and your ideas, focus on your audience — what do you need to do to “move” your listeners to take action or try something new?

2. Grab their attention.
The creative hook that participants use to enthrall the judges fascinates me. One of the most memorable is Steve Gadlin who sang and danced his way into the hearts of the sharks as he pitched his company, “I Want to Draw a Cat for You.” While being outrageous may not be your style (or could even be counterproductive depending on the nature of your message), how you introduce your subject is critical. Looking for a strong grabber? Grab some ideas here, but remember — whatever approach you choose, it’s only effective if it is both attention-getting and relevant to your topic.

3. Make it personal.
Every entrepreneur on “Shark Tank” shares his or her personal story about why they developed their product or service. For example, Travis Perry invented the Chordbuddy to help new guitar players like his 10-year-old daughter avoid frustration. With a great back-story and a stellar product, Perry got the attention and the deal he needed to succeed. How can you develop your personal story? Think about how you got started, what hurdles you had to navigate, and what gets you up in the morning.

4. Get them involved. The sharks love it when entrepreneurs give them a taste of their recipe, a funny hat to wear or a chance to try out the new pogo stick.

Think of ways to let your audience experience what you’re talking about first-hand, besides looking at a slide or turning a handout page. There are many different ways to involve your listeners — asking a question, soliciting volunteers or inviting someone to share an example, are just a few.

5. End strong. Have you noticed how every “Shark Pitch” ends with a resounding call to action? While some of them may sound hokey, they work! You want to conclude your presentation with the same strength and determination. Consider a closing that refers back to, or complements your opener, providing a strong conclusion and leaving no doubt about the purpose of your presentation. In Gadlin’s case, he used his catchy song-and-dance to remind judges of the memorable nature of his business idea.

Though reality TV doesn’t often resemble actual reality, in the case of “Shark Tank,” there are important takeaways to be had. Consider applying these lessons to boost your confidence, inspire your listeners and exponentially increase your chances for a high-impact presentation.


Stephanie Scotti of Professionally Speaking has spent more than 25 years coaching corporate executives, business leaders, and sales/marketing professionals on delivering high-stakes presentations. For more information, visit www.professionallyspeaking.net, or call 919/309-0500.


The “Sharks”

“Shark Tank” has become one of the most highly rated shows on television thanks to the engaging personalities of its motley crew of stars — Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, Daymond John and Barbara Corcoran — so-called “sharks” who have become household names thanks to the growing popularity of the ABC reality program, which draws more than 7 million viewers every week.

“The entrepreneurs who dare to enter the ‘Shark Tank’ must try to convince the tough, self-made, multi-millionaire/billionaire tycoons to part with their own hard-earned cash and give them the funding they desperately need to jumpstart their business ideas,” the show’s website states. “But the Sharks have a goal, too. They want a return on their investment and own a piece of the next big business idea.”

One of the breakout stars of “Shark Tank” is Kevin O’Leary, who made a name for himself in the educational software industry before selling his company to Mattel for $3.7 billion. Known as “Mr. Wonderful” to the show’s devotees, O’Leary is the “Shark Tank’s” answer to Simon Cowell, the “tell-it-like-it-is” judge of American Idol fame, who like his musical counterpart will cut you off at the knees if you come unprepared for your moment in the television sun. But when you dig a bit deeper, O’Leary’s bark is usually much worse than his bite.

The self-made entrepreneur from Montreal, Quebec, recently answered a series of questions for a section of the show’s website called “Shark Bites.” Check out the Q&A as a bonus in this month’s iPad edition of PCT, which you can download here: http://bit.ly/VKauEz.