Pitching – how you frame and communicate your need – is essential to getting what you want.
I’ve been thinking about pitching for many years to support the entrepreneurs I work with win competitions, create partnerships and raise funding. Pitching skills help us get what we want beyond starting a new business or initiative. We pitch when we present ourselves for a job interview, market our product, tell our colleagues our new idea or try to get kids to clean their rooms!
There are many resources available that explain what to include for the content of the pitch. This may differ slightly depending on situation, but generally we need to be able to explain the value proposition, revenue model/incentive, team and relevant capabilities and high-level plan of action.
However, when listening to pitches, I’m often reminded of Maya Angelous’ quote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Below are some of the less tangible things I’ve learnt about successful pitching:
Pitching starts from first contact – any interaction you have whether on phone, email or written document should all be seen as part of your pitch and create a coherent and compelling narrative. Everything you do builds (or takes away from) credibility and connection. A rude or badly thought-through email before the pitch can create a poor impression. Ask yourself what story you are telling through each interaction and adjust if necessary.
Prepare for the moment you walk into the room – be sure to present your best self before you start. How are you holding yourself? What are you wearing? What is your non-verbal communication? How are you standing? You can only create one first impression… someone who slopes into the room looking hung-over and wearing only one shoe, may not get the desired response! What first impression do you want to create?
Check in with yourself – know why you want this and be clear which part of your psyche is motivating you. Projects and ideas motivated by ego and anger may lose momentum. Those by a deep connection to the outcome or a curiosity about self are generally easier to sustain. People support people and likeability is a huge, sometimes unconscious, part of any assessment. Be authentic. Why am I doing this and what do I need to do to bring my best self to it?
Be prepared – to explain your project or idea succinctly against any criteria set out. Make sure your ‘ask’ is clearly articulated. I find the business model canvas or other similar tools useful to ensure I have thought through all aspects of a proposition. Trying different pitch types e.g. pitching using the Pixar style or for a TED talk are useful preparation. Practice both words and gestures. Create a prototype to test/prove the concept. Am I ready for anything?
Know your protagonist – who is this idea benefitting? Do they care? What do they have to say about it? An idea needs to centre on an ‘end-user’, ‘beneficiary’ or ‘customer’. There are lots of great design thinking tools that allow you to think through any idea from the protagonists’ viewpoint. This is critical to the success of any idea. Who is this idea for and why do they care?
Check in with your audience – are they ‘getting it’? Should you pause to connect with them? Are you speaking ‘their language’ (this may be by competence e.g. finance or marketing, their orientation e.g. expressive, quiet or literally cockney, northern, etc.). Have you identified and clearly communicated what’s in it for them? Can you get them to interact with and thereby connect with the idea? A good way to do this is to ask a question e.g. “How many of you travelled here by bus this morning?” Am I connecting with my audience?
Be self-aware – check if you need to flex your style i.e. to minimise or maximise personal attributes e.g. hand gestures, enthusiasm, aggression, quiet confidence, etc. Check your confidence level – there is something different about saying ‘we are trying to’ vs ‘we will’. Are you over-using ‘filler’ words such as “some”, “like”? These are indicators of a lack of confidence, conviction or preparation. How am I being in this moment?
Bring the idea to life – use graphs, stories, prototypes, story boards, lego and movies to help explain your idea. I’ve seen people bring cooking to a pitch for a new restaurant, create a future magazine cover for a social project and design a prototype of a new wind turbine with toilet rolls to explain their concepts. Creating an experience is very powerful. Make sure it adds to your idea not distracts from the pitch. Can I explain my idea in a creative way?
Keep it simple – know what your ‘big idea’ is and be able to explain it in a single sentence. It might be helpful to list our context, complication, solution beforehand in order to be clear on the problem it solves and the value it adds. Don’t have more than 3 points in your pitch. Be clear on your 3-5 key messages and ensure these are communicated. Test your pitch on unusual suspects – your kids or the pizza delivery man. This will force you to simplify your message and check your language. What is the one key takeaway for my audience?
Don’t be afraid of questions – you ‘own’ the conversation. Any answer is a good one if delivered with authenticity, humility and openness. The delivery is often more important than the content. If you don’t know the answer – be honest – but come up with a plan to get the answer. Typical questions pick up on risks, stakeholders, customer needs, capabilities and funding. Can I stay calm and connected to my belief in this idea no matter what?
Creating a successful pitch is as much about your personal preparedness and mindset as it is about your revenue model (we rarely believe your ‘hockey stick revenue curve’, anyway!). Preparation is all about you – stay true to yourself and authentic in your communication.
And best of luck!
If you have a world-changing idea that needs some help – please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Through the Upstart programme and League of Intrapreneurs we work with intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to shape and scale social innovation. More information about the kinds of businesses we work with and things we do can be found here: Scaling disruption