Whether you like it or not, in business you need to pitch. In job interviews you’ll be asked a version of “tell me about yourself” – that’s a pitch. In a corporate environment you’ll need to get the board or stakeholders to buy into your project or idea – that’s a pitch. If you’re selling an idea or a project to a buyer, client, investor or potential partner – that’s a pitch.
A pitch, in all its manifestations, is an introduction to a product, service or idea to an audience who knows little about it.
Pitches can be as short as a couple of minutes (known as an “elevator pitch”) or a longer, more detailed presentation.
The following structure – A, E, I, O, U – will help you shape and focus your pitch to ensure you impress your audience.
Tailor to your audience because it is essential to be able to speak to them in a way that is compelling and relevant to them. That means that you need multiple pitches, one for each type of audience. And you should always adapt and refresh for each audience. Are you pitching to investors? Potential partners? Potential clients? Are you competing in a start-up pitch contest?
Think about what the people in the audience will be looking for from your pitch. It could be an innovative approach or product, savvy financials, a quick buck, a long-term partnership, a dependable employee.
If you have the opportunity to do so, you can find out about the backgrounds of the people you’ll be speaking to through LinkedIn or other sources. Look for commonalities try to gauge what matters to them the most.
By tailoring your message to the audience, you’ll be sure you include the information that they need and you’re more likely to get them interested in hearing more.
Have a clear objective to your pitch. Define how you want the person listening to you to think, feel or do following your pitch. Do you want them to write you a big fat cheque (unlikely?), talk to you some more, introduce you to someone,invite you back, look at your website, book you on the spot?
Having the expected outcome in mind will help you to focus your message. Especially with shorter pitches, being very clear about your expected outcome will help you focus your information to lead your pitch to that end.
Your expected outcome will also directly contribute to your call to action (see point 4 under Information).
This is the content that you include in your presentation. All of the information provided should directly contribute to reaching the expected outcome. Especially with an elevator pitch, when you don’t have much time, you need to focus on what’s essential for that audience and what’s going to hook them to want to find out more.
To help you determine the information you need to provide you can focus on these points:
1) Earning the right – why should they listen to you? What expertise or experience do you have? What’s in it for them?
2) The problem you solve – what pain point are you addressing and for whom? You can include details of consequences and impact if the problem you’re focused on is left unresolved.
3) Your solution and why it is different or unique from others – what exactly are you pitching? Is it your coaching services? A time-saving application? Your design skills? Your upcycling solution?
4) Call to action – this links back to your Expected outcome. Here you need to provide specific instructions to guide the audience into action. These instructions should be tailored to your audience. For example, “come and see me during the break to get a 20% discount on my services”, or “check out our customer testimonials at www.mybusiness.com”, or “Call me on 1234 to arrange a follow up discussion or demo”. You do not need to hard-sell, but aim to trigger interest. Make them curious.
An unstructured presentation will feel confusing to the audience. You need a strong structure to frame the information you present to lead the listeners to the expected outcome and logical call to action.
Opening – start strong, grab the audience’s attention. This can be through a question, audience engagement, an anecdote or quote. Get them intrigued to hear more.
Key points – this is the 1, 2, and 3, from the Information section. Keep the information concise and always focused on your Expected outcome. If it’s not essential to getting the audience there, then leave it out. You can always provide additional information if they want it (through a handout, additional conversation, by directing them to your website, by answering questions at the end of your pitch).
Closing – just as you want to start strong, you want to close with a bang. Entice them to action. Compel them to want to know more. If you can link your closing back with your opening, this will create a sense of resolution for the audience and demonstrate a professional and well-prepared pitch.
Write down the outline. Practice your presentation just speaking to that outline. If you find yourself forgetting key points, then you can write out a script for those areas and try to memorise them.
Chances are you’re not the only pitch the audience is being presented with. You want to stand out and be remembered.
You want to be unique and, therefore, memorable.
One way to ensure you stick in their minds is to include a short story, metaphor or anecdote. People will remember how you made them feel and that can get them to want to talk to you after your pitch. Make sure that the story is relevant to your message, otherwise it will sound gimmicky. It can be a story about yourself. It can be a success story that clearly demonstrates the pain point that you or your product directly addresses.
The other crucial element of being unique is to be you. Be authentic and genuine. You are your own unique advantage. Be that person that this particular audience wants to work with or connect with. Be confident.
To come across in the best possible light you will need to practice your delivery. Practice your pitch out loud. Check that it’s within the time limit if there is one. Just winging it rarely gives you the results you are looking for. Practice your pitch standing up, relaxed and confident, and imagine that the audience is in front of you. By practicing it in front of others and getting feedback before the actual pitch, you will improve your confidence and also your ability to come across the way you want to.
The next time you need to prepare a powerful pitch, don’t forget the A, E, I, O, U format and you’re sure to get the Y (yes)!
I’d like to express my thanks to Margit Takacs, who provided input into the elements included here. We are part of the organising team behind Geneva’s Largest Entrepreneur & Professional Networking meetup which provides a platform for entrepreneurs to practice pitching their products and services to a supportive and diverse group.