Pain, nerves and getting over it.
So, you need a pitch.
Once upon a time, pitching sounded like the worst thing in the world to me.
It made me think of school presentations – standing at the front of the class and not really sure what you’re doing there.
Knowing you’re being judged, not just by the class but by the teacher. Eugh, it makes me feel embarrassed just thinking about it!
But the idea of pitching was worse than that, for me at least. Because I thought pitching was selling. And I had some very negative ideas about what selling was: coercion at best and lying at worst! I don’t like forcing people to do things, I don’t like influencing them to buy stuff they don’t need. And I don’t like making something seem more than it is. Pitching just seemed so dangerously close to my idea of what selling was that I avoided it as much as possible.
But gradually I learned that this isn’t what selling has to be like, and it isn’t what a pitch needs to be either. A pitch is a conversation. It’s about clarity, and it’s about persuasion, but principally it’s about offering something to help the person you’re pitching to.
In this guide, we’re going to look at what’s important in a pitch, with a lot of specially selected examples from great speakers, coaches and pitchers. Hopefully, they’ll make you feel more comfortable about your pitch – they definitely helped me!
The first is Chris Westfall on the art of the elevator pitch and answering “so what?” questions. Elevator pitches for art students aren’t the focus of this guide by a long shot, but Chris’ advice in this video is a great introduction to the mindset of presenting yourself well and pitching your idea effectively. We’ll be looking at a few more elevator pitch examples below – they’re a great distillation longer business pitches and a good way to get yourself thinking about yours.
Why is a business pitch important
A pitch is your chance to tell that special, special person about your business. That person is special because they’re the one that can help you make the business happen. So it’s no surprise that a lot of people find the idea of writing a pitch intimidating. On the surface, a pitch is all about impressing someone so that they’ll give you money. But as I mentioned above, a pitch is part of a conversation. It’s telling a story. Some people will be interested in that story, some won’t be. But if you can find a way to tell a story about your idea that is enticing, exciting and grounded in real opportunities, you will make an impressive pitch indeed.
First off, a distinction. There are 2 kinds of pitches – short and ultra-short!
Ultra-short – the ‘elevator pitch’ (guess that’s a ‘lift pitch’ for us Brits)
- Takes 30-60 seconds, “the time it would take to read a tweet”
- Abundantly clear, informative, interesting
- Prelude to a further conversation
Short – the business pitch presentation
- Takes 5-20 minutes
- May use a ‘pitch deck’ – a media presentation
- Clear flow, each part building on the last
- Designed to excite listeners
- Has accompanying documentation
- Prelude to in-depth discussion
You need to consider both of these. After all, you can’t always control the conditions you end up giving your pitch in.
Being able to tell your story quickly and concisely is a great way to grab interest and arrange a further conversation. But you won’t seal a deal with an elevator pitch – any serious investor needs more information. This is where the business pitch comes in. It’s longer (but not too long), structured and backed up by a presentation and documentation, which you will need to prepare in advance for your audience.
What a business pitch should include (and what it shouldn’t)
Generally, an effective pitch should tell a coherent story, provide memorable details and excite its audience. Here’s an example:
Josh Light’s fast, energetic elevator pitch will get your heart racing! While this kind of style flies too close to the sales-wind for my liking, you can’t deny the energy of this pitch. He gets across a load of memorable, simple information that flows well together to tell a coherent story.
So, not every pitch is going to be like this. This is a competition-pitch. In most cases you won’t need this kind of high-octane delivery. Most pitches are going to be more structured, more detail-heavy perhaps, with a presentation to back them up.
And this brings us on to pitch decks.
I keep on hearing about the importance of a pitch deck wherever I go. It sounds a bit 80s don’t you think? Something Patrick Bateman might get printed on expensive paper. Or maybe a bit Windows 95? And it kinda is. The “deck” was originally a deck of papers or slides used as part of a presentation.
Today, a pitch deck is the media presentation you might give on a screen while you give your pitch – usually still in the form of static images via Powerpoint or Keynote. The cards of the “deck” are the pages of the presentation. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t get a bit more imaginative with your pitch deck than just static pages – but remember it’s you who’s pitching – not your pitch deck. Your pitch, the carefully crafted words coming out of your mouth, has to be the focus of the pitch. Anything displayed in your presentation should accompany and complement what you’re saying but not dominate the pitch. A pitch deck should deliver information but not be overwhelming.
It’s a great idea to send your pitch deck (in .pdf format, definitely not anything editable like Word) to your audience either before or after your presentation. Given this, it’s important that your pitch deck tells a good story and contains enough information in itself to make sense without you there to present it!
How you assemble your pitch deck will depend on the kind of presentation you are giving. Here are some items that commonly appear in pitch decks:
- Market and opportunity
- Business model
- Marketing plan
- Sales plan
- Partnerships, advantages and competition
The biggest piece of advice I can give when making a pitch deck is to avoid doing what I’ve just done. Bullet points, lists, word-overload in general is to be avoided. If people can’t get immediate information from looking at your pitch deck then that’s just time they’re spending not listening to the great pitch you’ve put together. Keep information key, use images as much as possible.
Further below, you’ll see some great video examples of pitches, each with different approaches to pitch decks. Sometimes the best pitches don’t need a complex pitch deck – Steve Jobs’ famous minimalist style of presenting is dramatic, memorable, and doesn’t involve a single bullet point.
So, what shouldn’t a pitch include? Well while a business pitch may sound like a business plan, it’s primarily a way of engaging people with your business. As such, delving into details tends to bore people, even if they have the best of intentions towards you. Explanations that don’t follow on from your previous points should be avoided. This doesn’t mean you can’t get complicated or nuanced ideas across – after all, complexity could be the foundation of the idea you are pitching. The key is to measure the information you deliver and the way you deliver it to your audience. Find what they find interesting in advance, and then adjust your pitch to suit.
What makes a business pitch effective?
When you’re making a business pitch, play to your strengths. Remember, a pitch is part of conversation, it’s storytelling. So don’t try and force your presentation into a style that doesn’t fit with you, or with your business.
While a pitch should be personal, you also need to consider the people you’re pitching to. A pitch isn’t just a speech delivered at thin air – who you are talking to really matters.
Marcelo Bravo’s (short form) presentation on the perfect pitch is part of a larger talk that’s well worth your time. His central message is something armchair pitchers should pay close attention to…
Before you launch into a business pitch, spend some time researching the people you will be pitching to. If you are pitching for finance, investors will be looking for a solid business case, but also one which captures the imagination. And the best ways to capture imagination can be very specific. You can’t guarantee that everyone you meet will love your idea in the way you love it. But finding the problem you can solve for other people and expressing both the problem and your solution to the problem in terms that your audience understand are critically important.
If you are a startup, you’ll need to not only pitch a creative idea but also prove that you’ve given thought to sound tactics and strategy to make your business work in reality and not just on paper. Without existing business expertise and existing sales figures to leverage, startups need to be explicitly clear about their financial plans. This is easier said than done of course, but planning tools like Brixx help to make this possible.
In terms of general advice and inspiration, Chris Westfall has a lot to offer. His short talk on twists and using new perspectives without resorting to gimmicks is well worth a watch.
The best way to end your business pitch
The opening and closing lines of a pitch are incredibly important. The best pitches end with an invitation, not a ‘close’. It’s a conversation, not a hard sell. You’re not here to give a lecture (…unless you are).
David Rose’s Ted talk on pitching to venture capitalists tells it far better than I could. Take a look:
I hope you’ve had a fun time learning about business pitches!