Sociologist James Hughes said that "the art of communication is the language of leadership." Nowhere is this more crucial than for individuals pitching an idea whose success often depends less on what is said, than on how it is said.
It can be helpful to think of a pitch is essentially an audition for leadership. Do you deliver your pitch in a way that instills confidence in you and your team? Are you able to communicate your idea, or your vision, with clarity? If you can't answer "yes" to these two questions, then your pitch may not be successful.
Pitching is not just for entrepreneurs seeking investor funding. We all pitch in one way or another, whether pitching a change initiative to your team or a proposal to the board. We all may need to influence someone to adopt our ideas and give us the go-ahead. Pitching can be the most nerve-wracking part of the idea creation process but it doesn't need to be so difficult. Follow these 12 pointers to learn how to find your own path to perfect pitch.
What is a business pitch?
What exactly is a pitch, anyway? In business, a pitch usually refers to the concept of pitching your ideas to an investor or group of investors so they can determine if they should fund your company. In this type of pitch, it’s important to ensure that you convey just enough key information that will grab attention and make the investors want to learn more. A successful pitch involves knowing your products or services and target audience inside and out so that you’ll have confidence when delivering the idea. You’ll also want to include plenty of information on why there is a clear need for your product or service and show that you’ve done market research. Financial projections are often a must, and consider mentioning your team as well to help inspire confidence in your company.
What is the main purpose of developing a business pitch?
The main purpose of a business pitch, in most cases, is to get your business idea across to another party. Sometimes this will be customers or potential clients, other times it will be investors who may be thinking about funding your business. Regardless of who you are pitching to, the main purpose of developing a business pitch is to successfully convey your idea to the audience. For this reason, a successful business pitch must be designed to quickly convey your concepts clearly, showcasing why your idea is solid, and making them intrigued enough to want to learn more.
12 Best Pitch Tips to Make a Business Pitch
Now, let’s take a look at some tips for pitches. See how to make yours stand out.
Get to the point fast.
It’s become popular to say that attention spans have been shrinking. Whether it's the length of books, blogs or videos on social media, generally everything is getting shorter (although podcasts are a welcome exception). One way to meet this reality? Don't waste time with preambles. From the outside, provide your audience with succinct and compelling proposition, and you'll find that you may be better capturing your listeners’ attention at the crucial start of your pitch.
Create a winning pitch deck.
Over the past decade, the general trend in venture capital pitching has been shorter is better. Back in 2013, Leonhard Widrich and Joel Gascoigne, founders of Buffer, used 13 slides to land $500,000 in three months – a challenge to the ‘thorough-is-better’ mentality that at the time many had followed as conventional wisdom. And if you’re thinking about re-working your pitch deck, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. There are many existing templates of from winning decks you may consider starting from available across the internet.
Establish the need.
Often, one of the questions that goes through your listeners' minds when they set out to listen to you is, "What problem are you trying to solve?" Take the time to define that need. Give them a definite, concise statement of the problem, with an example or two illustrating the need. Show them the ramifications -- i.e., how it affects people. Then follow up with your solution to address the need.
Use a message map.
This idea comes from author Carmine Gallo. As he puts it, "If you can’t tell me what you do in 15 seconds, I’m not buying, I’m not investing and I’m not interested." The message map is a tool to help pitch a complex idea, simply and quickly. It helps you explain your idea visually – on one page – in 15 seconds. This involves creating a Twitter-friendly headline, followed by three key benefits to support the headline. It ends with a reinforcement of the three benefits through stories, statistics and examples.
Learn to read the signs that tell you your idea has hit home. The more you continue to talk beyond that point, the more you're likely to say something that can reverse the positive direction.
Use a multilevel structure to your pitch.
In How To Pitch An Idea, Scott Berkun recommends creating three levels of depth in preparing your pitch: 5 seconds, 30 seconds, and 5 minutes. The 5-second version is a concise, single sentence explanation of your idea. In the 30-second version, you explain how you plan to achieve your idea by providing just enough interesting detail to help the audience get a clearer understanding of what you are proposing. Once you are successful in scaling your idea down to 5 and 30 seconds, you can then broaden it to 5 minutes. Brevity is the key to the initial success of a pitch.
State who your competition is.
This is a crucial step. What is your competitive advantage? Show them how what you are pitching is better than what your competitors are offering – or at least, how it is different. Also show any potential entrants in that space. What is your shield against those?
Include a sound bite.
A sound bite is a short, catchy phrase. Most people don't remember data, but they will remember a sound bite. It’s what makes a message stick. It pays to spend time to come up with just the right sound bite to catch your listeners' attention. If you need help in this area, consider Marcia Yudkin's ebook, The Sound Bite Workbook: How to Generate Snappy Tag Lines, Scintillating Interview Quotes, Captivating Book or Article Titles, and Irresistible Marketing or Publicity Handles. This is a practical book for sound bite mastery. The book includes 17 brainstorming ideas that will help you create verbal gems.
Introduce the team.
Your listeners want to have the confidence that you have a solid team to back you up. Some recommend adding the team slide toward the beginning, while others, the end. It doesn't really matter, as long as it's there. Guard against derailing yourself by speaking at great length about every minutiae of the team's accomplishments. Keep it relevant and high level, and consider including photos.
Take "yes" for an answer.
As any seasoned salesperson will tell us, know when to stop selling your idea. Learn to read the signs that tell you your idea has hit home. The more you continue to talk beyond that point, the more you're likely to say something that can reverse the positive direction.
Know your next step.
Practice your follow-up steps as diligently as you practiced the pitch. People often enter the pitching situation with misgivings about their chances of success. A positive response catches them off guard and they sometimes react like a deer caught in the headlights. Come prepared for the next steps. What happens if you get a positive response? What do you want your audience to do? Preparation will help you move forward with confidence.
Learn from others.
One way to hone your pitching skills is to simply watch how others do it. Consider starting with a bit of thinking around what your goal is. Is it to secure funding? Is it to energize your employees? Work backwards by researching not only pitch decks designed for that objective, but also how they’re pitched. How did the speaker relay the information with a voice-over? How did that voice-over complement what was on each slide? Was it interactive? Break down the pitches you find to be personally most compelled by into component parts, and consider borrowing what you liked most when shaping your own approach.
There's a fine line between showing intense passion for your idea, product or service, and showing nervous fear of losing out. While a little anxiety is understandable, letting it take hold of you will work against you. It can make you adopt an attitude of begging, which can do more harm than good.
FAQs on How to Write a Business Pitch
How do you write a business pitch?
When pitching your idea, product, story, or business, it’s important to keep a few key factors in mind. One is to ensure that you know your product, business idea, or story from top to bottom so that you can pitch with confidence. Next, make sure you establish a clear need, and highlight how your product or service helps to solve that. Ensure that you have a clear understanding of your target audience, your competition, and what problems your solution solves. Make sure you include financial projections and mention the team that you’re working with as well.
What are the different types of business pitches?
There are a few different types of business pitches:
- Investment pitch: An investment pitch is when you pitch your idea to potential investors.
- Media pitch: A media pitch is when you pitch your story to a journalist at a news outlet, magazine, or other publication.
- Sales pitch: A sales pitch is when you pitch your products to potential clients.
A version of this article was originally published on May 30, 2013.