When many businesspeople hear the requirement that they explain their business in thirty seconds, they think: "That’s for the great unwashed masses that don’t have a patent-pending, curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting way to sell dog food online like I do." If your reaction is one of denial like this, it means you need this rule more than ever.
In most business situations, from sales prospecting to speaking to pitching for money, the audience makes up its mind in the first few minutes. This is longer than a “blink” to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, but it’s certainly not the thirty minutes that you think you deserve and need.
To use a rather off-the-wall but highly relevant analogy, you should think of pitching your company as a form of online dating. There are two extremes in online dating: eHarmony where you fill out an extensive questionnaire across twenty-nine dimensions to find your soulmate and HotorNot where you look at a picture and decide in seconds—along just one dimension.
You know what’s coming: explaining your company is like HotorNot, not eHarmony, so get used to it. Switching gears from dating to journalism, the golden rules of journalism (the (“5 Ws”) is that you explain the Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How to provide the “full story.”
Unfortunately, explaining your company isn’t journalism, because thirty seconds is shorter than most journalistic endeavors. You need to focus on What, Why, and How:
1. What. Explain what you do in the most fundamental terms. Is it hardware? Software? Service? Web site? Do you ride it? Eat it? Wear it? Statements like “we are a software company,” “we make consumer devices,” and “we have a website that aggregates news” works well. Use no jargon that your grandmother or grandfather wouldn’t understand.
2. Why. Explain why you exist: what problem do you solve? What opportunity do you create? What bad thing do you prevent? What good thing do you make possible? Again, keep your grandparents in mind.
3. How. Explain the how you do what you do, what kind of technology do you use, what kind of raw materials, and what kind of people you employ. Again, keep your grandparents in mind.
If you can pull this off, maybe you’ll get additional air time to explain the Who, When, and Where. Here’s how I would explain my website, Alltop:
It is a website where we aggregate news for all the topics. Think of it as an “online magazine rack.” We enable you to find the most relevant and recent news instead of the 30,000,000 matches that Google shows you. We do this by aggregating all the best news sources onto one page and displaying the five most recent stories from each one.
Now you have your marching orders: Explain the What, Why, and How of your business in thirty seconds or less.