3 Tips for Building a Killer Pitch

Create a killer pitch for your big idea using three tips: be clear, be vulnerable and be necessary.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
February 20, 2013

Pitches—they’re inroads to cash or key partnerships. And you need to build a killer pitch to get your message heard. But what makes for a killer pitch? It comes down to storytelling.

At the core, great pitches tell stories. They put the right people on the edge of their seats, so they're asking for more and hungry to be characters in your story’s next chapter. Great pitches, like great stories, get people to ask what’s next, invest, sign up for your mailing list, buy the next three books in a mediocre series about sparkly vampires.

Amazing pitches inspire action. To help you craft a great pitch, I sat down with two professionals who are in the business of helping people and their ideas thrive in the right environments: a speaking coach and a venture capitalist.

Erin Weed is an accomplished speaker and speaking coach, having coached numerous people (including several for their TED talks) to standing ovations at venues varying in size from 50 to 5,000. Brad Feld is one of the managing directors at Boulder, Colorado-based Foundry Group, an early stage tech venture capital firm, and hears hundreds of pitches each year.

They’ve both weighed in on the three crucial components to building a killer pitch and telling your killer story: Be Clear, Be Vulnerable and Be Necessary.

Be Clear

Have you noticed how great speakers deliver an hour-long talk with a single overall theme? Talented storytellers know the importance of a clear theme, capturing the audience's attention from the get-go and a concise through-line. Establish that through-line on your pitch's page one. Ask yourself, “How do I want people to feel when the last word of my pitch comes out of my mouth?” and build your pitch around creating that feeling. Be clear about why you’re here, why your audience is here and hint at what they can expect around the bend (surprises welcome).

Weed: “If people can't understand the idea concisely enough to regurgitate it to someone they meet on the street, you will be forgotten. Get laser beam focused. Don't invent some new niche that doesn't exist just to make yourself feel special.”

Feld: “If you want to do a great pitch, make sure you are showing and not telling. You want your audience to form the conclusion just before you give the punchline rather than have them read the punchline on the screen and then watch you try to support it. So show them the magic, rather than simply tell them what you want them to think.”

Be Vulnerable

Great storytellers create characters we fall in love with. They have problems (and we relate). Pitches solve problems. So go ahead and be human—be that character we want to fall in love with. People buy you before they every buy anything from you, so don’t be afraid to let your you shine through. Don’t be the guy who edits all of the human out of his pitch until it’s all business. That just makes an exceptionally boring pitch.

Weed: “Once the audience understands who you are, why you’re different and why they should pay attention to what you’re doing, it's time to open up. Help them see you. Get personal. Be real. When the ego tells you something’s too revealing, too raw—it means you just said something interesting. People fall in love with interesting.”

Feld: “Use cadence to your advantage. Rather than rush through the presentation, pause to make your point. Use dramatic flair. Make sure that when you deliver a punch line, you really deliver it—just like you would if you were telling a joke. Then pause, and let it sink in.”

Be Necessary

There’s no story that hasn’t been told before—just new variations with unexpected twists and turns. A great pitch must establish your inarguable difference. Here’s the place to talk about your team, your experiences, your networks, and your talents—all the reasons someone would be an idiot to not want to be a character in your next chapter. You’ve already been clear (they know what you’re pitching), you’ve opened up and shown why you matter. Now, you’re sealing the deal with the change you, your team and your audience’s support can create.

Weed: “Answer questions like, ‘How does my idea make life better for people or businesses? Why will this matter in 10 years? Why me, when there is surely already someone else playing in this sandbox?’”

Feld: “You should be able to give your presentation without slides. Each slide should have a topic sentence as you enter the slide and a conclusion as you exit the slide. If you got rid of the slides and simply read the topic and concluding sentences back to back, the presentation should make sense and be powerful.”

Read more about winning sales.

Have you tried the storytelling strategy? Has it worked for you? Tell us in the comments.

Photo: Getty Images