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Guy Kawasaki on the Art of Pitching Your Ideas

Want to know the mistakes small-business owners often make when pitching ideas? Guy Kawasaki breaks down some simple elements of a successful presentation.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
July 15, 2015

When it comes to helping entrepreneurs pitch their ideas, Guy Kawasaki may be one of the most influential people in marketing today. Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool, and bestselling author of The Art of the Start 2.0, The Art of Social Media, Enchantment and nine other books. Kawasaki was also the chief evangelist of Apple and has over 10 million followers.

OPEN Forum recently asked Kawasaki how entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas for maximum impact.

The typical way most entrepreneurs structure a pitch is to talk about their product in detail, focusing on all the bells and whistles. In your book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, you advise against this. You tell people to "sell your dream," not the product. Can you elaborate on this?

The typical way most entrepreneurs structure their pitch is worse: They talk about their company in detail. Talking about their product would be an improvement. Selling the dream is even better [than selling the product], because it focuses on what the product does for people—that is, benefits, not features. Even better than all this, of course, is a great demo.

One of your initiatives in helping people grow businesses is the course you're teaching at Udemy. A module of that course is "Tell Your Story." What are the fundamentals or building blocks for telling your story effectively?

Telling a story is an easy technique. I don’t know why more people don’t do it. There are two kinds of stories that are effective. First, the personal story of how the founders came to create a product because of their need or firsthand observations. For example, Steve Wozniak wanted a personal computer. Melanie Perkins, the founder of Canva, was teaching graphics to college students and saw how hard it was for them to learn Photoshop.

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Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist, and Melanie Perkins, founder of Canva

The second kind of story is a customer story. In this case, the story isn’t personal or firsthand, but the entrepreneur knows a customer who had a need, and the entrepreneur tells the customer’s story. In either case, the goal is to illustrate the need for the company’s product or service with people-oriented stories.

In your most recent book, The Art Of The Start 2.0, you talk about the art of pitching. What are some other elements of an effective pitch that entrepreneurs should pay attention to?

The most important element is that you have a great product or service. If you have this, everything else is easy. But here are the key elements of an effective pitch:

• Ten slides
• Twenty minutes long
• Minimum 30 point font
• Black background

You advise entrepreneurs not to delay going to market with a product until every aspect is perfect, so as not to risk losing the market. But how do you know when it's time to ship?

It’s time to ship when you’re about to run out of money—that’s for sure. Another real-world test is to show it to your wife and see what she says. If you have plenty of money and you're not married, then ship when you are 10 times better than the status quo. All this means that this isn’t a science. You ship and you pray.

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Photos: iStock; Zach Kitschke