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Making a pitch stand out

A good pitch is hard to ignore, but how do you go about writing and delivering one? In this video, Dave gives some tips for pitching successfully.
How do you make your point? We’ve all been on the receiving end of both good pitches and bad pitches. A good pitch can be a wonder to behold, compelling, fluent and rich in vivid insights and resonant language that has you emotionally immersed in the idea. A bad pitch can be confusing, frustrating and torturous even, as the speaker meanders about, uses clunky and distracting examples or fails to deliver it with energy, expertise or enthusiasm. So how do you make a point in a compelling way? We’ll talk about writing for specific audiences and different implementing styles elsewhere. At this point, we’ll just talk about the words we choose to use and how we perform those words. Pitching anything involves three component processes.
The planning you invest in preparing to pitch, the live improvisation and editing you do as you’re performing it, and the performance itself. It is worth acknowledging that it is a performance and to sell an idea well you need to present a version of yourself. That version might be more confident than usual, it might be more polite than usual, it will be a more appropriate version of you to get the point across. Presentation is ultimately about impact. How do you get an audience to change their behaviour? Whether you’re simply trying to reassure, or entertain, or whether you’re trying to inform, educate, persuade or engage an audience so that they do something differently in the future, you’re trying to change their behaviour.
So what do you need to do to achieve that?
Firstly, select your arguments and pick your evidence carefully: Less is more. Pick two or three really concise points and persuasive examples, rather than use long-winded technical arguments or contestable examples. Divide your content into ‘must-know’, ‘should-know’ and ‘could-know’ and then only use the ‘must-know’ and keep the rest in reserve. For example, if I was trying to pitch an idea for a new smartphone app to a prospective investor, the ‘must-know’ information would be things like, who it’s for, what it does and what problem it solves and whether people buy similar apps. ‘Should-know’ might include specific features, specific competitor products or profits made by similar products.
‘Could-know’ might include how I came up with the idea, the overall size of the app market, technical design details and similar. If I was trying to pitch involvement to a technical developer, I might start with some of the technical details and talk more about the development time involved. Secondly, adopt a clear structure with a beginning, middle and end. You can either set out from the solution, or from the problem but be clear about where you’re going. There ought to be some logic to the arrangement and some flow to the narrative. You could even, as I’m doing here,
help navigate a description by providing numbered points: firstly, secondly. For example, compare these. “I’ve got an idea for a bike lock, I think it will need quite a lot of money, it might work for a big employer, people hate carrying their cycle locks, but it would only worked for commuters, as it’d be fixed in one place. Err … and maybe you could send them a code, or use an app somehow. So you’d build locks into those big metal stands and give people a code for a fixed site?” Or … “I have an idea. People hate carrying cycle locks, so how about creating cycle racks with built in locks?
The lock could be operated by a code or by a security card or app. It would best work for commuters and big employers, as a lot of people all come to the same place and the employer could include it as part of their environmental initiative.” Thirdly, choose your language carefully, and think about how confident or cautious you wish to sound. Most of us tend to be too cautious, where we could be more assertive, but equally sometimes overconfidence sounds like arrogance. “So … anyway, um, I’ve heard some people, a few people, suggest that maybe visiting the SS great ship? I think that’s what it’s called, is an OK day out?” Or …
“I think the SS Great Britain is a great day out.”
In the first example there are loads of mitigations: ‘I’ve heard’, ‘some people’, ‘maybe’. There are hesitations and moments where the speaker distances themselves from the idea, the final suggestion is just ‘OK’ and it’s offered as a question, inviting alternatives.
The second example is clear, confident and owned by the speaker: ‘I think’. If you removed the ‘I think’ it might be even more clear and confident, but starts to sound a bit overconfident. Fourthly, how can you create shortcuts to understanding? What I mean by this is finding quick ways to convey understanding of an idea. A good example, illustration, metaphor or parallel can cut through confusion readily. In the tech startup world phrases like, ‘like Uber but for,’ or ‘like Tinder but for,’ give a very easy parallel for how a new business is using a well understood, existing business’ method for doing whatever they’re doing.
Similarly a phrase like ‘bridging the gap’ quickly provides a visual image for how something might connect two disparate elements. Finally, try and tell a story. It’s a little about beginning, middle, end and a little about moving from problem to solution, or how a solution addresses a problem, but it’s also about taking people on a journey. One great way to bring any story to life is to situate someone, even the audience, in it. Imagine for a moment that you’re listening to Bob. Bob has a tendency to leap around a bit in conversation and he’s difficult to follow. Bob is frustrated that no one listens to his ideas and thinks the problem is the ideas. But actually it’s the delivery.
You explain to Bob that it’s not the idea, you’re just struggling to follow the story. Could he start from the initial insight and gradually describe how he developed the idea instead? Bob slows down and walks you through the idea like a series of stepping stones. And, you know what? The idea is pretty cool after all.

A good pitch is hard to ignore, but how do you go about writing and delivering one?

Here, Dave talks you through his tips for pitching success, thinking about the words you choose and how you go about delivering them.

Consider your personal style:

  • Do you find pitching easy or hard?
  • Have you had much opportunity to practice?

If you’re not getting formal chances to practice your pitching you can still informally practice the same techniques in your regular activities:

  • Make an effort to speak up in seminars and classes and practice talking to the group making short but well-crafted points
  • Take up opportunities to informally tell your friends and housemates about your ideas, but try out different formulations of explanation and style rather than just chat. If they complain you’re pitching ask them to help you practice properly!

Most of us are unconsciously pitching most of the time; whenever we try and get ideas across or persuade a friend of something, we’re pitching! You can weave these ideas into your everyday activities to practise the techniques.

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