Have you ever seen a founder or small business owner pitch their business to investors or potential partners? They usually go something like this: “Hi, I’m Frank from Frankenfurters. We make the best hot dogs around. Our mission is to blow your mind with how amazing our hot dogs are. Our hot dogs are the best because we use the best ingredients and a traditional recipe passed down through my family….” and so on and so forth. Me, me, me, we, we, we. No mention of customers unless it’s to mention how much they love the hot dogs.
So what’s the problem? Frank talked about the mission and he talked about what set them apart. But he missed a few essential ingredients, the biggest one being why the listener should care. I got bored writing that pitch, let alone listening to it!
When you pitch your business, you may think you have a captive audience hanging on your every word just because they’re there to see you speak. But you’re competing with your audience’s smartphones and the incessant chatter in their head, and you better give them a compelling reason to listen to you; otherwise, they won’t hear a word you say. Here are some tips for putting together an engaging presentation. Remember, if you need some help, you’re always welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for help!
Right off the bat, nobody cares who you are or what you’re doing. If you say your name and your company name right away, nobody will remember it five minutes later. Save the basic information for later, once you’ve gotten their attention. In Frank’s pitch above, the only thing listeners might remember is that he’s “the hot dog guy.” Don’t be that guy.
If you want your audience to care, you have to provoke a reaction, and people react to descriptions of shared experiences. Sticking with the hot dog example, what if Frank had started with this?
Work days are long and gruelling, and afternoons are particularly tough. The food you eat has everything to do with your energy level, but most North Americans tend to eat unhealthy food full of sugar and salt. In fact, reducing the sodium Americans eat by 1,200mg per day on could save up to $20 billion a year in medical costs. Imagine how much change could be made with $20 billion a year!
What is the perfect solution to the problem you have outlined? It can be helpful to present the solution as a “What if” question. For example:
What if there were a new option for lunches that was low-cost and so delicious that you wouldn’t even miss your usual fast food? What if, even when you were on the go, you could grab a quick lunch that would keep you full all afternoon and provide you with enough energy to get through your day with a smile on your face?
Now that your audience is engaged and interested in what you have to say, you can introduce yourself and talk about why you’re so great. The difference in waiting two minutes or five minutes or however long your preamble is, is that now they care. Now they want to know who you are and why you’ve thought about this particular problem and its solution. For example:
I’m Frank from Frankenfurters, and we want to solve this problem of low-energy, unhealthy lunches for North Americans. We’ve created gourmet hot dogs that use high-quality, healthy ingredients that keep you full longer and are so delicious that they’ll become your daily lunch staple. While “healthy hot dogs” might sounds like an oxymoron, we’ve gone back to recipes passed down from my grandmother that use healthy proteins, vegetables and herbs to create an incredible taste experience.
Don’t you want to check out Frank’s Frankenfurters now?
So, to reiterate:
This is a simple structure that can easily be expanded to to accommodate all the details you need in your presentation. For example: flesh out the problem with stories about people who have lost significant time or money because of a lack of your product. For example, whenever I pitch my company, I always start with a couple stories about companies that have had major financial losses because of grammatical mistakes. Fortunately for me, those stories are everywhere. A few examples include:
In 1988, a Californian travel company purchased ad space in the local phone book advertising exotic vacations; the ad was unfortunately misprinted and claimed the company offered ‘erotic vacations.’ After losing 80% of its client base, the travel company sued for $10 million and won, nearly putting the phone book company out of business.
In 2008, the National Mint in Chile misspelled the name of the country on 1.5 million 50-peso coins. Chile was misspelled as CHIIE, and it cost the general manager of the national mint and several other employees their jobs, as well as causing international humiliation as the world laughed at Chile.
In 2011, a businessman in the UK did an assessment of click-through ratings on retail websites. He found that people were 50% less likely to buy a product if there were a spelling mistake on the page. By his calculations, retailers were losing millions of dollars per year because of these mistakes.
Remember that the point is to make your audience care. Don’t go on a tangent; don’t get into a long, complicated story. Keep your snippets short and sweet, and use facts that you can back up and reference.
When you talk about the ideal solution, talk about money and time that could be saved. If you’re in the right industry, talk about how lives could be changed with the right solution in place. Again, use numbers along with evocative language – don’t get into a dry analysis just yet.
Finally, when you talk about yourself, do a quick intro and then talk about why you’re the best company for the job. Here’s where you can dive into your own numbers. What work have you done on this problem? What does your team offer that is unique? This might be the longest part of your presentation, but if you set it up properly, your audience will be primed and ready to hang on your every word.
Lastly, here’s a few more tips that are essential for in-person pitches:
Even if everyone else is dressed down, if you are going to be on a stage, dress cleanly and professionally. This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen lots of presenters show up in t-shirts, and it shows a distinct lack of preparation and care.
Practice out loud and in front of people. Even if it seems like overkill, practice until you’ve memorized your pitch – it will come off as much more professional and smooth if you know the exact points you want to hit. If you practice enough, even if you forget your place, you can take a breath and it’ll come back to you. Also, practice standing still with your feet shoulder-width apart as much as possible as you talk – it will help you look more confident.
Make sure you get statistics from legitimate sources and record where your data comes from. There is a lot of information out there that is recycled over and over without question even though the original source was incorrect. Do your homework so nobody has a chance to call you out for incorrect facts while you’re standing in front of a large group of people.
Happy pitching, and feel free to reach out if you need a hand!
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