What do you say when you need to sell something?
What do you say when you want to tell someone about your great idea?
Pitching and catching
We give business pitches for any number of reasons: to increase our network, to get new customers, to generate investment in our products and companies.
In baseball, every pitch is thrown to somebody: the catcher. (Sometimes the batter gets in the way, but that’s beside the point, for now.)
If a pitch can’t be caught, you’re simply just throwing a ball into the air.
The same is true in business. If your business pitch can’t be caught, how is it going to be anything but a lot of wasted effort?
So who’s your catcher? How can you get the pitch to him or her?
Sometimes I like to call pitches business pick-up lines, because that gives us a chance to laugh about all the trite and uncreative ways that 20-something guys try to get attention in bars.
It also gives us an opportunity to reframe the idea of a pitch with the following definition:
A pitch is a memorable opener for a discussion that eventually leads to an appealing outcome for both parties.
In other words, a pitch:
- Has 2 parties
- Has a goal
- Should be interesting enough to be remembered
In her fabulous study on pitching in Hollywood (“How to Pitch a Brilliant Idea,” Harvard Business Review, 2003,) Kimberly Elsbach reiterates that successful pitches always engage the catcher, making him feel like he is participating in idea development or that he is included as a creative collaborator.
I paraphrase this into “It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about what we can do together.”
The relationship is the 1st goal, whether you are pitching to 1 person or 20. After all, if you could do everything alone, you wouldn’t need to be pitching in the first place.
You probably have some ideas what you want out of that relationship, and that’s the 2nd goal.
Maybe you want to sell something, get approval for an idea, or use somebody’s money (aka. investment). Maybe you want to increase your network, find a collaborator, or develop a new client base. Maybe you want to rule the world…
You’re not going to get very far in a pitch unless you know what you want to achieve, because the pitch is the first communications step towards your goal.
Your pitch is how you are going to get closer to your goal in the next 30 seconds.
We are all in love with what we do; we want the world to know about the bells and whistles on our products and services. Further, everybody finds it interesting to talk about him or her self, about how much education and experience he has or how many prototypes she has made.
Unfortunately catchers get bored with this. There’s nothing in it for them. They tend to start wondering if the bar is still open, or if there are any new messages on their phone.
In other words, you’ve thrown your pitch, the catcher moves out of position, and, splat! Your pitch ends up falling flat and doing nobody any good.
Let’s change that.
Here’s a little game I play with my pitching clients. We try to create pitches that get people curious, that get people to listen and say, “That’s interesting, tell me more.” or “Really, how do you do that?”
These are the pitches that get caught.
The warm up (pitch 1)
As we begin, you should identify the benefits of your product or service. This is when you should answer the question, “Why would anyone want buy your stuff?”
Some other ways of asking this are:
- Why is it important to them?
- What problem does it solve?
- What pain does it relieve, or what pleasure does it enhance?
Here’s an example of some benefits.
When I bought my TomTom (GPS), I thought it was just going to give me directions to get from my house to my mother in law’s new house, for example. Of course it does that, and it gets me there safely and on time. But the best thing about it is that it’s saved my marriage. I don’t argue with my wife about directions anymore!
A possible benefits-based pitch for the guys at TomTom might be:
“Hi I’m Tommy. I save time, I save lives, and I save relationships.”
I don’t know about you, but I would certainly say, “That’s interesting, tell me more!”
The duet (pitch 2)
One of the best ways to give a pitch is to enlist the other party in creating your pitch with you.
You do this by asking activating questions that lead to your benefit, like:
- Do you know that moment when?
- Have you ever?
- Do you remember?
- Imagine, What if?
- Do you know someone who?
Here’s another possible TomTom pitch, this time using questions:
“Have you ever gotten to a party where you were angry at your spouse for messing up the directions? … How long does it usually take until you calm down? … If you’re like me, you’re still worried about having to get home… I help people get to their destination safely and with fewer arguments.”
(Of course, if Tommy were asked the “What do you do, Tommy?” he would have to respond with “Do you mind if, before I answer that, I ask you a question?” Try it sometime, it makes for interesting conversations.)
The game changer (pitch 3, for advanced players)
This pitch uses a special form, and, when used well, can help you achieve your goals quickly.
It is especially good when you have to stand up for a minute and introduce your business.
- You need to find a rather surprising fact or statistic that has something to do with your product or service. Then you put it into a question using “Did you know” or “Do you know.”
You can then ask it directly, as in:
“Do you know how much money is wasted every year on worthless presentations?”
Or you can ask it rhetorically, as in:
“Did you know that Swiss researchers have found that European businesses waste 110 billion Euros per year on worthless presentations?
- Then use “Imagine” three times.
“Imagine that there was a way to save that wasted time and money. Imagine if every presentation had a point. Imagine if presentations enabled decision making so that then everyone could get back to work.”
- Now tell everyone what you do, emphasizing the benefit.
“Well, that’s what I do. I save business people time and money by helping them find what to say, how to say it and how to present it effectively.”
Here’s the recipe again:
- Did you know?
- Imagine, Imagine, Imagine
- Well, guess what? That’s what I do!
But wait, there’s more
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg for pitches.
We haven’t even gotten to metaphors, humor or alliteration: (“I’m a presentation doctor, or maybe more of a presentation psychologist, a shrink. Actually, I’m more of a presentation shrinker. In any case, I make presentation pain go away.”)
We haven’t gotten to communicating your passion, telling a story, or playing with rhyme.
We haven’t even gotten to asking for something.
And there’s still a whole list of emotion and action words left to use.
And, of course, all the things you can do with objects, prototypes and business cards.
Then there are all the different ways to present the information you need to give in an investor pitch or a business plan pitch.
Check back regularly on Tip of the Month for more ideas on how to improve your pitching game.
If you can’t wait for the next post, contact me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan Talbott founded TIP (Talbott International Presentations) in 2012 with the ambition to make the world more interesting, one presentation at a time. He is internationally recognized for helping his clients create and deliver presentations that go straight to the point and achieve results. He has helped hundreds of people and companies improve their pitches (small presentations), which has led to a direct increase in their bottom line. For longer presentations, his clients have included both small and multinational companies, non-profits, start-ups and political parties. TIP is based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Copyright © 2014, Jonathan Talbott