How to build a perfect pitch
We are part of the Red Brick Accelerator programs spring batch of 2020. This gave us the chance to take part on Yuliya Nesterenko’s webinar about building a great pitch. This was separated to two sections: the bigger picture about clarifying the value to the audience as well as the smaller details within slides itself.
Starting with the power sentence “Less is more”. She handed a single, yet quite the grand thought. What does it actually mean? In a pitch the audience usually doesn’t know about the product or what are you going to sell. For you, of course it is already clear as a water how the product/service works, who is your target audience, why are you better than your competitors and so on. But for the person hearing about it for the first time, we must be as clear and simple as possible to paint the image. You might be in a situation where the people don’t actually know a lot about the area you are discussing. This is why you should try to imagine you are pitching your idea to dummy dolls.
Another way to understand all this is to understand why people react and understand new things so differently. It all comes down to the three stages a human brain has evolved from: the croc brain, the midbrain and the sophisticated neocortex. Now these three parts work very differently. The croc brain is the primitive one that is primarily focused on surviving and thus generates strong feelings. The midbrain is more developed and allows us to understand more complex entities, such as social interactions. The neocortex facilitates your reasoning and analyzes received data. So, when you pitch, you are working with your neocortex. However, at this arrangement the audience most likely will receive it with their croc brain. Now the risks are that they are not interested or don’t understand your message resulting in them wanting to flee from this unsettling situation. Now that you know what the actual function behind receiving your message really is, make sure it clearly and concretely states the big picture and be sure to express it in a positive and novel way. This makes sure, that the message is forwarded on to the midbrain and finally neocortex. (Klaff 2011)
Detailed and complicated explanations are a huge risk as this can cause losing the listener at some point. If they miss a single point you are trying to make, the details after that are pointless. So “simplify to amplify”. How would you explain the idea to a child? Would the child understand what you are talking about? Try to put your mind into the eyes of one who is no professional on your topic and most likely doesn’t understand the grounds you come from.
You should always concentrate on the simple value. Want to hype on the backgrounds of how you ended up doing your thing or how you found the solution? The ugly truth: Nobody really cares.
That’s why there is a simple exercise to start building your pitch. Fill the gaps:
a._______ is b.________ for c.________ to d.________
- name of your startup or product
- what is it
- your target user
- value proposition
This exercise helps you to brighten up your mind and strip all the extra bits away in order to find the core. With this sentence you can start building all the layers over it. For a simple yet powerful and convincing pitch, this must be the core.
The next important step you should focus on is to raise awareness of the problem. People tend to care less about the solution if they don’t see the problem behind it. This is your why. That comes down to problem statement and how crucial it is. Nowadays you might see websites which represent you a problem statement rather than a value statement. That origins to a behavior researched; before someone is ready to buy a product, they must understand the problem behind it, or in other words, why they need it. If you are able to make people relate to the problem through a story, data or facts, you are able to raise awareness of the solution you are offering.
Hold the attention
Now that you have set the base, you need to think how to hold the attention of the audience. People tend to listen the beginning more than the end of the pitch. The fact is that you will always have a bigger risk of losing someone’s interest the longer you pitch. So how hold the attention?
Open with an impact! If you put the impact to the middle of the pitch, it is much harder to create the impact, because people may have dropped out at some point already and thus they won’t be able to understand nor imagine the impact in their minds. You can also do an exercise with jokes, but this needs carefulness. Jokes work if you know it’s going to work on the audience. You might also want to have your own cheer team to start laughing and spread the good vibes around the audience.
Ask yourself what kind of a feeling you want to achieve among the people who are listening. That helps you on the planning phase of the pitch. Taking risks and being innovative with your presentation will more likely take you where you want to be than being boring and risk free at the stage. The worst you can do is have a presentation where you didn’t have the energy and enthusiasm on your own idea and you just read the lines bluntly from notes. Ask yourself “Why would they want to listen to me? What is the catch?”. Being someone who they will forget the minute you end up with your speech is like you hadn’t done it at all.
Nesterenko told us a great example: Once she was watching a TED talk in Norway and the speaker started the talk with a bottle in his hand. He told the audience that inside the bottle there was extremely strong acid that would burn all the skin it touches. He then proceeded to open the bottle and threw the liquid on top of the front row. Of course, there was only water inside, but the feeling and actual physical reactions he created were unforgettable.
Attention has been created, what next?
The second slide should be the most memorable one and answer the following question: “Why are you the next unicorn?” This is to clarify not just the audience but you yourself also, what is so special with your product or service? What is your competitive advantage? How about the revenue model? What is your market size/competition on the field?
A useful tool to answer all the right questions in a chronologically consistent manner, is to follow the NABC. This means explaining the (N)eed –> problem you are solving and to whom is the solution aimed to, (A)pproach –> what is your solution, (B)enefits –> what are the values you deliver and (C)ompetition –> who they are.
Another useful frame for your pitch is building it according to the STRONG model (Klaff 2011). Here the titles are (S)etting the frame, (T)elling the story, (R)evealing the Intrigue, (O)ffering the Prize, (N)ailing the hookpoint and (G)etting the decision.
Whatever trunk you use for the pitch, a commonly recognized and recommended way to finish your pitch is with a CTA (Call To Action). This means that you call for a certain action at the end from the audience. It can be to ask them to sign up for a newsletter, tag you on social media etc. A certain target group at pitching events is the investors and they are your most important crowd. There are certain questions they will want to know, to build trust and understanding of your potential on the markets. These are raw numbers of your current costs, total turnover and the part that is actual profit, who are your customers and how do you reach and engage them. Also, they want to understand the competition there lies on your field. If you want to lose your credibility at a blink of an eye, you will tell them there is no competition whatsoever. Some extra information that can be both interesting and useful regarding the investors, is to shortly introduce your team and point out what is the investment you are looking for and how you would use it.
When you have built the trunk of your pitching deck, add titles on your slides and read that aloud. Will that make sense? Is there a story? Is it meaningful? After this has been done, you can check the details and the actual content. Guy Kawasaki, an evangelist and an entrepreneur created the Rule of PowerPoint 10/20/30 that is a great tool to be utilized once building the pitch: 10 stands for 10 slides, 20 for the length of maximum 20 minutes and 30 for the minimum font size.
At the end, it’s all about knowing your audience. When you apply for a job, you modify your application letter to match each position separately. Same goes for pitching, everything depends on the audience and should be addressed accordingly.
And last but not least, remember to be yourself!
Klaff, O. 2011. Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading and Winning the Deal. McGraw-Hill.
Nesterenko, Y. Building a perfect pitch. Webinar 4.5.2020. Red Brick Accelerator.