Ready, set, PITCH!
Elsa Ervasti is a performer, speaker and performer coach, who has trained hundreds of start-up companies and enterprises in performing and pitching. She has also written a book, PITCH!, with Joonas Turunen about the same topic. This essay includes outcomes about pitching from the book of Ervasti and Turunen, and from the pitching education, which Ervasti kept on 10.11.2021 in Turku.
What is pitching?
Pitch and pitching are familiar words from corporate life or business-related reality shows on TV. Pitch means sale speech, but it also means throwing or passing. In Finnish, there is no even word for pitching. Basically, pitch means a short and sharp selling speech in which an entrepreneur introduces their product, service or business idea. The length of this short and sharp sales speech can be from a couple of minutes to 10 minutes. (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020.)
Even though pitching is easily only an entrepreneur or company-related skill, it is a good working life skill for anyone. Applying for a job, presenting a project idea or any situation where is needed to present own idea is a pitch. As Ervasti said in her education, presenting her own work experience or professionality can be also a kind of pitching situation (Ervasti, 2021.) Whatever the situation and case are, the main point about pitching is to be convincing. In that sense, it is important to know the basics of pitching and know how to build a good pitch.
Ervasti and Turunen (2020) use Evelyne Ruby’s pitch from The Slush 2016 as an example of a good pitch. The pitch is available to watch on YouTube and it makes it easier to understand what pitching is if it is not a familiar topic:
The structure of the PITCH
According to Ervasti (2021), there is a good way to build the structure of the pitch. The structure of the 10-minute-long pitch can be for example:
- On-liner 10 sec.
- Problem 3 min.
- Solution 1 min.
- Value 1 min.
- Business potential 30 sec.
- Scalability 30 sec.
- Presenting the team 1 min.
- Vision 2 min.
- Call to action 1 min.
On-liner means a sentence that crystallizes the meaning or purpose of the product or service. It needs to be short and sharp which gives the audience a picture of what the service or product is. (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020.) On-liner presents who you are and what do you do. It is a short and clear introduction about the company and how it solves the problem in question (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020). On-liner needs to be that efficient that it catches the focus of the audience. It is also the start of the pitch and makes the base of the rest of it. As Ervasti & Turunen (2020) says, on-liner is basically the thing you will remember from the presentation. It is important that it is pithy.
Ervasti & Turunen (2020) emphasize that thinking a good on-liner is the start of a pitch because it is the way the audience will focus on your performance and remember it afterwards. You can start to think about on-liner with questions: What do you promise to the customer? How do you promise to solve customers’ problems? How is your customer going to get value or profit from you? It is relevant to realise that there are many other companies in the world who has a brilliant idea, so it is important to think about how your company and idea can be different and special? Ervasti and Turunen highlight how important is to crystalize and clarify the business idea. When it is crystalized, the performer needs to be sure that can deliver it to the audience. (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020.)
In a problem -section, audiences are introduced to the problem to where the company has been looking for a solution (Ervasti, 2021). It is important to describe and demonstrate to what problem the product or service brings a solution. In that way, it is easier for the audience to understand the value of the product later in the pitch. It might be easy to fall into an idea, that the problem is so obvious that it is not necessary to describe it in a detailed way but that can be a mistake.
The problem should be introduced in a simple but detailed way to making the audience understand the problem. Even though they might not have the same problem. Especially if the meaning of the pitch is to get funding, it is important to make the problem look that substantial that it needs to be solved. According to Ervasti and Turunen (2020), it does not matter if the problem is big or small, but it needs to be identifiable. If a company can’t describe the problem, it is challenging to get the attention of investors or customers. The main point is to find your own way to tell people, how your company is going to change the world. (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020.)
After describing the problem, present the solution to how your company has solved that problem (Ervasti, 2021). The solution is shorter than the problem section, but it needs to be an efficient way to tell how your product or service has solved the problem.
Value, business potential and scalability
Probably the purpose of the pitch is to get money or partner to your business idea, so it is important to present the most important thing about the business: numbers. Those are after all things that interest investors and possible business partners. Value can be introduced as a profit of a business, but it is also valuable to talk about important business partners or big companies as a customer. It is also valuable to talk about the scalability of the business because it is a to way to make more money. Scalability means how easily the business model can be expanded.
Presenting the team
In the pitch, it is important to introduce the team which is working in the company and a business. That makes the business more approachable and humane. (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020). The main idea is to introduce who are the team members and what are their skills to let for example investors know who they are going to support with their money. Ervasti and Turunen (2020) say also, that introducing the team builds trust so that is also why it is important to remember to talk about the people behind the business.
Vision and call to action
The pitch has a purpose and a vision (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020.) What your company wants from audiences and what is the vision to do with for example the investment. So, introduce what is the purpose in the future and what do you need to achieve that. After the vision, it is important to end the pitch clearly and thank the audience for their attention. Then everyone knows that it is time for applauses and possible questions.
Performing is an important part of pitching
Ervasti (2021) highlights that pitching is a comprehensive performance where the structure of the pitch and performance are entailed together. The structure of the pitch is important to think very carefully, but it is not enough. The script would be brilliant but is not enough. Performance makes it alive.
The structure and script include the beginning, middle part and the ending of the pitch and how time is used in certain parts of it. When stepping to the performance part, we start to think about storytelling, flow, non-verbal communication, voice, energy, emotional expression, communication, chemistry, emotional intelligence, assertiveness and building trust with the audience. (Ervasti & Turunen, 2020). It is visible that there are many different things to take to concern about performance in pitching. The main thing about performing is to make the script interesting. Performance makes the pitch easy and pleasant to watch. Ervasti and Turunen (2020) highlight that a well-performed pitch is entertaining.
Storytelling through emotions
Pitching is storytelling and making the audience believe that the story is true and it is important. If the story can be told in an interesting way, it will catch attention and the audience will remember it. In storytelling, it is relevant to take also to concern emotions. How to make the audience feel different emotions. According to Ervasti and Turunen (2020), an emotive performance makes a pitch interesting and comprehensive. It is good to think about what kind of emotions suits your performance or what kind of emotions you want the to audience feel.
Humour is one emotion that makes the performance more interesting and entertaining, but it is good to be aware of how much it is used. Probably the main point of the pitch is to be convincing, but without any humour, it can be too serious and boring. That way there could be a little bit of humour to make the performance livelier. Ervasti encouraged in her education (2021) to use humour as an effect in the performance. According to her, humour can also help the performer to relax, when planned laugh and cheer up catch the audience.
Verbal communication and voice usage
One big part of performing is voice usage. Ervasti (2021) highlights that preparation is important especially when performing on a big stage. It is good to practice clear articulation and be aware of your own tone of voice. It is also important to plan and think, what kind of voice tone and speaking style suits the performance. For example, can the voice tone be used to make certain emotions even stronger?
Ervasti (2021) reminds us how important is to remember that voice generation and speaking are actions that need muscles. If they are warm, they will work better. That is why Ervasti emphasized doing some practices to warm up voice muscles and make speaking easier and more relaxed. Her tips (2021) for more efficient voice usage were to take a relaxed and strong standing position, where is easier to use the thoracic diaphragm more efficiently for breathing. Another tip was to warm voice up with different practices for facial muscles and for a tung and do practices for articulation and voice range. (Ervasti, 2021.) One highlighted tip from Ervasti (2021) was to try and practice voice range to know own limits of using own voice.
It is important what and how to speak in the pitch, but it is as important to know how to be on the stage. Ervasti and Turunen (2020) point out, that visual performing has many times a stronger impact on the audience than words.
Non-verbal communication means how to use body language in the performance. Face expressions, moving on the stage, how to stand and posture are examples of body language. According to Ervasti (2021), it is normal for many people to let their stress show in performance. Being nervous and excited is normal and good, but it is not good to let them rule the performance. One common example is to walk around the stage reckless and speak too fast. (Ervasti, 2021)
Like scripting the speech, it is a good way to script the non-verbal performance too. When there is also the structure for body language and a plan for how to act, it is easier to find calmness and peace in the performance. Ervasti (2021) tips to find an open, relaxed performing position, where you feel confident and strong. Then it is good to think about the following questions: Are you going to move on stage? If so, how and where? Are you going to take pauses? Where do you look at? What kind of facial expressions do you do? Where do you keep your hand, or do you have something to carry?
These things are good to be planned well and scripted to make sure that performance looks professional and calm. It can feel that if everything is too well planned it makes it boring and stiff. But the thing is, that when everything is well planned and practised, there is more room to relax and connect with the audience. (Ervasti, 2021.)
Connection with audience
Interaction and connection with the audience is an important part of pitching, but it is not simple to create a connection if there are for example hundreds of audiences. Ervasti (2021) says that connection can be built by scripting the choreography for interaction and connection. For example, it can be questions that are pointed out for audiences between statements and information. Asking questions is a natural way to catch the attention of the audience too. Another way to build the connection is to use eye contact to audiences. It can be in that way that you take an actual person to look at and focus your talking to them or taking the eye contact to the horizon in the way that it looks that you are looking to someone. (Ervasti, 2021.)
Sometimes audience members facial emotions or exchanged whispers might be something unpleasant or surprising. Many performers don’t want to pay too close attention during the shows. Instead, they might direct their gaze’s, depending on the distance of course, on people’s eyebrows, foreheads or even that earlier mentioned horizon. The audience members will not notice this small difference, but it might be a huge help for the performer to stay focused.
Practice, practice, practice
Ervasti (2021) highlighted in her education the power of practising. Without practice, there are not going to be a good pitch. She also emphasized that practising alone is not a good way to develop as a good performer and pitcher. When there is a chance to keep a pitch and practice in front of audiences her advice is to take a chance and try. Practising makes its own pitch and script for it familiar and natural. (Ervasti, 2021) When it is natural, there is a bigger chance that performance is more relaxed and confident. Those things are what everyone is looking for in any performance.
As it may sound outdated information to ‘dress the part’ is still an important part of any performance. A ballet composed of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker isn’t able to reach its full glory before the dancers put on their costumes. It rarely benefits a pitch keepers’ agenda to wear as a threatening Mouse King, but the appearance including hair, clothes and possible makeup makes a difference.
Research shows that only a picture of a shoe can tell about a person’s characteristics. Ratings of shoes correlated with age, income, and attachment anxiety. (Gillath, J.Bahns, Ge and S.Crandall, 2012.) At a stage, the pitcher is a straight presentative of the matter in hand. This means, that everything the pitcher represents will also represent the matter.
A great performer could put on a Mouse King costume, feel comfortable in the look and present an award-winning pitch. Despite this, usually, the best appearances are built around the performer’s personality, the matter or company behind the pitch, and the crowd to whom it is being presented. Mouse King costume would most likely need a very special kind of audience for the performance to bring good results. When Barack Obama was still a president and addressed a crowd of working-class Americans, he didn’t wear a suit jacket and his sleeves were rolled up. These details show professionalism and understanding of psychology. Shirt with rolled sleeves (and no jacket) communicated to the audience that he too was a hard worker.
Summarizing all the steps, some highlights are important to remember, such as the importance of the first seconds of the pitch. They are considered the most important one since it is the point where the speaker gets the attention of the audience and make it remarkable or not. That is the reason all the phases mentioned above are necessary for a pitch and must be well studied and developed.
The usage of appropriate vocabulary to the situation makes it easier to achieve the ability to express words in a clear and understanding, what is needed to explain the problem and the solution. Some vocabulary can be used to demonstrate expertise, but it is important that the pitch is still easy to follow for everyone. The audience should be listening, not thinking about what was just said. With the right vocabulary, the audience has a better vision and feel attached to something. That feeling is also important when it comes to the call-to-action session since it will show the level of interest the audience has in what is being pitched.
Always pull rather than push. Instead of forcing anything on anyone, try to present genuine accomplishments in a modest, matter-of-fact way, allowing the listeners to discover the value propositions that are most applicable for themselves.
Slush 100 Pitching Competition
A slush is a non-profit event that brings together students, investors, entrepreneurs, and people from all over the world to develop their businesses in diverse ways. It exists since 2008 and takes place in Helsinki, Finland, where the best speakers in the business world contribute by demonstrating vast knowledge in their areas.
A real spotlight shines on the flourishing start-ups, especially in the Slush 100, the events pitching competition. The 2016 Slush 100 champion was CybelAngel, and its work is to protect other companies, avoiding risks when it comes to data leaks on the Internet. Evelyne Raby, the pitcher who represented CybelAngel, shows great resourcefulness while pitching and answering the judge’s questions.
In her performance, it is clear how she was able to build a pitch based on almost all the steps discussed by Elsa Ervasti. Even though it is not a 10-minute-long pitch, it has a nice structure, and she is able to catch the attention of the audience in the beginning by showing a paper with confidential information of major firms. From that, she presents the problem her clients face and how her company was able to find a solution to that, adding value to the company by showing its expertise and mentioning important clients.
The usage of proper verbal and non-verbal communication can also be noticed, for example, in eye contact not only with the judges but the whole audience. A zip of humour to create connection, nice voice level, appropriate for the occasion and the kind of pitch. Presenting the team and the choice of sharing the most important and impressive numbers are also important parts to create trust and interest, in addition to showing the vision for CybelAngels future. Evelyne’s performance showed that pitching can be done efficiently once you have it planned and the necessary information is gathered properly, in a logical and entertaining way.
Ervasti, E. 2021. Education of pitching in Turku. 10.11.2021.
Ervasti, E & Turunen, J. 2020. Pitch! E-book. Kustantamo S&S. Published in BookBeat 22.9.2020. Red 3.1.2022.
Gillath, O., J.Bahns, A.,Ge, F. and S.Crandall, C. 2012. Journal or Research in Personality. Shoes as source of first impressions. Volume 46. Issue 4. Pages 423-430. August 2012. Red 5.1.2021.
Slush 100 Pitching Competition Finals, Slush 2016. Available on Slush 100 Pitching Competition Finals | Slush 2016, Accessed on 8.1.2022.
Slush, The World’s Leading Start-Up Event, Available on https://www.slush.org/events/helsinki/, Accessed on 8.1.2022.