January 28, 2019

9 tips for making a great pitch

Even if you’re not a born salesperson, you can promote your ideas effectively with a well-planned pitch. Take a look at these easy-to-follow tips.

1. Prepare with care – ingredients of an effective pitch

What goes into all great pitches?

Well, there’s the elevator pitch – more on that in a moment – which is a great starting point. It gives your audience the kernel of your idea, and leaves them eager to find out more.

Mention your market research – show that there is an audience for your project or product, and back up your findings with hard data or consumer testimonials if possible.

You’ll also need to summarize your business plan. Get into the practicalities of how you will execute your big idea, including things like supply chain, logistics and product manufacture. Make sure the audience knows you’re about details as well as big ideas.

Touch on your customer lifecycle and how you’ll market, promote and build loyalty around your product or service. If you have ideas about loyalty schemes, offers and promotions or the kind of marketing channels and strategies you’ll use, mention these too.

You’ll find lots more helpful tips in our article on how to prepare for your presentation.

2. Have an elevator pitch

The elevator pitch is a one-sentence summary of your proposition – the thing you want people to remember after they leave the room. It needs to explain what your idea does, who it’s for, and why it’s great. To give an example, here’s an (imaginary) elevator pitch for the Rubik’s Cube:

“A colourful pocket-size puzzle box for all ages that can be twisted in every direction.”

A really effective elevator pitch should be just detailed enough to intrigue the audience and leave them wanting more, while staying as succinct as possible. To really boil your idea down to its bare bones might take a little bit of head-scratching, but luckily you have plenty of time to finesse it before the big day.

3. Practice your pitch

Your pitch isn’t a performance, exactly – you don’t need to learn a speech off by heart or choreograph exactly where you’re going to stand. In fact, if your sales pitch is too polished it can start to feel artificial. But with a bit of rehearsal, you can make your delivery more confident and be ready to answer questions when the big day comes.

Ask a friend, colleague or family member to act as your dummy audience and run through your pitch in front of them, complete with slides.

Have them time your pitch, so you’re aware of how long each part takes and make sure you stay within your target timeframe. Encourage your ‘practice audience’ to ask questions too – they’ll probably come up with some angles  you haven’t considered yet.

4. Don’t skimp on basic explanations

When you live and breathe an idea, it’s easy to overestimate how easy it is for others to understand. Even if it feels like you’re spelling out the obvious,  make sure you include the basic details of your proposal, including the background to how you came up with it and any specialized knowledge you gained on the way to developing it.

Again,  practicing your pitch on a friend or family member who hasn’t been involved in your work can be really helpful here. They can help you gauge whether you’re pitching at a level that’s too high, too low or just right for your target audience.

5. Know what makes a presentation boring

It’s a fact of life – some presentations have your attention from the start, while others leave you watching the clock after a few minutes. How do you make sure your pitch is one of the good ones? Here are some pointers for how to make a presentation engaging and improve your pitching skills.

Make eye contact

However intimidating that sea of faces might be, remember they’re all just people. You can use eye contact strategically to develop a sense of connection with the audience as a whole. Choose a few areas in the audience and make brief eye contact during your presentation. Just a glance now and then will show that you’re talking to them, not at them.

Tell your story

Narrative structures have an almost-magical way of holding people’s attention. What’s the story of how you developed your idea? Who are the characters? What obstacles did you face, and what did you learn along the way? Use these kinds of stories to bring life and color to your pitch and make the audience feel really connected to the action.

Use interactive techniques

Get your audience thinking and responding during your pitch, and you’re more likely to hold their attention. Try asking them to guess a figure or a result that you’ll go on to display on the next slide. Or get them to vote on some different options for brand colors or logos. This will make them feel more invested in what you’re saying, and get them into the mindset of making business decisions with you.

Remember to pause

Many people make the mistake of talking at the speed of thought when presenting. Using a pause in between your sentences allows your audience time to take in and process what you’re saying. It might not feel natural at first, but when you get used to it, it gives you some valuable extra breathing-space as well.

Don’t read from your slides

If you’re presenting with slides, be clear about their role in your pitch: they’re there to illustrate your words, not act as a cue card. If you’re feeling nervous or lost for words, it’s easy to use the phrases on a slide to keep your flow going. But the experience for the listener isn’t comfortable if they’re reading the same thing as they’re hearing.

Instead, try using simple, pared-down slides that are image-based with no more than a few short bullet points. You can use them as a cue to remind you of your point, rather than a script to read from.

6. Give buzzwords a swerve

It’s so tempting to use business jargon or fall back on board-room style turns of phrase, especially when you’re nervous. But you’ll make much more of an impact on your prospective customer if you can use plain, direct language to make your case. Most seasoned investors and decision-makers know that business jargon can hide a multitude of sins, and they’re unlikely to be impressed or convinced when they hear it.

Instead, be a breath of fresh air by speaking clearly and definitely about your plans, goals and the journey you’ve been on with your project. Focus on making an effective sales pitch that answers questions and promotes confidence, not confusion.

7. Use your enthusiasm

Your idea is great, right? So don’t be afraid to shout it from the rooftops.  You’re not going to seem arrogant, boastful or abrasive if you sing your own praises in a pitch – the customer wants to know what you have to offer and how it could benefit them.

If you genuinely believe in what you’re pitching, let your own enthusiasm for your idea shine through and don’t hold back on explaining why it’s got you so excited.

8. Build in question and answer periods

A pitch, if it’s going well, should prompt some questions from your audience. Make sure you add some leeway for ad hoc queries when planning the timing of your pitch, and be ready to address them openly and honestly when they pop up.

If you’d prefer to avoid too many interruptions, let the audience know up front that you’ll have time for questions at the end of the pitch. A question and answer period helps you keep the main body of your pitch well-structured, and gives the audience a chance to have their say. Knowing that a Q&A is coming up can help them set their questions to one side and focus on what you’re saying.

How much time should you leave for question and answer periods? That depends on how long you have for the pitch as a whole, but as a general rule, try to leave 5 to 10 minutes.

If someone in your audience wants more time to go into depth on a question – great. That’s your cue to set up a second meeting, which can only be a good thing.

9. Listen and respond

A business pitch is like a conversation – a rather lopsided one where you do most of the talking. Despite your careful planning, your audience members might bring up ideas, questions and perspectives that you might not be ready for, and that’s totally OK.

If you don’t have an answer, it’s better not to make up something on the spot. It’s much more authentic – and less risky – to say something like “great question! I don’t have the answer right now, so let me email you to follow-up when I’ve looked into it.”

After you’ve delivered your pitch, make it easy to get in touch by giving everyone a beautifully designed Business Card.

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