Don’t Get It (Your Tongue) Twisted
First things first. Pitching ideas to people is hard. Acknowledge that, then you’re ready to get your hands dirty. It’s crucial for you to have confidence, to project confidence. When you seem like you know what you’re talking about, people assume you know what you’re talking about. Confidence shows and it builds trust. Trust is good. Trust makes people open to your ideas, and by extension your company’s ideas, and gives your audience a reason to listen.
Now that you’ve got that sturdy foundation locked in, we’re going to break down how to crush a pitch in seven steps. These steps all have one thing in common: Simplicity. Simplicity is critical. Simple thoughts enter the brain quicker and stay there longer. Simplicity is NOT easy, fast, or stupid. Simply put, it’s saying the right thing with complete clarity.
STEP 1: Know Your Stuff
It’s pretty dumb to talk about something of which you’re ignorant. Don’t be that person. Do you have to memorize a 10-minute speech, word by word, without a single preposition or conjunction out of place? Of course not. But you sure as heck better know your talking points backward and forward, and know the data, stats, or whatever it is you need to reinforce the tent poles of your pitch.
STEP 2: Know Your Audience
Different strokes for different folks. You probably wouldn’t use an abstract painting to make your point to an accountant, just like you wouldn’t use a spreadsheet to win over a surfer. (Apologies to all you surfing accountants out there.) Do your research on who you’re pitching to specifically, and tailor your messaging to the language they speak and your content to the way they think.
STEP 3: Expect the Unexpected
Things will go off-script. They always do. Whether it’s as trivial as a phone ringing just as you’re delivering your perfectly phrased conclusion, or as potentially damaging as the HDMI cable you’re using to present bursting into flames, you have to stay on target. If an audience member interrupts with a question and goes on a tangent, take control of the room again. Let them know you want to hear what they’re saying at a later time, but right here and right now, you want to make sure you explain the big picture. Expect the rug to be pulled out from under you, and be ready to hop back on the horse. Were you riding a horse with a rug for a saddle in that mixed metaphor? Yes. Yes, you were.
STEP 4: Go. Slow.
You don’t get points for a personal best on words per minute. Establish a nice and steady flow, and remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong with pausing. It doesn’t help communicate your message if you’re stumbling over words in your rush to get through the material, and it’s best to let your ideas sink in before powering through to the next topic. Take. Your. Time.
STEP 5: Less is More
This goes back to the underlying point we mentioned earlier about simplicity. If you need to say a 1,000 words to get your idea across, maybe you need to zero in more on the core of the concept. The plot line of films and novels can be pitched in two sentences, or even one. Take The Godfather: “The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.” Boom. Done. Make your point clearly, once, and then move on.
STEP 6: Let the Room Breathe
Give your audience a chance to join in. Everyone wants to be acknowledged. If you ask for questions after wrapping up a particular point, give the crowd (whether it is 1 person or 100), at least a good seven seconds to respond. That may seem like a long time to stand in silence, but you’d be surprised how many hands raise up in that last second. BTW, if you are pitching to just one person and they raise their hand after you ask for questions, that’s kinda weird. See Step 3 and try not to laugh out loud.
STEP 7: Try and Try Again
Yup, we’re talking about practice. You’re not giving a TED Talk after one attempt. Once again, pitching ideas is tough. Public speaking is a muscle you have to exercise to develop. You may struggle at first, you may feel sore after certain sessions, but you will get stronger, and you will get better. Hone your craft any way that you can. Practice with another person, record yourself, do what you gotta do. Rome wasn’t built in a day.