Pitching To Different Audiences
There is no such thing as a perfect all-purpose pitch.
Context is everything – tell people the right amount of your story and you have the best chance of winning them over.
Tell them the wrong amount of your story and you’ll either bore them, confuse them or annoy them, which rarely translates into support.
This post will teach you how to read each situation, and give you some structure around what should be included (and dropped) from different types of pitch.
What is the purpose of my talk?
This is the best starting point for designing a pitch:
Am I looking to persuade, entertain or inform?
All of these are valid, but not all of them are important for every situation.
An airport announcement needs to be informative rather than persuasive or entertaining.
A stand-up special need to be entertaining rather than informative or persuasive.
A Tinder profile need to be persuasive, rather than informative or entertaining.
A documentary needs to be entertaining and informative, but not necessarily persuasive.
A politician needs to be persuasive and entertaining, but not necessarily informative.
A charity ad needs to be informative and persuasive, but not necessarily entertaining.
Sometimes you want to be all three, but this is notoriously tough to get right.
Which is the most important?
Which is of secondary importance?
This can be used to design the right talk – are you here to provide knowledge or to prompt an action?
It changes the stories you tell and the way you use slides and handouts.
Where do you want to land?
One of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is to begin with the end in mind.
By first naming where the pitch needs to land (e.g. asking for a sale, asking the audience for a vote or an introduction, receiving a standing ovation etc), we can work backwards to build the whole presentation.
How much information will the audience need before they can take the next step?
What mental/emotional state do they need to be in?
How much do they need to trust you?
How much do they need to like you?
This helps us determine the right length, tone and sequence of our pitch, not overwhelming the audience whilst also giving them enough content to make a decision.
Who am I pitching to?
Your structure and strategy will change depending on who you’re talking to.
Here are some suggestions for what to focus on…
Pitching to potential customers
We’re aiming for one of three outcomes when pitching to a customer:
1. The customer decides to make a purchase
2. The customer decides to keep progressing towards a purchase
3. The customer decides this isn’t for them, but keeps you in high regard.
One is obvious, but two and three are really important.
Our pitch should be designed to impress, inform and persuade, but not to force anyone into taking an action that’s against their best interests.
The opposite of this is gross – high pressure sales tactics – which is when the person doing the pitch will say or do anything to coerce you into a purchase.
Instead we want to encourage a purchase if it’s the right move, keep people enthusiastic if they’re still a way off making a decision, or suggest a dignified parting of ways if you’re not the right option for the customer.
Any pitch to a customer needs to explain what you sell, how it works, who it’s for and how it makes their life better.
Then it needs to get practical, explaining a next step and calling them to take an action.
You can talk about competitors if you think it’s helpful, but this and other topics can easily become a hindrance if used at the wrong time.
Pitching to potential partners
The three words that come to mind here are: Clarity, Integrity, Opportunity.
Clarity describes who you are, how you work and why you exist.
Integrity is the sense that you’re not a fraud, a jerk or a dishonest operator.
Opportunity is the array of ways someone might partner with you in the future.
For these reasons, a pitch to partners needs to be transparent, dignified and open minded.
You are not looking for an on-the-spot purchase or for money to change hands today, but rather to start a long-term relationship that benefits all parties.
Your pitch needs to start with a concise summary of your business model, your unfair advantage, how you started and how you operate.
It’s important to show how you think and how you make decisions, but don’t over-promise.
I’d suggest ending with an array of options for partnering together, including an easy and low risk first step.
Pitching to potential investors
Investors pride themselves on cutting to the chase, so there’s no room for fluff or long windedness.
Instead, the aim here is to give a concise overview on what the business does, how it works, who it serves and how it makes money.
That financial component is really important, because it’s the main question on the investor’s mind, and other useful information can’t get through until this question is resolved.
A pitch should tell a clear story about the business model, followed by an explanation of why you’re the right person to do this work (better than anyone else).
Once that’s out of the way, you have lots of room for origin stories, technical details and social impact models.
Just don’t try and lead with them.
Pitching to spectators
The golden rule with a spectator is: Be Interesting.
It’s more important to be interesting and long winded than it is to be concise and dull.
Stories are excellent in these pitches, stories about the founding of the business, of customers who benefited from what you sell, or stories about how the business changed direction over time.
The aim here is to leave people with a simple memory and story to tell others.
They don’t need fine details or financials, but rather they need to hear about the remarkable part of your business.
Adapting to different lengths of time
You’ll have to adjust your pitch to match the amount of time you have.
What’s interesting is that a two minute pitch is not a mini version of a ten minute pitch, the structure and purpose of your points is surprisingly different.
Here are some good rules of thumb for making the most of your time…
The 20 second pitch
Also known as an elevator pitch, these are hard to nail and invaluable once they’re good.
20 seconds is enough time to say 4 things:
1. Your name
2. Your industry
3. The problem today
4. The solution you offer
After that, it’s up to the listener as to whether or not they want to ask any follow up questions, which is your opportunity to talk details and history.
“I’m Isaac from FictionalBiz, a consultancy that creates fake examples.
A lot of people to struggle to think of hypothetical examples and become blocked, but with our hotline they have instant access to a choice of great case studies”
“I’m Kelly from Green Bonnet, we make recyclable packaging.
Lots of food companies are frustrated that they have no ethical packaging options, but we have a new polymer that is fully degradable and costs no more than their current plastic wrappers.”
This is just a starting point, but it instantly clears up your industry, your name, your customer and your solution.
This gives you the best chance of launching into an interesting conversation.
The two minute pitch
There are a few ways of approaching a two minute pitch.
1. A longer version of the elevator pitch (name, industry, customer in detail, solution in detail, price options, next steps)
2. A great 1-min story or case study, then a summary of the solution and next steps.
It really depends on what you have up your sleeve.
For a lot of social enterprises, their great stories are more engaging and compelling than a bland overview of their business model, but you still have to explain what your business actually does and how someone can participate.
The five minute pitch
A five minute pitch can be roughly broken down into the following parts:
1. Who you are
2. The problem today
3. Your clever solution
4. Examples of how it works
5. An overview of the business model
6. Who’s on your team
7. What you want next
Personally, I find this to be an easy length, the shorter ones require much more scripting and the longer ones requires much more structure.
A great example of the five minute pitch is to watch Shark Tank.
Each business gets a 10 minute segment, made up of a 5 minute pitch and 5 minutes of brutal Q&A.
If you watch a few episodes, you’ll see this pattern play out, where the 5 minutes is used to explain the story, the solution, the model, the team and the future.
The ten minute pitch
Nobody casually knocks out a 10 minute pitch, it’s something you’re going to prepare for.
I like The Pitch Canvas by David Beckett, a good framework for this length.
Using this framework, you’ll touch on each of the following for 30-50 seconds each:
1. A simple statement about what you’ve built and why it exists
2. A description of the customer and the pain/gain they want resolved/created
3. An engaging summary of your product and how it works
4. A demonstration, through a prototype, video or case study
5. An explanation of what’s unique or different about this product
6. Stories and evidence of “traction”, how people are already starting to buy from you
7. A summary of your business model, e.g. where you fit in the value chain
8. The investment or support you’re looking for (from the audience)
9. Who’s on your team and why they’re top quality people
10. A closing statement and call to action
11. (BONUS) why you’re the right person, or why you feel called to run this business
For each of the above, the key is to find what’s interesting in your business for each point.
They don’t have to strictly be in that order, and they don’t need equal amounts of time.
You can start with a story if it’s a good one, but otherwise this order helps clear up the audience’s questions in a logical flow.
The 20-30 minute pitch
Similar to the 10 minute pitch, but with richer details at each point.
20 minutes gives you more time for examples, prototypes and case studies.
If you can expand a few sections, I recommend more time on points 2-6.
Getting points 8-10 is important, but they don’t need to be long.
Point 7 (the business model) could do with some more explanation if you think the audience would appreciate it, e.g. who your partners are, how you create value with your assets, other options for the model you’ve considered in the past, etc.
Guy Kawasaki uses his 10-20-30 rule:
30 point font on your slides.
This is a good rule of thumb, as is his outline for the 10 slides.
The Shark Tank grilling
The Shark Tank grilling is a combination of three things:
1. The 20 minute pitch, using The Pitch Canvas or Guy Kawasaki’s template.
2. A readiness to talk about the numbers in your business (sales, customers, prices, costs, margins, growth, trends, targets, etc).
3. A readiness to talk about your options for the future (partnerships, expansion, specialisation, diversification, etc).
Don’t go into one of these unless you’re prepared to talk about all three.
The sharks are interested in the business today, but more importantly where you’re taking the business in the next two years.
Failure to know your numbers, or an inability to comprehend changing the model will be huge red flags.
You don’t have to lie or try to impress them, but instead speak with clarity and honesty about where things are today.
If you get in trouble, remember the golden phrase: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”
· Everyone loves photos, and these need to be high res.
· A picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures.
· Don’t use a video unless it’s on your hard drive and is easy to start. Fiddling around kills your momentum.
· Don’t use actual cue cards, it’s your business and you shouldn’t need to.
· Practice with a good clicker so that it feels natural. This turns your slides into substitute cue cards.
· Script your opening and closing line. This gives you some confidence to improvise a bit in the middle.
· Take water with you, even if you’re not thirsty.
· When you’re nervous, speak louder; counter-intuitive, but it works.
Good luck with your pitch, I hope you enjoy the process of telling a good story and getting good feedback.
This is a muscle that grows with deliberate training, and one that will become increasingly valuable throughout your career.
Finally, I hope you use this chance to tell the truth about what you’re building.
The truth is really easy to remember, and it’s better to be honest about a gap than try and bluff your way through with a lie.