A good pitch is the start of a meaningful relationship with an investor, a supporter or a client. It’s not the same as marketing, selling or networking. Your pitch is like the opening line of a conversation where both sides want to achieve something. So there are three rules you should follow when you pitch to win support for your ideas:
Know your audience
Know your facts
Tell great stories.
Here’s the presentation deck from the Big Ideas Generator Pitch to Win sessions (Keynote file 6Mb). And here are both the worksheets I gave out (PDF files).
I’ve stripped the video files out, so the presentation is easier to download. Here are the versions of Nike’s Foundation Story and Brand Story from YouTube:
Seeing is believing, right? But there’s one sense that’s even more credible – and that’s touch. If you make your story visible, your audience can see what you mean. If you can make your story physical, something your audience can hold in their hands, imagine how much more powerful it becomes.
But often, you’re telling a story about something that happened elsewhere or something that doesn’t exist yet. How can you make that physically real? Well, here are three possibilities:
Artefact: Any object can give a story focus. The story isn’t just the thing itself but the people who made it, treasured it, bought it or threw it away. The BBC and British Museum managed to tell the history of the world in 100 objects. Stuck for an idea? Take in an something you made for/with your last client.
Prototype: Dating shows are hard to get right and TV commissioners are very picky. The makers of ITV’s dating show Take Me Out built a studio model with working lights for their pitch. The idea was that the women would switch off their podium lights if they didn’t fancy the male contestant. In front of sceptical commissioners, the producers lit up their model and knocked lights off one by one. “No Likey, No Lighty” became instantly real. (Seriously, if you haven’t watched this show, you need to stay in more.) So the moral of this story: if you can make a prototype to illustrate your story, do it. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated – LEGO or cardboard will feel more real than just words.
Metaphor: I pitched a piece of work to a company recently who wanted to improve the way their teams gave each other feedback. I pulled one of these out of my bag.
“Try and take a group selfie,” I said to one of the management team. He got up, took the disposable camera, tried to take the shot then handed the camera back. “Now,” I said, “imagine it takes me a couple of weeks to get the photos developed. Imagine we sit down in a couple of months and look at them in our appraisal meeting and I start telling you why your photography skills aren’t very good. You’ll barely remember how you took the photo, so what chance have you got of learning from the experience?” I made the contrast between 35mm film and digital. “If you’d taken that group selfie on your phone, we’d all be looking at the results right now. We’d see what worked and what didn’t and you’d be able to try again to do it better.”
The camera was a metaphor and moral of the story was this: expertise grows with rapid feedback. More importantly, the physicality of holding a camera, winding it on, pressing the shutter all helps cement this message into your memory.
(I didn’t win the pitch, but that’s another story)
These two videos show how Nike changed their approach to storytelling. Their first TV ad from 1982 is about the company. The people who MAKE the shoe are the hero of the story. The second video from Nike’s 2012 ad campaign makes the people who WEAR the shoe the hero of the story.
Version 1 is your “foundation” story, the story of how you/your company got to where you are today. Version two is your “mentor” story – how you are helping your customers get where they want to go.
Remember, you can only really tell your foundation story once. You can tell as many mentor stories as you have customers.
Here’s the presentation deck from Hyper Island’s training day on storytelling & pitching. And here, with commentary, the first half of the training:
Here’s a depressing insight about pitching from an experienced TV insider:
“You know that ten minute chat before the pitch starts, that bit when you talk about your flight and the traffic and the kids. That’s the pitch. That’s when the commissioner is working out whether you are someone they can do business with.”
So the crucial decision is made during the small talk.
Good chat, smiles = let’s hear what you’ve got.
Bad chat, frowns = let’s get this over with.
It seems a pretty dumb way to do business, so what can we do about it?
If you are pitching: think about your chat. I don’t mean rehearse it or try to be someone you’re not. Both will ring false and that’s a terrible impression to make. Instead, do your homework about the person you’re pitching to and ask a conversational question about some piece of work they’re likely to be proud of. So, for example “how’s [XXX] doing, I’ve seen some great reviews.” This gives them a chance to feel good and some of that good vibe will rub off on you. It also shows you’re interested in what works for them, not just pushing your own agenda.
If you are being pitched to: I’m tempted to say “grow up”. But let’s be honest, most of us like working with people we feel comfortable with. It’s called “in-group bias”.
But can you think of a better way to let unconscious biases flourish than to allow yourself to be swayed by pre-pitch chat? And can you think of a better way to undermine diversity than to ignore an unconscious bias in favour of people who look or sound like you?
Before the pitch try saying to yourself “Whether I like this person or not has no bearing on the quality of his/her idea.” Better still you could say to yourself “If I don’t feel comfortable with this person it maybe because he/she sees the world differently to me. Maybe their idea will push me out of my comfort zone.”
Just by acknowledging your own biases, you’re half way to beating them.
Does this kind of pre-pitch chat happen in other industries? How does anyone else deal with it?
This technique could give you confidence going into a pitch. I’ve adapted it from a divergent creative tool called List of 100 (sources below), with a nod to Jay-Z.
As you prepare to pitch your project or idea, write a list of 99 problems that it could face.
Any lingering doubts about your pitch will come out in the first 30.
The next 40 will reveal any patterns.
The last 29 will be unusual and could contain useful insights.
When you’ve completed your list, highlight any urgent problems. Turn these problems into “How could we….?” questions to brainstorm solutions.
So why does 99 Problems work – and won’t it discourage me?
It’s much better to spot a potential problem before the person you’re pitching to does. That way, you can address it before you go through the door, or at least show you’re aware of it.
Don’t worry that deliberately looking for problems will dishearten you.
Ironically, the harder we have to search for evidence of something, the less likely we are to believe it. If I asked you to find just two problems with your pitch, that would be so easy you’d suspect there must be more out there.
You’ll struggle to find 99 problems, and so you’ll instinctively feel your pitch is stronger. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls this the “availability heuristic.”
Try it out. You’ll have 99 Problems, but your pitch ain’t one.