Since the dawn of time, society has valued storytellers.
Cavemen crafted images on the walls to share a tale. Marathoners run 26.2 miles today because legend has it the messenger Phidippides ran that distance from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to deliver the message that the Persian Army had been turned away.
In today’s world, storytelling and messaging still holds great value, but how you tell the story, and how you deliver the message has changed. Today’s world is dotted with shorter attention spans, competing interests and hand-held devices that can undermine the most gifted narrators.
The 21st century requires the entrepreneurial storyteller to be concise, captivating and cunning. Your story is a work of art that must be crafted with flexibility and honed through practice.
The classic elevator pitch informs a person who you are, whom you serve and how you serve them, but it’s how the business owner answers those three critical questions that can be the biggest difference between winning over a prospective client or investor or failing to spark their imagination.
Here are seven tips to follow when perfecting your pitch.
Hook at the Start.
The most important tool when a person goes fishing is not the rod, the reel or the line. It’s the bait. If you never hook the fish, you’ll never reel it into the boat. After you introduce yourself, your next sentence or two has to grab your target. They can be analogous, bold or even a bit mysterious, but they have to pique the person’s interest and make them stop and listen.
- Analogous? One rising Tampa Bay-based startup, Knack, uses a digital platform to help college students find course expert tutors. That’s a 12-word description, but you can shorten it to: It’s like Uber for college tutoring. That’s half as long and the analogy creates a parallel with one of the world’s most successful companies.
- Bold? Another entrepreneur might start with the proclamation. I’m going to disrupt the fast-food market with a revolutionary approach. Action verbs like revolutionize, disrupt, change and enhance can be used if they rest of the story backs up the boast. It’s a matter of being confident, but not cocky.
- Mysterious? This may be the most difficult of the three. Too little information in the first two sentences may cause the person to lose interest. Too much could overwhelm. But the right start creates intrigue. Five years ago I arrived in the balmy Virgin Islands as a lawyer in a hot blue suit and now I’m one of the country’s most critical business owners. OR I never would have become an entrepreneur if my high school girlfriend didn’t show up at my dad’s funeral. Intrigue leads the person to keep listening.
How and Why.
Once you hook them, snap back on the rod to embed the hook. Offer a summary sentence that lays out the direction of the conversation by succinctly detailing not only what you do, but how you do it and why you’re in this business venture. The “what” bridges the beginning of the conversation to the heart of the solution your business offers. The “how” defines the approach. The “why” reveals the purposeful and passionate foundation of your pitch. These three distinct tenets can be captured in one or two sentences. Consider the founder of a new fast-food chain making a pitch: My name is Joe Smith and I’m going to disrupt the fast-food market with a revolutionary approach. My company will marry the expediency diners have grown accustom to with the rising demand for healthier options by creating an irresistible menu of farm to table options. I created this company because I grew tired of feeding my kids fast food I knew wasn’t healthy.
At this point, your listener is engaged. Take a very quick moment to express appreciation and create a touchpoint, a commonality the two of you may share that can propel their interest in you and your story. It requires keen observation skills or a quick question that you can take and related back to your story. Our fast-food entrepreneur may say, Do you ever get frustrated when you take your kids out to eat? Me too. You need a great deal of conversational expertise to pull this off because it must be accomplished quickly, and the question you pose can’t come across as intrusive. The value of the touchpoint can’t be underestimated. People want to listen more if you establish common perspectives.
Data backs up the assertions with facts, reflect your intelligence and reveals the cogent thoughts behind the business plan. In a sentence, you can show the listener you didn’t just make up your business plan after being unable to sleep one night. You went out and researched your theories and found tangible proof there’s a need and desire for what you’re offering. It can include survey data, economic trends and related successes.
Forecast the Good.
With the data lending support, you can transition to your positive projections with more fact-based data. It should involve goals and benchmarks in terms of increasing your customer base, generating revenue, attracting investors and, ultimately, what the return you hope to deliver to those investors. However, don’t let the numbers waft about for too long. Circle back to over-arching goal, the purpose and passion of your business. Those sell more than the numbers.
Extend at the End.
At this point, your conversation may be winding down if it’s a 60-second pitch. You’ll have more to tell, so ask for a chance to extend the conversation at another time. This should include offers to schedule a meeting, email more information or an invitation to your site. If the person doesn’t agree to any of those opportunities, express the hope you will see them again, diligently try to hand them your business card and thank them for their time.
Practice and Pay Attention.
The University of South Florida Muma College of Business encourages its job-seeking students to constantly work on sharpening the focus of elevator pitches. This involves both rereading and rewriting your pitch, and practicing the pitch with friends and family, and even strangers. Practicing in the mirror is good, but practicing with others allows you to pay attention to what words, sentences and even mannerisms resonate, and what approaches fall flat. Body language is just as important as the words themselves in making a good pitch. The Muma College advises to watch for “confidence, timing, content, appearance and speech flow.” Good advice whether its a job pitch or an entrepreneurial story.
At Rising Tide Innovation Center, we have a passion for community, and our community can help lend the feedback and guidance you need. We’ve invested in this co-work space not out of necessity, but because building community excites and enriches us. We’re passionate about creating a community to help bring the dreams of entrepreneurs to fruition so together, we can revolutionize, disrupt and change the world.
That’s our pitch. Give us a chance to help perfect yours.