The Art of the Pitch.

A ‘pitch’ is a special kind of persuasive communication that differs from typical presentation and debate in content, form and purpose. It’s quite different from a presentation for a school project - you’re not just looking back on what you’ve accomplished but forward to how the lessons of the past inform your current and future work. Like a speech in debate, a successful pitch convinces others that your approach is correct, but it must also demonstrate why you’re the right person to implement what you propose. The form and tone of a pitch are dictated by the audience and the circumstances in which you’ve captured their attention. Whether it’s an hour-long presentation to a potential investor or a few texts exchanged with a friend, the pitch must do more than generate agreement and enthusiasm in your audience – it must incite them to take the action you require to move forward.

So what goes in a ‘pitch’? Let’s talk about the four essential tasks your pitch must accomplish:

1. Identify the challenge or opportunity.

What is the problem you’re trying to solve or the opportunity you’re pursuing? What will happen if you don’t go after it? It’s important, very early in the pitch, that you express what’s at stake and why the audience you’re addressing should care. Give numbers for the quantifiable aspects of the problem and supply the context that makes them significant.

2. Propose and justify a solution.

How are you going to meet this challenge and what is the evidence that supports your approach? What are the other potential approaches and why did decide against them? If applicable, what are your competitors doing and how will you maneuver around them? Try to anticipate your audience’s concerns and criticisms.

3. Demonstrate why you’re the one(s) to implement the solution.

How has your education, life and professional experience, triumphs and failures prepared you to achieve what you propose? Why should you be entrusted with this important task and not someone else? A certain percentage of this your audience will intuit from how you present the other points. The way you discuss the challenge should demonstrate your passion and commitment, as well an exceptional knowledge of the space.

4. Inform the audience how and why their help is needed.

It is absolutely imperative that, by the time the last word of your pitch has crossed your lips, your audience understands what you’re asking them to do and why it’s essential to your success. Ideally they’ve already weighed their decision based on the points you’ve presented. The most important thing to do when preparing a pitch is to imagine yourself on the other side. What would you do?

It’s worth noting that in some of the best, most well-known pitches – by the leaders of companies, and also social movements – one or two of these points are omitted. Entrepreneurs such Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr. are able to do that because the reputations they’ve developed speak to these points on their behalf. Similarly, when pitching to a friend or someone else who knows you well, your backstory can go unspoken, but it’s important that, one way or another, you address those four points every time you pitch.

No less essential to the success of a pitch than its content are the form it takes and the nuances of its performance. In many pitch situations, your greatest challenge will be earning the trust and respect of your audience. For that reason, many pitches, both formal and informal, begin with a sort of autobiography that grounds your concern/interest for the challenge/opportunity in your own identity. To be moved by your passion, the audience has to perceive your authenticity. From there the pitch may follow the narrative arc of a superhero film in which you, as our protagonist, encounter your foe, then build the team and devise the strategy to defeat him. Exactly how you tell your story will depend on the expectations of audience, your own personality and the particulars of your endeavor. What’s more important is that you approach the pitch as storytelling rather than entreaty or a rigid recitation of fact and argument. The best pitches go out of their way not to be or identify themselves as pitches, but to engage their audience’s curiosity, emotion and reason. It’s only upon reflection after hearing such a pitch that you see how it accomplishes the four essential tasks, seamlessly weaving its points into an authentic, and authentically thrilling, narrative.

David Clarke