Whether you have an idea to pitch for the Imagine Cup pitch challenge, an idea to pitch to an investor, or an idea to pitch to your boss, the right structure can help you get and hold your audience’s attention! Here are 3 different pitch structures I find effective.
The Imagine Cup pitch video challenge deadline is October 29th, 2014 and the World Series is underway so it seems timely to share some different approaches for delivering a great pitch. (cue the groans on the baseball pun). If you aren’t familiar with it, the Imagine Cup is a student technology competition that challenges students to come up with cool games innovative solutions, and solutions to build world citizenship. October is the deadline for the pitch competition.
In this post I’ll describe three pitch structures
- Elevator pitch
- Executive pitch
- Presentation pitch
The elevator pitch
When you have a very short time frame to pitch an idea to someone it’s important to get to the point quickly. For this situation, I prefer the structure presented by Michael Buschmohle at the Imagine Cup World Finals in St Petersburg Russia in 2013.
Picture – Promise – Prove – Push
Describe a current problem or need that is not being met. provide a vivid description with details emphasizing the difficulties the problem creates. Telling a story of a person affected by the problem complete with the person’s name, age, situation in life, can help get someone's attention. For example “Mike is a 22 year old student, he is sitting at a street corner waiting for his friend Joe who promised to meet him at 5 PM. It’s now 5:15. Mike is wondering how much longer to wait, did Joe forget? is he just around the corner? did he miss his bus?”
Okay you’ve convinced me there is a need or problem, now make me a promise, give me a solution! People want solutions and benefits not products! Telling me you have developed a wristwatch that detects UV is nice, but telling me I will never get sunburn again is much more interesting! What are you going to show me and what will I get out of taking the time to listen to you? For example, “Today, I will show you a simple way Mike could find out exactly how long he needs to wait for Joe, so that you will understand how we can save hundreds of thousands of people from wasting time waiting for someone who is late or not coming”
Okay, you’ve given me a problem and you claim you have a solution, you’ve piqued my interest now is the time to show me how you are going to do it! What’s your solution, how much time will it take to develop, how much money will it cost to develop, how much will you sell it for, how much effort is this going to be, what are the risks? Now is the time to throw in statistics, testimonials from experts, data, to prove your solution works!
If you are pitching to somebody, presumably it’s because you are looking for something from them. So Now that you have presented your case tell me what you want: Money? Advice? Endorsement? Feedback on a beta or free trial?
When you have to present an idea to someone in upper management, you have to think in terms the way an executive team thinks. If you are running a company you have to have a vision for the company. Visions can be very high level e.g. “We are a cloud first, mobile first company”. But then you have to break that down to something more tangible and specific and show the return on investment to get buy in. I first encountered this structure when I was teaching ITIL and find it very effective.
Vision – Where are we now? – Where do we want to be? – How do we get there? – How do we know when we get there?
What is your vision? You have an idea, but that idea is probably part of a bigger dream. A world where anyone can bring any device to the office and use it for work? An interconnected world where all my devices work seamlessly with one another? If you are pitching to a company executive, you should probably look up their company vision. If your vision is not aligned with theirs you can expect an uphill battle!
Where are we now?
This is an honest assessment of the current situation with regards to the vision. “Right now everyone has to use a company laptop or company provided PC.” “Right now we have phones, tablets, and laptops from different manufacturers that don’t play well together.”
Where do we want to be?
Now it’s time to set a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. What is a specific goal we can set that takes us one step closer to that vision. “By implementing a new document storage system we can ensure all our sensitive information is stored securely but personal devices can be used to read and edit, but not store sensitive documents.” “By switching to Office 365 we can provide secure access to email from any tablet, phone, or PC”
How do we get there?
Hopefully, by now you have their attention, so now it’s time to explain the specifics of your plan or solution.
How do we know when we get there?
Key Performance Indicators, metrics, measurable goals, whatever you want to call them, it’s important to have some way of proving an idea works (or doesn’t work and needs to be tweaked or fixed!) When you give your financial advisor money, at the end of the year you know exactly what you got out of the investment there is a direct measure (how much money did I make) that tells you if the plan your investment advisor suggested worked! You are asking the executive team to invest in your plan, you need to offer a way to report on the success of your project. This can be tricky but it is essential. Will you measure the number of personal devices used in the office, if so how? will you track the number of security incidents reported? Will you do an employee satisfaction survey? It’s tricky, but it makes a big difference when you are trying to get executive buy in
The final pitch format is the one I use when I am invited to deliver a presentation on any topic. In any presentation I deliver I am trying to convince the audience of something. Maybe I am trying to convince them to use a new feature, maybe I am trying to convince them there are better ways to deliver a pitch. For presentations I like the basic structure of the Beyond Bullet Points style of presentations by Cliff Atkinson.
Setting – Protagonist – Imbalance – Balance - Solution – Content
The very first slide in your deck should give your audience the setting, telling them where we are right now. Think of it like a sort of one sentence status update, a state of the union. Ideally this setting should be expressed as a single sentence with a single image on the slide to reinforce it. For example
“The cloud is everywhere” and a picture of a sky filled with clouds
The second slide should help the audience understand how they fit into this setting, so they can understand how your first statement is relevant to them. Again keep the slide simple, one sentence, one image!
“You can be the cloud leader” with a picture of a race and somebody out in front of the pack
This slide should give a sense of the conflict, the problem, it should start to make people feel like we need to do something. Stick with the one sentence, one image format.
“The cloud is coming, you can fight it or embrace it” with a picture of a cloud and a happy sun
This slide should tell the audience the desired outcome, where we want to be in a week, a month, a year, or even in an hour when this presentation is completed. Oh and guess what format the slide should be…yup one sentence, one image. By the way lets be clear, I do mean an actual sentence, with punctuation and everything, a bullet point is not a sentence.
“The cloud can make your job easier today” with a picture of a happy person sitting at a computer
Now it’s time to reveal what you will really be talking about in your slide deck, the solution, how will we get from where we are now to where we want to be, from the imbalance to the balance!
“Let’s look at 3 specific examples of how you can use the cloud today” with a picture of the number 3
By the way the number 3 is a bit of a magic number when you create presentations. It seems like people can remember 3 things. So presentations are often structured in groups of three.
So now that you have your audience hooked with these first 5 slides, it’s time to dig into the details, the code, the demos, etc… and deliver on the promised solution! I recommend breaking your presentation into 3 parts with one key message for the audience to remember in each part.
There are lots of different structures you can use to pitch an idea. It’s always important to take the time and plan out your pitch so it delivers the maximum impact. If you are a student and you want to master these skills. I encourage you to enter the Imagine Cup Pitch competition is a great way to hone your skills! For all of us, hopefully this is a good reminder that it’s worth taking the time to think through how you want to pitch an idea to a co-worker or your boss. I’ve been knows to use some of these structures even in an email or blog post.