How to craft a (perfect) good enough pitch

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How to craft a perfect good enough pitch

30 teams share their elevator pitches in a row. The microphone lands in the hands of the entrepreneurs. One by one they share their ideas. They explain (or rather try to explain) the projects mainly in the Healthcare Solution. Most fail. I hear the words but don’t get the gist of it. Clearly those do not get the meaning before details rule from John Medina’s Brain Rule bestseller. Yet they are trying so hard I almost feel obliged to listen. But that’s me. A kind empathetic kind of guy. Most investors and jury members would not care.


The title of the post suggests I lowered my expectations a tiny bit. I did. Once I advocated the perfect pitch. Now I’ll settle for the pitch that is good enough. The one that captures my attention, eases up the cognitive processes and makes me want to ask about the details. Most of the elevator pitches I heard on that day and many others I hear every year (and I do hear more than 1000 and analyse more than 500 annually) fail to do that. They don’t earn my attention. They very often bore me to death. It’s not the boredom linked to the slow process and phlegmatic speakers. Quite the contrary – this is boredom caused by lack of understanding, the lack of attention grabbing information and the jargon galore.

How do I scan your pitch

I pay with my attention, make it worthwhile. As I was sitting, listening to those fast, often impromptu produced sentences my poor little brain was trying to grasp something. A gist. A meaning. But instead all that I got was details, details, details. There was a lot of: we do this, we do that, we are creating, breakthrough, innovation, passion. Words that don’t do much to help the brain focus. Those one liners and ‚elevator style’ pitches fail to answer one fundamental question: Why the F should I care.

I (and other brains) scan your pitch (and every other message) with the help of so called cognitive processes. Those are the ones that we use to learn about the world. We pay attention to what our brain perceives as crucial (often very subjectively), we trust and believe in information that is understood and in sync with our view of the world. We memorise the things that have the strongest emotional impact and that are structured in a way that eases that process. There you have it. Attention, understanding & memory. The basic processes you should care for when communicating your idea.

Tell me something I do not know

When it comes to attention, you have to realise that we as humans pay attention mostly to either chances or threats. That’s what helped us survived as a species. A chance – from the evolutionary point of view was mostly reproduction (sex) or resources (food). Now it is everything we perceive as a chance to have more, earn more, learn more relevant stuff. So you do not necessarily need to project SEX from the stage or serve FOOD when you pitch. You can start with an interesting sentence that clearly shows a new emerging trend. The trend that will help get rich only those who piggy back ride it.

You can also grab attention with paradox (contradicting ideas). The brain loves the contrast. It notices it instantly. You can say something that is new and interesting enough to pay attention to. But do not start with cliche and the facts everyone is familiar with. Because even if this information is important it will leave the audience oblivious to it. Take airline safety presentations before the plane takes off. This is one of the most important information you’ll ever hear and yet so many people don’t pay attention to it. Why? Because they’ve heard it before. It is as interesting as a conference-case-study-that-everyone-knows. Oddly enough when people are asked about the information from the safety instructions they cannot retain important information like ‚how to start an oxygen flow’. We do not listen because we assume we know. But we do not necessarily know. The same goes for the boring intros to the pitches or wrongly crafted elevator pitches. We assume we know and we don’t listen. And we fail to understand.

Tell me something I understand

Understanding is crucial. I am pretty sure all the projects introduced during that short session in Barcelona where 30 start ups from Healthcare category pitched were important. Possibly brilliant. Maybe ground breaking. The problem is that I did not get most of them. The people behind those projects definitely knew what they were talking about. After all they were talking about something they knew all about. But they failed to use their cognitive empathy to figure out how to explain those projects to us: the audience. I got only the projects that used props (actual models or prototypes) and clear concrete sentences. I failed to understand the abstract. My brain could extract words. But those words lacked meaning – because I could not associate them with anything. The brain to understand must ‚see’. The more abstract the process or notion the more it struggles with the meaning. Also to understand anything the brain must process meaning before details. If the brain doesn’t get the gist it rarely struggles to understand the details. You cannot force understanding. That is why the door (intro) to a good pitch is something called cognitive ease. When the brain follows, understands and ‚sees’ what is being explained, it feels at ease and more than that it trusts that what it hears is true!

Tell me something I will remember

From all the 30 extremely short pitches I remember (after 4 days) ideas like – candy with no sugar, a WhatsApp for hospitals, a tablet for the blind and visually impaired, a collar that regulates the temperature of the brain, a glove that does something in VR, a ‚station’ that monitors all vital measurements at home, an app presented by Jesus (mainly due to name) and… not much more. Maybe if I struggled more I would be able to squeeze something out of my memory. The fact is that the brain remembers the things that it pays attention to, that it finds relevant and that are somehow structured in a nice way. Also the ones that come in threes. As this is the number of elements it can hold in short term memory.

How does investor scan your pitch

The investors have the brains. So it’s obvious most of all you need to grab their attention with something they see as a chance or a threat (to their future gains – that is called the loss aversion). But an investor has a particular brain. It does not look for passionate gurus and messiahs onstage. It looks for credibility, coachability, growth mindsets. And of course for a chance to invest. The investors looks for to things:

  • Return: The potential return (aka upside) on an investment in your business
  • Risk: The risks that might prevent them from getting that return on their investment

When it comes to risks an investor usually is focused on three  types of it:

  • Market Risk: Are you addressing a large, growing market?
  • Product Risk: Can you build a compelling product with sustainable competitive advantages?
  • Execution Risk (aka Team Risk): Can your team acquire and retain new customers profitably, at scale, and transform your opportunity into a substantial long-term business?

When you get those into consideration you’ll probably come up with a pitch that is not brilliant, perfect but simply good enough to help others understand that your project matters, that your team is good enough to execute it and that the whole idea is sound. Sound and designed for a market that needs it full of customers who are willing to pay for it.

Jesus, don’t apologise

I’ve mentioned one guy – Jesus. That is the name many people in Spain have. For me however it always comes as a shock as where I live the name is kind of taboo. I remember him. Because of the name and because he started his pitch onstage by apologising for ‚bad English’ that was not so bad after all. I later told him never to apologise onstage. It’s one thing to be humble and aware of ones shortcomings and quite the other to waste 15 seconds of your pitch to talk about it. You start strong. You do not start by apologising. You don’t start with cliche and ‚thanking for kind attention’. This is you 3, 5 or 8 minutes. This is your time. Start with BIG idea, with meaning. Then go into details. And never apologise.

Case study – an intro good enough.

To sum up I want to share with you an intro to a Jukedeck’s pitch from Techcrunch disrupt London. Those guys came up with a good pitch. Solid. I like the clear presentation and very good intro – a map that helps me understand instantly what trend and area they represent. What they do and what problem they solve. I also know that this problems is large enough and shared by many. They go like this:

We’re building an artificial intelligence music composer.

That’s their big idea in 6 words precisely. I already know what they do and that it involves AI and that it has something to do with composing music. Then they continue:

400 hours of video is uploaded on the YouTube every single minute. A figure that’s quadrupled in the past three years. At the same time 3000 of hours is produced for movies and TV every single day. And pretty much all this content needs music.

I know know some numbers about the main market (YouTube video creators) and secondary markets (movies and TV). I also know that all video needs music.

But talk to any music video creator and they will tell you that finding music for video content sucks. This is Marcianophone a south American YouTube creator. He has 500 k subscribers and more that 80 m views. When he shots his videos he needs to add music. So he goes to the stock audio libraries where he spends ages looking for the right track. When he finally finds the one he likes, it’s expensive. Costing around $40 for a three minute track. The copywriting and royalties are really confusing. And it won’t fit his video. Meaning he has to manually edit it. What’s more – thousands of other video creators have used the very same track. making his video less unique. In short it’s a massive pain.

Now I know about the problem they are solving. And I know what parts the problem consists of. I am aware of the existing solutions and feel the pain of using them.

Take Marcianophone’s pain and multiply it by millions of video creators around the globe, and you’ve got massive problem.

That’s a nice conclusion that leads us to the rest of the pitch you can watch here. Watch this and other pitches. Analyse, learn, craft and practice. Because a brilliant passionate pitch will not save a bad project, but a horrible pitch can burry a decent one. Strive for the good enough pitch and practice to make it better. With each repetition.