Some Notes on How to Start Your Pitch Like a Pro

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A great pitch has to be composed of the few crucial elements. It has to form a compelling story. It needs a hero—you, your team with the secret sauce technology advantage. It requires the enemy—the problem the world or your customers are facing. It needs to show the promise land—the solution and it needs to make the audience want to go there. In short it needs to be a story. The hero with the mission saves the world. The hero has to have a goal, needs to have some helpers and must posses secret powers. but a hero must be humble. So remember a few things.

You can only make the first impression once. And you do it with your whole body, not just the face. And you make it with the very first sentence. You need to think of something that establishes yourself as an expert. Make it one thing that says something impressive about the way you operate in this world. It’s like introducing yourself with one catchy line. I say that I am a communication junkie with 16 years of addiction that resulted in a high success rate at preparing startups in most major competitions. Or I say: Me and Slideshare is like Meryl Streep and Oscars — I always gets nominated and I win every now and then (which is true – every slideshare deck I have uploaded for my clients or myself has been either featured or top of the day presentation).

When preparing your one catchy line forget cliche and be creative. Don’t start (like I’ve already mentioned) with “I’m the CEO of …”. Do not start with “I’m here to tell you about an app”, because frankly my dear, nobody gives a shit about your app. All we care about is an alpha male (or female to be precise), a true leader, a personality who can tell us about how they’re going to save the world. Well, almost. So when you think of this one line to start with consider what makes a great one liner:

  • it should be short and sweet
  • it could be funny or even slightly ironic
  • it should be universally understood
  • it should give facts and figures that prove you are the right guy for the job
  • it should always put you in the good light and make audience like you

Yes, the audience and the investors should like you and/or respect you. But most of all they should not feel like you are the beta guy (or gal) round there. You should write down a couple of one liners and later on test them with your friends. Make sure to get the real feedback not the ‘nice feedback’ only. Do not hesitate to look for inspiration. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ or Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ which was based round civis romanus sum [„I am a Roman citizen”] are great one liners. They instantly build relation with with audience. And they are simple. When making your one liner think of headlines. I like to also say I’m the ‘son of a pitch’.

This one sentence is enough. Apart from it, never ever start a pitch by talking about yourself, your team, your product, or your total addressable market. And god forbid you start by explaining details about the product. Instead, continue by naming the thing that’s getting in the way of your customer’s happiness. Make it a universal introduction. How? By painting an emotionally resonant picture of how the world currently sucks for your customer, who/what is to blame, and why. I hope your startup solves a problem. I do believe that every business project should be based around problem solving aspects. When I worked with Fadi Bishara from Blackbox Connect he used to ask every startup one simple question: “what problem are you solving?” If you do not know the problem then… you’re doomed. 

Is it the lack of time? The lack of resources? The poverty? The boredom? Task management? Whatever the problem you must be aware of it and you must make it obvious for the audience. Why is it best to start with the problem? Because problems make us think and they evoke emotions. And emotions are good as they literally hit the structure of your brain that is responsible for your attention. Your audience will pay attention only to those things that awaken emotional reaction.

When structuring your pitch you must also take into account the fact that the audiences — particularly investors — are skeptical. They will probably be thinking, “People have lived this way for a long time — are they really going to change now?” And most importantly they will simply say “I do not have this problem and I do not think anyone I know has this problem.” It’s in our nature. We are biased this way. So instead of arguing with that, convince them the time is now. And the problem is great. Musk handles this objection by showing that we’re at a critical point. Show them data, reports, stats. You can use of three major powers to present the trend and answer the question: why now? They are; the social forces, the economic forces and the technological ones. You need to be convincing and show the audience —the time is now, we need to act before it’s to late.

It’s time to scare them. When writing a script for your pitch or other public speech make sure to start with the big idea—it’s a short introduction of the problems and challenges the world, your customers are facing. It has to map the context of your project. It is like the introduction that has to make audience crave for more. It should be strong and emotional. Let me give you an example of a good big idea:

When you think of Maldives, you most likely imagine divine beaches, diving in crystal clear waters of the Ocean, sipping long drinks watching the spectacular sunsets. What you should really picture is the lack of space. Maldives are overcrowded. The booming tourist industry literally has no place to grow.

It was the big idea crafted by Max Zielinski from XVentures for one of the investor pitch decks he was working on. It was a good one — it instantly showed the context and introduced the problem with the help of the engaging picture. Yes, the deck was about tourist industry and the problem was the lack of space to develop new constructions. The other very good introduction was given by Elon Musk’s during the presentation for the Tesla Powerwall. He starts with a very strong image of burning fossil fuels strongly captured ‘This is real’. It is almost like throwing an emotionally resonant picture of how the world currently sucks for your customer captioned ‘Hell is real.’ The other not-so-emotionally-packed idea goes like this:

You kitchen is like a lab. When you have all the necessary ingredients, you can create a masterpiece. But when you lack the ingredients, you are doomed. Unless you have a secret recipe for success.

This big idea was based on the very simple comparison of two realities. In both you need the right ingredients and in both you need the inspiration to get the new formula. And yes, this idea was about an app customers can use to get inspiration for recipes when they are faced with limited resources in… yep, kitchen. The big idea does have to be concise, universally understood and simple. It could be metaphorical and/or even poetic in a way. But it should really paint the emotional landscape. Because once you scare the audience or intrigue them, you’ll show them the promise land aka the world with your product in it. But that’s another story.