How to pitch a promising business idea

"Sell the benefit, not the product.” This famous wisdom from Jay Abraham captures the essence of pitching. Lately, pitching has evolved into a multifaceted endeavor where entrepreneurs harness their creativity to captivate audiences and secure support for their vision. Keep reading to learn how to confidently convey your concept and leave a lasting impression on your audience.

What is a pitch?

A pitch is a proposal presentation to persuade an audience about a particular idea, product, or service. Pitching is one of the most fundamental tools in business. Pitches also convince customers, partners, and potential investors. 

The pitch is often the first impression a business makes and strongly impacts how your company is perceived. An effective pitch is a vital part of gaining support and resources. 

There was a time when pitches were largely formal affairs, confined to boardrooms and business meetings. However, with digital technology making communication more versatile, the pitching styles have changed. This evolution allows for—and often requires—greater creativity and organization than it once did. 

Today, a pitch can be as simple as a tweet or as complex as a full multimedia presentation. 

What makes a successful pitch?

Several elements go into making a compelling pitch:

Clarity and concision

The expression “A confused mind never buys’’ is a common sales and marketing refrain for good reason. Any message that isn't easily understood is less likely to get buy-in. The more convoluted your pitch is, the more likely the audience is to disengage. So, have a point, and get to it.

Emotional connection

A narrative or compelling story can help your pitch resonate. In addition to boosting engagement, a story is an excellent way of illustrating the benefits of what you're pitching and making yourself stand out.

Timing 

Your pitch is much more likely to connect if it capitalizes on current trends, market readiness, or an immediate need. For example, a pitch made during an economic boom will be more well-received than one made during a downturn.

Context

For example, when finding the right timing, be mindful of pitching in the proper context. For example, a pitch for a tech product will be more successful at a tech conference than at a generic business conference.

Each of these elements requires a deep understanding of your intended audience. Tailor your pitch to the audience's interests, needs, and expectations.

3 kinds of pitches for entrepreneurs

We can categorize business pitches into three types based on available time. These range from rapid to more lengthy and detailed:

Elevator pitches

It’s called an elevator pitch because it is typically 30–60 seconds long—the approximate length of an elevator ride.

The goal isn't to provide all the necessary information to get buy-in.

Just enough to spark interest and make your audience curious about learning more.

Because an elevator pitch must be succinct, focus on the most essential parts of the pitch:

  • clearing describing your promising idea 
  • crafting an excellent value proposition 
  • devising a compelling hook or question to spark curiosity 

Tell your audience: 

  • Who you are, 
  • what you do, and 
  • what you want to achieve (for instance, expanding market reach or securing strategic partnerships).

This approach requires distilling ideas in a simple, memorable way and is particularly suited to networking situations in which extended time to make an elaborate pitch isn't an option.

You might think of an elevator pitch as similar to a first date—you must be on point to get a second chance.

Short-form pitches

Short pitches last between one to five minutes, allowing for a detailed overview of your concept (but still concise enough to keep your audience’s attention). 

Like your elevator pitch, it should start with a clear introduction of who you are and what you aim to do

With this pitch length, you can spend more time explaining the problem and how your idea solves it. The extended time also allows for some all-important storytelling techniques.

After that, a demonstration of the market potential and a clear call-to-action (CTA) round out the ideal short-form pitch. For instance, a typical CTA might be: "If you're intrigued by our vision and see the potential for collaboration or investment, let's connect after the session and explore how we can bring this idea to fruition."

Long-form pitches

The long-form pitch is when there's significantly more time available. These pitches usually last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and become more relevant when the stakes are high, such as:

  • formal investment meetings
  • funding rounds
  • detailed project proposals 

All the key elements that made up the short-form pitch still provide the key structure for the long-form.

However, there's now much more time to go into detail and provide a comprehensive overview of your concept and its benefits.

For example, you can include a thorough market analysis, detailed business plan, financial projections, and other pertinent information to help your audience make an informed decision.

These supporting details may include customer acquisition strategies, scalability plans, regulatory considerations, or competitive analysis.

One challenge to be mindful of with pitches of this length is creating a compelling presentation that grabs and holds the audience's attention.

It’s wise to prepare a pitch version of each length to ensure you’re ready for any situation.

6 steps to pitching ideas

Now you’re well-versed in the various forms a pitch can take, let's outline the fundamental steps for creating one. 

(Modify the steps to fit how much time you have to present). 

Step 1: Start with a problem or story

An effective pitch will always captivate the audience right from the start.

The best way to do this is to explain the problem your idea addresses or tell a story that illustrates the problem it solves—this will help you engage with them emotionally and set the tone for the rest of the pitch.

When presenting the problem, be as detailed as possible, helping the audience understand what you're trying to solve and demonstrating your deep knowledge of the problem.

(People are more inclined to trust your solution if you demonstrate that you've put great thought into it).

The memorability of your pitch will largely depend on how engaging it is—here’s where crafting a story that sticks with people well after the pitch is over comes into play. 

Step 2: Share a clear value proposition

Your pitch should explain clearly what your idea offers. Why is it unique from other ideas your audience may have heard? In which unique ways does it benefit the user? The idea must stand apart from others for a pitch to be effective. The value proposition is what makes the product unique. 

Of course, it isn't enough to have a value proposition. The audience may not be as swayed if you aren't effectively communicating that value. That's why it's just as important for your value proposition to be as clear and detailed as the rest of the pitch. By the end of the pitch, the audience should know what makes your idea special

Step 3: Explain your idea with a pitch deck or demo

A pitch deck is a set of slides or other visual aids that help illustrate your concept’s full details and functionality. Using a pitch deck (or an actual demo of your product) provides an engaging visual or interactive component.

If using a pitch deck, ensure the slides visually complement the overall narrative you've crafted for your pitch. The deck should emphasize the key points and data that make your pitch compelling, reinforcing them in the audience's minds. 

If providing a product demo, thoroughly test the functionality beforehand. Rehearse as many times as possible to ensure nothing goes wrong. You may need to do several dry runs and work with another professional to ensure all runs smoothly. Extensive testing can also provide plenty of opportunities to generate data showing the idea's effectiveness. 

Plenty of high-profile failed demos have soured otherwise great presentations. Bugs happening in front of a live audience or glass that's supposed to be unbreakable shattering can do immeasurable damage to the effectiveness of a pitch. Always have a backup plan. 

Have hard copies of the deck or presentation for a smaller demo audience. This way there is something to switch over to if there is a glitch. 

Step 4: Use real examples and success stories as proof

Anybody can claim that their product or service will have a particular impact. A discerning audience won’t trust your claim without solid proof backing it up.

Proof points like data, statistics, case studies, or testimonials add to your credibility and substantiate your claims. 

If your idea has won awards, industry recognitions, or similar achievements from trusted third-party sources, your pitch is a perfect opportunity to showcase them. These accolades add authority to testimonials, reinforcing their validity.

Step 5: Learn stage presence

Feeling nervous before giving a presentation is entirely normal. But what can you do with that nervous energy? You can turn it from nervousness to excitement, as they are essentially two sides of the same coin.

Nervousness often leads to fidgeting, mumbling, and rambling, which is distracting and makes you appear less professional and confident.

If your audience doesn't sense your confidence in your idea, they won't believe it either. To master the art of pitching, you must also master the art of stage presence. Your body language, voice modulation, eye contact, and overall confidence all affect how your presentation is perceived.

Influential speakers vary their tone and volume to evoke emotions in their audience, gesturing purposefully rather than nervously.

Give yourself time and embrace pauses between thoughts to allow the audience to process your message.

Practice your presentation in front of a mirror and with test audiences before the presentation. Being able to convey passion, confidence, and professionalism significantly enhances the persuasiveness of your pitch.

Step 6: Close with a clear call-to-action

When creating a pitch, it's essential to include a specific request for the audience to take a particular action. The desired next step could be investing in the idea, signing up for a service, scheduling a follow-up meeting, or trying a demo. The exact CTA will vary based on the audience and the purpose of the pitch. However, regardless of the specifics, all pitches need a CTA to guide the audience on the next steps and motivate them to act.

What do you want the audience to think, feel, or do?

Reading these sample CTAs might help you brainstorm:

  • "Ready to experience the future of [industry/sector]? Sign up for our beta testing program to be among the first to try our innovative solution and provide valuable feedback."
  • "Feeling inspired? Contact our team today to arrange a live demo of our product/service. Let's explore how we can tailor our solution to meet your needs and drive tangible results for your business."

Ways to start a pitch

Because you need to get this right, let’s examine how you can make a great first impression as you start your pitch:

Beginning with a personal anecdote

Presentations, like many business communications, can feel cold and impersonal. If you simply drone on facts about your idea, the audience will view you more as a talking head than a person. Beginning a pitch with a personal anecdote humanizes you. It creates an emotional response in the listener that drives a deeper connection and makes you more relatable.

This relatable nature of anecdotes serves another purpose; it vividly illustrates the problem or need your idea addressed. Speaking more abstractly about the issues your idea solves doesn't always drive home the point. An anecdote that people can relate to will show them why the idea is excellent rather than simply telling them.

Imagine you're pitching a new mobile app that helps people find local volunteer opportunities. Instead of starting your presentation with a dry list of statistics about volunteerism rates, you could begin with a personal anecdote:

"Last summer, I wanted to give back to my community but struggled to find meaningful volunteer opportunities that fit my schedule. I spent hours searching online, only to come up empty-handed. Frustrated and discouraged, I realized countless others must face the same challenge."

Asking a question

Asking a thought-provoking, rhetorical question is an excellent way to engage your audience.

For example, if you've developed a new technology that speeds up websites, you may ask the audience if they know how much time we spend waiting for websites to load. Some people will immediately agree that websites can take a long time to load. Others may be surprised to learn how much time they spend waiting per day. Regardless of the answer, the question gets people thinking and provides an excellent foundation to build on. 

Here are several common ways you might want to preface such a question:

  • "Consider this:..."
  • "Imagine for a moment..."
  • "Picture yourself..."
  • "Ever wonder why..."
  • "Think about the last time..."

Here’s one more real-world example based on pitching project management software:

"Have you ever stopped to consider how much time your team spends on repetitive tasks that could be automated?" 

Using a startling statistic

Like the thought-provoking question, a startling statistic should surprise people, engaging them while illustrating the nature of the problem you wish to solve. 

Discovering a shocking statistic may be what prompted your business idea in the first place. 

If not, you'll need to find evidence to illustrate the magnitude of the problem your concept aims to solve.

Using credible sources, such as industry reports, academic studies, or reputable news outlets, search for all the data you can find about the problem you're addressing.

You'll likely find no shortage of data points that audience members will find surprising. 

As long as it relates to the problem you're trying to solve, it should make a perfect introductory fact to start your pitch.

Here’s a sample framework you might be able to use or modify:

"Did you know that, according to a recent study by [credible source], businesses lose an estimated $XX billion annually due to [specific problem your product/service addresses]? This staggering figure highlights the urgent need for innovative solutions to tackle this issue head-on."

Mastering different types of pitches

To close things out, we'll look at the most common pitches you will likely encounter and suggest ways to nail each type: 

Phone pitch

When making a phone pitch, start with a warm and professional greeting. Introduce yourself and the purpose of the call quickly and naturally. Be ready to answer questions and tailor your message to the listener.

Voicemail pitch

When leaving a voicemail, start with a polite introduction and quickly explain the purpose of your call. Keep the message under 30 seconds and include a compelling benefit or unique value proposition. End with a clear CTA and consider mentioning a follow-up plan.

Email pitch

When sending an email, use a compelling subject line to capture interest. Keep the email concise and personalized, with bullet points for scannability, and end with a clear call to action.

Sales pitch

In a sales pitch, create visually appealing and content-rich materials to engage and persuade your audience. Use high-quality visuals, testimonials, case studies, and other information to build credibility. Allow time for a Q&A and consider fielding questions throughout or after the presentation.

Elevator pitch

Remember to keep your elevator pitch short and focused on what makes your idea, and you stand out. Clearly explain the problem your idea solves and its unique value proposition, avoiding jargon that might require lengthy explanations. Practice until you can deliver your pitch smoothly, and try it out in front of others to refine it further.

Video pitch

To ensure a video sales pitch grabs and holds viewers’ attention, kick off with a compelling opener that directly addresses their primary concern or aspiration. Organize the content using a storytelling approach to lead them from identifying the issue to understanding your product's solution and advantages. Maintain a conversational tone throughout to prevent monotony and disinterest. Show enthusiasm! 

Boost engagement with visual elements such as text overlays or graphics to emphasize crucial points and sustain visual appeal. Conclude with a clear and persuasive call to action, guiding viewers on the immediate steps they should follow next.

Social pitch

We've discussed using a conversational style for several types of pitches—this is especially important for social media. This platform is naturally informal and conversational, so it's essential to maintain that tone. Be natural and friendly.

Choose and present the most relevant information in engaging graphics with concise text. Remember, social media is about being social. Respond promptly and in a friendly manner to help you establish relationships and build a community.

Website pitch

Your website sales pitch should be clear, compelling, and easy to navigate. You want to grab the reader's attention as soon as possible, so start with a bold value proposition displayed prominently on the top half of the page. Create persuasive copy that focuses on the benefits for the user. Add customer testimonials, awards, accreditations, or other social proof when possible.

You may have several possible calls to action. Filling out a contact form, signing up for a newsletter, and purchasing are all examples of calls to action. If you want to have more than one, give each a dedicated page (to make the experience seamless for visitors and to allow you to tailor the content). 

Next-step pitch

Since a next-step pitch comes after initial contact, some of the work will be completed by the time you reach this point. The goal here is to reinforce previously made points or add additional information that time didn't allow for the first time.

The next-step pitch should be personalized, acknowledging previous interactions and any ongoing concerns or interests expressed by your recipient. You may want to avoid using the words “follow up’’ which might inadvertently convey a sense of obligation that may not align with building a genuine connection.

Briefly recap your previous discussion and add new information or incentives that might appeal to the recipient. Focus on reiterating the call to action, offering a clear next step, and expressing genuine interest in continuing the relationship, reinforcing the value your business can provide.

Create your personalized, persuasive pitch today

Ready to take the first step toward confidently pitching your idea?

Ditch dull presentations and tell stories that influence and inspire potential collaborators, customers, and investors with help from Pitch Perfect, one of 54 storytelling recipe cards for entrepreneurs inside Pip Decks’ Storyteller Tactics card deck.

FAQs

How can I structure my elevator pitch effectively to make a lasting impression quickly?

By following this sequential approach and customizing each step to fit your idea, you can create an elevator pitch that effectively communicates your concept and leaves a lasting impression on your audience.

Attention-grabbing opening: begin with a hook to captivate your audience instantly—this could be a surprising statistic, a thought-provoking question, or a compelling anecdote related to your business idea.

Problem identification: clearly outline the problem your idea addresses. Describe the pain points or challenges your target audience faces that your solution aims to solve.

Solution: introduce your business idea as the solution to the identified problem. Highlight its key features or benefits and explain how it addresses the needs of your target market.

Unique selling proposition (USP): emphasize what sets your idea apart from existing solutions. Showcase its distinctive features, innovative approach, or competitive advantage, making it stand out.

Call to action (CTA): conclude with a clear call to action, prompting your audience to take the next step. Your CTA could involve scheduling a follow-up meeting, requesting more information, or visiting your website.

What storytelling techniques enhance a short-form pitch?

Storytelling techniques can elevate a short-form pitch by creating a memorable narrative. 

Examples include:

  • The hero's journey: frame your pitch around a protagonist (your customer) facing a challenge (the problem your product solves) and achieving success (with your solution).
  • Emotional appeal: evoke emotions like empathy or excitement by sharing relatable anecdotes or describing how your product improves lives.
  • Surprise element: introduce a surprising fact or unexpected twist to capture attention and keep listeners engaged.
  • Visual imagery: paint a vivid picture with words, allowing listeners to visualize the benefits of your product or service.
  • Problem-solution format: present the problem first, followed by your solution, to create a natural narrative arc that leads to resolution.

Where can I find networking groups to practice and improve my pitching skills?

Networking groups—such as your local chamber of commerce or board of trade—often allow their members to practice pitching to other members.

These forums are ideal for meeting potential investors, accessing local resources, and learning about more occasions to practice your pitch (such as pitch competitions). 

Business networks are usually supportive environments where members help each other succeed. This can create a more forgiving atmosphere for refining your pitch, allowing you to make mistakes and learn without fearing harsh criticism.


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