Why your “pitch” is so important and how to nail it

For years, I taught M.A. students how to deliver a 60-second pitch. We would hammer home this concept and skill into our students, who were pitching the goals of their sustainable behavior projects. We repeatedly made them do pitches throughout the day, often at impromptu moments with little notice to prepare. I felt so bad for them having to do this over and over again, and I often questioned the purpose and value of it. Will they really need to pitch their projects to people, and will they really only ever get 60 seconds to do so? I eventually fell into my pool of cynicism and decided that the pitch was pointless.

But I was wrong.


What it is: the “pitch”

The concept behind the “pitch” is that you only have an elevator-ride length of time (roughly 30 to 60 seconds) to pitch your product, service, idea, etc. to a potential investor. This is very similar to the opening sequence of Shark Tank, where someone pitches their concept before the sharks start asking questions. The challenge of a pitch is to clearly explain what you’re selling and make it so compelling that they make you a deal on the spot, in a very short amount of time.

Responding to that dreaded question: “so, what kind of work do you do?”

The reason I became cynical about the pitch, is that I got caught up in the perception of it being overly salesy and pushy. I pictured a bunch of people in suits, in an elevator, trying to convince the boss of buying a particular stock option (yes, it was all Gordon Gekko in my mind).

Yet since starting my own business, I’ve learned just how important it is to succinctly state what you do in a way that your audience (and the general population) will understand. I’ve learned that it’s not cool to stammer and stutter and talk in circles when someone asks “so, what kind of work do you do?”

You will inevitably be asked this standard get-to-know-you question and it’s important to answer it simply yet accurately while also building interest. No matter what type of project you’re working on, what type of cause you’re addressing, what position you hold in your organization, or if you’re self-employed – networking, building interest, and spreading the word is key to expanding your audience and support base.

An intro pitch (in a non-sleazy, non-salesy manner) goes a long way in getting your message out there.

How to nail your pitch

Your pitch should be 1 to 2 sentences long and it should quickly and easily explain what you do. It should focus on the core of what you do, which means leaving out stuff. IT’S OK TO LEAVE STUFF OUT! Give enough information to intrigue your audience so they’ll want to ask questions and find out more (kind of like online dating profiles).

STEP 1: write your pitch

A simple outline for what your pitch could include:

  • Name of the organization or your line of work
  • Action verbs on what you/the organization does or makes (support, helps, trains, makes, sells, etc.)
  • Who the products/services are for (the target audience)
  • What the products/services help the target audiences do (the benefit and value)

I used the term “could” above, instead of “should”, as you may have a more creative and interesting way of writing your pitch, which is very much ok. There’s no one right way to do this.

Here are some template examples you can work with that vary depending on whether you’re explaining what you do as an individual, what your organization does, or when describing a project you’re working on.

This can be very straight forward if your line of work is fairly well known. Such as:

  • “I’m a mortgage broker who helps people buy homes”.

Yet you can still use this opportunity to differentiate yourself from others in the field to further pique interest. Such as:

  • “I’m a mortgage broker who helps local firemen and police officers buy homes in the areas they work”.

A few examples from the real world:

  • A company that sells products: Burt’s Bees creates natural personal care products that help you maximize your own well-being as well as that of the world around you.
  • A company that provides a service: Coursera provides the world’s best learning experience for anyone, anywhere to access.

What I appreciate about these pitches is that their target audience is loosely named (“you” or “anyone”) but the description of what they offer naturally defines who they’re speaking to (those wanting to maximize their own well-being and that of the world; those looking for learning experiences).

This pitch requires a slightly different approach as it focuses less on who you are and more on the purpose of the project. This can be used in place of the above if the context calls for it, or it can be used as a follow-up to first explaining yourself or the organization.

  • Example: We are working with women cooperatives in remote locations of Brazil to reduce harvesting of turtles for holiday feasts by offering cooking courses on more sustainably sourced meats.

STEP 2: practice your pitch

Although I always felt so bad for forcing our students to repeatedly give their pitches, the truth is that practice is what helps refine your approach. It also teaches you how to adapt your pitch to different audiences. I’ve been doing this myself, trying on different lines when I meet new people to check their understanding and reactions, along with feeling out my own comfort and confidence level.

Start by practicing different phrasing to yourself – in the shower, in the mirror – and then take the leap and do it to various people you meet. You will soon recognize what makes your listener’s eyes widen, and what makes them glaze over. Follow-up questions are always a telling sign for what the listener understood and what intrigued them. Making mental or actual notes of these trials will help you evolve your pitch until you develop a tone and approach that feels most natural to you.

Practicing also helps develop different versions of your pitch depending on your audience, so you can increase or decrease your use of industry-specific terminology to get the highest level of understanding and intrigue possible.

Summary: Pitch Tips

  • Keep it to 1 to 2 sentences
  • Stick to the basics of what you do; don’t explain your entire process
  • Make it interesting to pique curiosity
  • Use the opportunity to differentiate yourself
  • Get out there and practice!
  • Make sure it feels natural to you
  • Tailor your pitch to different audiences

You can practice with me and get feedback!

Subscribers to the brooke’s2cents email list have exclusive access to a slack channel where they can practice their pitches and get some feedback. Sign up today, try out your pitch, and let’s work together to nail it!