Learning how to pitch from Science Fair Teens
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at Tech Meetups in SF and the Silicon Valley and I’ve met lots of tech founders who really struggle with how to describe themselves. On my drive home from a meeting with several folks with particularly confusing elevator pitches last week, my faith in was rekindle while listening to Science Friday
program featuring young science fair winners ranging from age 10 to 20.
Take a listen to these inspiring kids, and see what a great job the science fairs scene must be doing a great job prepping these kids on how to give their pitches, as these young people were so much more effective at describing their inventions and many of the more seasoned entrepreneurs I meet hanging around the Silicon Valley.
The bad pitches I’ve been listening to lately brings back bad memories of the Silicon Valley in the late 90s when none of the language surrounding tech companies made any sense. Part of the problem was that the companies would use their aspirational goals rather than their products in order to increase their valuation for the upcoming IPO. Today, few founders are worried about pretending to be more than they are with a looming IPO, so let’s cut the crap and speak English.
Here are some of the bad ways to do it:
- Bury me in jargon. When I was a product manager with a startup back in the day I’d often struggle at trade shows to use this company approved description:
“XYZ acts as a virtual sales advisor, guiding customers through needs analysis, product validation, sales promotions, cross- and up-selling opportunities, and pricing to a complete solution. Built specifically for selling on the Web, the application delivers the speed, scalability, ease of maintenance, and flexibility required for e-commerce success.”
Which typically resulted in a glossy-eyed “huh?” And then I’d whisper “we’re a kick-ass configurator” and people would be thrilled to talk with me. If your marketing staff can’t understand your marketing description, why on earth would you think anyone else will?
- Tell, don’t show. Today, everyone’s building an app, so it’s just easy to pull out your phone and give a quick demo. However, pulling out your phone is not possible or appropriate all the time, and doesn’t work when you’re talking with the media, on Twitter, etc. Show and tell is fine, but that should only be after you’ve hooked them with a compelling verbal intro.
Here are some good ways to do it:
- Comparison One of the best pitches I heard recently: “You know Kahn Academy? We do that for Latin America.” Sweet – I get that! (Of course I forget the name, so there’s a small problem).
- Problem-based “Are you struggling with interpreting your Hadoop data? We offer a great business intelligence solution that’s optimized for Hadoop and other big data solutions.” There’s some jargon in there that may not make sense to a lot of people, but will connect with the people that matter.
- Storytelling Nancy Duarte’s storytelling approach of following a story-telling structure and creating drama in your presentation. By building the hero’s journey, you set up the situation – complication – resolution, and take us from “what is” to “what could be”. Now here methodology is more geared towards presentations, but I think the same theory can be applied to your pitch.
Coming up with your pitch isn’t easy. It took me years to come up with something I could live with for my old media company, but eventually, we found something that clicked. For startups it’s something you need to spend some time and energy on. I for one, am sick of listening to a bunch of incomprehensible jargon.
(Stay tuned for my next installment on this subject on what I like and don’t like about the lovely Simon Sinek’s “Getting to Why”)