Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.
Our attention spans are short and may be getting shorter thanks to our culture of instant gratification. With everything under the sun available on-demand and deliverable via overnight shipping, competing for airtime can be challenging, even in conversation. Add to that the fact that human beings make snap judgements about individuals based on possibly erroneous first impressions and the pressure to polish an innovative elevator pitch increases.
Why a Pitch?
When you find yourself in the company of someone with whom you’d like to connect – or if you’ve decided to attend some networking events – having a prepared pitch can ease your interactions and help to provide you with the perfect opener. A pitch should be well-conceived and brief. It should be sufficiently practiced so as to sound natural as you comfortably deliver your message, but not seem so rote as to have been obviously rehearsed. Clearly, there’s a fine line that must be negotiated.
Keeping it Short and To-The-Point
Brevity can be captivating. As you’re forming that crucial first impression in the minds of your listener(s), it’s essential to impart a short synopsis of your business. Think of it as akin to casting a line with your most appealing bait. In order to attract a bite – whether for investment or networking purposes – you have to grab their attention quickly and ensure that they’ll want to continue speaking with you.
So, with all the expert knowledge that you have of your business and industry, how do you parse the most interesting tidbits and keep your spiel short, quick, and to-the-point? Consider these questions:
What sets you or your business apart?
If you’ve composed a formal mission statement or unique value proposition, it’s time to polish it. If not, it’s imperative that you determine and articulate those innovative aspects of your business model that set you apart from the competition. Are you launching a revolutionary food delivery service? Is your social app ready to compete with Snapchat? Find the most captivating morsel – just a sentence or two will do – and keep honing until it flows naturally.
Why should your listener care?
People care most strongly about those things that either affect them directly or that have the potential to do so. If you’re speaking with an investor, for example, your value proposition should highlight a solution to a problem they haven’t considered – especially one that they can envision as being likely to yield a large ROI. The same holds true for other business owners in your community. Whether you’re building vendor relationships or espousing potential synergy with another company, you must inform your listener of how and why your ideas should matter to them.
What should be their ideal takeaway thought?
If you’re meeting with people at a networking event, your end goal may be to schedule a series of lunch meetings to further discuss possible collaborations. If that’s so, you should leave your listener with the desire to learn more about your business as a prelude to future partnership. If you’re speaking with potential investors, you should leave them interested both in your business and in you as the founder. The pitch serves as an aperitif – it should whet the appetite and leave the listener wanting more. When they request additional information, you then have the opportunity to schedule a time to further discuss your business and ideas.
Ruthlessly edit unnecessary words and phrases from your pitch and practice, practice, practice. Practice beyond the point where the words sound rehearsed. Record yourself making the pitch, watch yourself in the mirror, and do whatever is necessary to feel comfortable delivering the information while engaging with another person. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, rehearse giving your pitch until it’s absolutely second nature.
All of that said, the truth is that not everyone is comfortable with approaching a stranger and discussing their business. It is, however, an essential skill to – if not master – at least cultivate in order to give oneself the best possible opportunity to create a successful business. If you truly believe yourself to be incapable of striking up a random conversation, it’ll be useful to partner with someone whose comfort zone extends in that direction.
Once you’ve made your pitch, then what? After giving your spiel, it’s important to let your listener know how to contact you to learn more. This is the right time to share a business card or an easy-to-remember URL. While some may view business cards as outdated, they serve as a reminder of your conversation and can help your new contact to remember you. Even a simple URL can be forgotten when meeting large numbers of new people at an event, so keep some cards on hand at all times.
Beyond meeting people and introducing yourself and your business, self-promotion can help bring interested parties to you. It isn’t all about your business idea – everyone has ideas – it’s also about who you are and what you contribute as an entrepreneur.
While the internet has made promoting oneself much easier, it has also vastly increased the number of people doing so. You’ll need to be creative and to clearly visualize how your website and other promotional materials can highlight your unique assets.
LinkedIn and Social Media Platforms
Some individuals excel at using LinkedIn as a platform for connecting with other professionals. By actively engaging, asking for recommendations and introductions, and sharing (or generating) content, they can grow their networks. LinkedIn isn’t for everyone, though, as certain industries may find that their desired networking targets aren’t utilizing it.
Other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., may be useful for spreading your company message, but may not be the best way to generate new professional contacts. For your personal brand, though, maintaining a range of active social profiles is definitely helpful. However, before jumping into the deep end, give some consideration to how much time you plan to devote to social media and to which platforms are the best fit for your needs. Once that’s been decided, you should create at least a basic plan for the material you intend to post. Will you be generating new content? Will you share useful information about your industry? How often will you post? Start simple and grow from there. Find other leaders in your industry and follow them. You’ll not only gain a better understanding of current events in your industry, but you’ll also observe and absorb a variety of methods for nurturing a social following.
A website is an absolutely essential business tool. Not having one at this late date is an invitation to disaster. Not only does it provide a way for your potential customers and clients to find you online, but it’s also useful for those who may be interested in working with you or investing in your company. In addition to a company website, you should also consider the creation of a personal website to provide information about your own background and your businesses. Think of it as an online C.V. For those interested in developing credibility as a thought leader in their fields, a blog can be a useful tool for sharing information relevant to your contemporaries and for providing your own insights. Your blog posts can then be shared via your various social media accounts.
Knowing how to pitch your business and promote yourself are essential skills for getting noticed. It isn’t a “one and done” sort of thing, either. Your pitch will evolve as your business grows and changes, as will your own self-promotion abilities. Plan to work consistently on both over time and to actively engage with others in your industry and community.
About the Author
Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).
Joe has a PhD in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.
Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children, and resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.