No matter where I go, entrepreneurs want to share their ideas. I love the excitement and passion that comes through when she starts telling me the big idea, but oftentimes, after a few minutes of a pitch, I still don’t get it. Sometimes it takes many questions and going back and forth before I do get it. My hope is in reading this, you come away with some thoughts about how to ensure your message and vision are clearly communicated — otherwise opportunities for feedback, mentoring, and even customer and investor opportunities may be lost. This isn’t about your elevator pitch to a crowd; it’s about how you engage a person one-on-one in a friendly and conversational way so the person doesn’t feel like you are reciting your memorized spiel.
As an entrepreneur, you are sharing what may be your raison d’être with someone who may be of help in bringing the business to fruition or the next level. If you aren’t getting your points across, the person will tune out, move on, or worst of all, give you feedback on an incorrect interpretation of your concept.
1. Don’t make assumptions about the listener’s knowledge in the space or your unique solution. Even if your target is experienced in your industry, start from step one and walk him on a journey of the development of the concept and how it solves the problem/addresses the needs of customers and keep it short and simple. When our friends at Do You Remember, the site for all things nostalgic, explain their business to visitors, they start with how founder Michael Gitter wrote popular coffee-table books in the ’90s of the same name, then the use of nostalgia in marketing and amazing ROI companies are experiencing, then their shock that no one had captured that space online, and finally the impressive traction of 500 million interactions they have achieved in less than a year. It’s a simple and straightforward story that they tell in 30 seconds and then, invariably, the listener asks question after question, sharing their own memories of music and TV from their childhood, and they are hooked.
2. Slow down! Most of the people I spend time with are fast talkers. We are all in a hurry and have lots of stuff to do, but when you are explaining your idea, pace yourself and show your audience that you are calm and in control. Give 100 percent of your attention to sharing your vision in succinct terms and concepts. It shouldn’t feel like a rapid-fire regurgitation; make it conversational and engaging.
3. Read your listener well. I make a lot of introductions and then hear startups make pitches to colleagues and friends. The test comes later that day or the following week when I hear that person who spent 10 minutes speaking with one of our entrepreneurs try to retell their exchange. Usually it is about 70 percent correct. Although I left academia, we are calling that a C-minus. The challenge is that a lot of people don’t want to seem out of the loop or unsavvy so there may be a lot of nodding as you are going on about your technology, but that doesn’t mean that anything actually registered. My friend Michael Gerber, a renowned author and business coach, paid Venture Hive a visit last weekend and met with some of our businesses. Unlike most people, Michael keeps asking questions until he understands what you are saying and you understand how little sense you made in your first five attempts. Painful to go through, but entertaining to watch.
4. Practice with 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds. If people from both age groups can explain your basic value proposition to someone else their age, you are in great shape.
The heart of this comes back to the fact that people invest their resources (time, money, energy) in people they like. Remember that these interactions aren’t about getting buy-in on your project, but on your ability to bring it to life. Everyone has ideas — everyone — and they have no value until someone does the hard work. Make sure that anyone with whom you speak knows you are going to do what it takes to execute big and that it will be a fun ride.
Susan Amat is the founder and CEO of Venture Hive, offering innovative solutions in entrepreneurship education. Follow her on Twitter at @SusanAmat.