5 Pieces of Advice For Pitching

Jessica Jewell, COO, Northern Maine Distilling Company

Jessica Jewell, COO, Northern Maine Distilling Company

Five minutes doesn’t seem like a large part of your day. Going to order your lunch, or taking a quick phone call all probably take longer than five minutes. And when someone says, “I’ll be there in five minutes,” it’s colloquially understood that they mean “quickly.” Of course, your awareness of minutes passing varies on the context. While a few minutes’ time might not seem like a lot while catching up with a friend, those “few minutes” could seem like an eternity when in an interview for a job.

So, when you’re standing in front of an audience of people, dressed up, and presenting a pitch of your business idea to potential investors, and local business leaders, and family and friends, five minutes can seem like a very, very long time.

As the popularity of shows like “Shark Tank” and Maine’s own “Greenlight Maine” demonstrates, pitching in the business world is a big deal – both literally and metaphorically. While the “right” pitch can land a business the popularity and backing it needs to get to the next level, a poorly practiced pitch can be difficult to recover from.

So what does it take to practice for that “perfect pitch?” We reached out to 5 local business leaders, and pitch experts for their advice:

1.) “The best pitches are those that tell a compelling story the audience wants to hear. When talking to an investor, tell them about the business case of your idea, when pitching a co-founder tell them the story about the genesis of the opportunity and talk about how their capability will allow the business to excel. Always tailor your pitch!”

    ~ Dr. Jason Harkins; Associate Professor of Management at the Maine Business School

2.) “Think problem, promise, proof. Identify the problem you are solving and how you promise to solve it in a better way than other current solutions. Then, provide the explanation for how your solution works so that people understand how you are uniquely better.  These elements set the foundation for making your business case.”

~ Renee Kelly; Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development at the University of Maine

3.) “When it comes to pitches, you have a lot you could say, but you don’t have much time and you definitely want to be remembered. In those cases, I like to lean on two items from the “Made to Stick” [an acclaimed book] checklist: simple and unexpected. Simple and unexpected are the tell-tale signs of an excellent pitch. For example, in our pitch, we start by introducing the business [CourseStorm] as ‘Airbnb for education.  In the same way that Airbnb connects travelers with local, unique accommodations, we connect students with local, meaningful education.’  While a bit long, that sentence contains a ton of information.  By comparing ourselves to Airbnb, we get to communicate a few things: 1) we have a large market, 2) we’re a marketplace business, 3) we connect people to local classes (so, small to medium sized organizations, not large colleges and universities).  That’s what keeps that simple.Right after this, we try to fit in something unexpected.  ‘If I asked you how large this market is, what would you say?  You’d probably think it’s OK, but not super large.  Well, I’ve got news for you, more students enroll in classes like these than all those in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities combined.’  That almost always gets a reaction.  It’s totally unexpected and now people are paying attention, which sets up the rest of the pitch.”

~ Matt James; Co-Founder & Head of Product at CourseStorm

4.) “Be clear about the problem you are trying to solve and how customer feedback (beyond your friends and family) demonstrates that people want your solution to the problem compared to others in the market. It’s not about the idea, it’s about demonstrating that the market wants your idea and, eventually, will pay money for that idea.”

~ Jess Knox; Statewide Coordinator of Maine Accelerates Growth, Founder of Maine Startup & Create Week, Associate Producer of Greenlight Maine, and Co-founder of Venture Hall

5.) “Be as specific as possible about who your customer is; tell a story about them and how their life or work gets better because of what you are doing. Think about the particular audience and what it is they will most want to hear about in the short amount of time you have available. And try to come up with something that is truly memorable; most people will only remember one or two things about your pitch, so make sure it delivers your core message.”

~ Don Gooding; Founder of Gooding Growth LLC, and past Executive Director of Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development