How to pitch your ideas

There are many situations in which you need to pitch your creative ideas. Whether you want to convince stakeholders, need to get a green light from your supervisor or just want to get people on board. Here are 5 steps to blow your audience away with an amazing pitch.

It’s a mistake to believe that great ideas sell themselves. If your idea is truly innovative it will probably be even more difficult. To say it in the words of the American computing pioneer, Howard H. Aiken: “If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.”

It’s better to let people explore your idea and make it theirs. The best way to sell your idea is to give your audience the feeling that it is (or at least could be) their idea.

1. Prepare Your Pitch
This should be a no-brainer. Still, rehearsal and planning are highly underestimated when it comes to pitching. It’s not just about knowing what to say… most of all it’s about responding to what your audience is expecting you to say. It’s about surprising and inspiring them.

Know your audience. Make them feel comfortable and show them you know them. Make it clear that you understand their concerns and that you care about their beliefs. It’s not about your idea and it’s definitely not about you. Everything is about your audience.

2. Don’t Be A Sitting Duck
Always be careful when asking for straightforward feedback. NEVER ever begin with; “Okay guys, this is my idea. I’m curious about what you think. Please shoot!” Of course you want to show that you have faith in your idea and that you have thought everything through. However, that’s definitely not the way to do it.

If you ask for blunt criticism, you will regret it. People will find all sorts of things that are still “wrong” about your idea. Things that are missing, disadvantages, risks or just plain concerns. They will have no difficulty summing up a long list.

It’s hard to keep your spirits up when your audience is bashing your idea. It’s discouraging for you and seeing all the flaws might put your audience off. Both of you are likely to end up with the same idea: “Perhaps it’s not such a good idea after all.”

It’s much harder to look for benefits in an idea after seeing all its flaws than it is the other way around. So, always begin with the benefits of your idea. Don’t just explain it, let your audience explore and find them themselves.

3. Be Memorable
Most importantly: your audience has to remember you. Unless you are the only presenter and they can give you a GO right away you have to work really hard to be original.

Before you present your idea, think about ways to leave a lasting impression. Don’t force it. Look for something sophisticated, something unique. A way that fits your idea, identity and story. You can always choose to improvise, yet it’s sensible to have a plan.

4. Use Storytelling
An energetic and passionate presentation is wonderful. Yet, do not confuse enthusiasm with chaos. Take your audience seriously. It’s a lot like telling a good joke. Even if it’s a good one, it’s no fun when you tell it all wrong. (Unless, of course, that’s part of the joke).

Spend some time on the framework of your pitch. It will come across even better if you make it personal. Besides having all the formal benefits you also want to show (in an authentic way) why your idea is so great.

Make it easy to understand and easy to like. Two things that I always keep in mind are the anatomy of the presentation and the foundation of the idea. The first thing is about making the contents of your presentation clear to your audience. It will give most people a lot of comfort when they know what they can expect and in what sequence.

There is one simple mnemonic that I always use. You could say that every great presentation has a head, body and tail.

Tell them what you are going to present. What your pitch is all about. Tell them what you are about to tell them. This way you prepare their minds and highlight what they should be paying attention to.

Show them your idea. Hold your pitch. Tell them everything.

Explain what you presented them. Summarise your presentation and the one thing that they should remember.

Of course, the sequence above is especially useful when you have more time. In situations of limited time, for example in the case of the infamous elevator pitch, I use a different set-up.

When I have a short amount of time I always stick to the use of 3 words: ‘Look’, ‘Because’ and ‘So’. They represent a short and simple way to explain the effect, cause and solution of an idea.

Paint a picture of the current situation. What’s happening or what’s missing? Set the stage.

What is the root cause of this? What created this situation? Why did it happen?

What is the solution to the problem? What do we need to produce or provide?

If you pitch your idea with these simple words you will have no difficulty in winning over the audience.

For more on storytelling; take a look at this article:

5. Make An Offer They Cannot Refuse
In his book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, Professor Jonathan Haidt makes use of a wonderful analogy to explain our internal motives. His analogy is a rider on the back of an elephant in which the conscious mind is the rider and the unconscious mind is the elephant. The rider (the rational part of the mind) is concerned with goals, strategy and planning. The elephant (emotions & instinct) doesn’t care about tomorrow, he cares about what he wants now.

It’s a lot like eating chocolate chip cookies while knowing that you will regret it later. Unless you speak to the elephant’s emotional side (getting fat), he will not follow the directions of the rider (sticking to a diet).

If you are pitching your idea, always make sure that you speak to both the riders and the elephants in the room. Even if you are presenting your idea to a board of directors, always pay attention to the emotional side. We make decisions emotionally before we make them rationally. Begin explaining the emotional part of your idea and then back it up with facts and figures. Make people feel your idea first and then explain to them what needs to be done to realise it.

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Showing 2 comments
  • anne

    Its a very helpful article.

  • Jeroen de Ruijter

    Thank you, Anne. Glad you like it!

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