I’ve spent the past two days at Launch 2013, a conference for tech start-ups. While I have been blown away by the innovation and out-of-the-box thinking that is taking place at this event, there is one area that these entrepreneurs need to spend more time: thinking how to pitch their products. In speaking with start-ups in the “demo pit” and listening to pitch sessions taking place on stage in front of a jury of VC’s, too often the product or idea being presented is not initially apparent. During the pitch sessions, judges are having to ask several rounds of questions in order to understand what it is that they have just seen.
This brings me to the title of this post. Anyone who uses Twitter can get frustrated by the the 140 character limit of a post, but it serves the useful purpose of making you reduce your communication down to its essence. While it is important to have an elevator pitch, start by thinking how you can coherently describe what you do in one short sentence…trying to make it fit the limits of Tweet (without using acronyms or shorthand) will help to keep it succinct. Then you can expand on this to provide a more comprehensive explanation.
This is where the idea of the Elevator Tweet is most important. Everyone should be able to clearly communicate the basic idea of what they do or what they are working on to their audience in a single sentence. Spend time refining this, then try it on people who don’t know what you do in order to see if it needs further work. Once you have this figured out, add to it in order to have a more complete description that can follow the single sentence. Also, for the one sentence version, avoid using similes (explaining by comparing two different things) — your short description should be able to stand on its own merits.
In order to have a good pitch, you have to be able to explain why what you do is important. Does it improve on what already exists in the market? Does it fulfill a need that is currently not being handled efficiently or effectively? Is it designed for a market niche? The Why is meant to provide the reason your target audience/customer should care about The What. Typically, market research is used to determine the need for a new idea, product or service, so this should be included…it is ok to use one particularly relevant statistic as a preface to explaining The What. For example, one of the start-ups yesterday, Quick Posture (3D posture/balance diagnostics system for healthcare providers), spoke about the dangers of poor balance for people over the age of 70…this would be a good way of starting their pitch before describing the product.
Too often, people jump into showing features and functionality before adequately covering the The What and The Why. Resist the temptation (or, in some cases, the pressure from the audience) to dive into “demo mode” before you have adequately explained your product. Otherwise, you risk confusion and misunderstanding, which undermines the demo. Using a story line with personas is a good technique once you get to The How, but you should spend a lot of time working on the story. If possible, don’t try to show everything in one story, but instead break down capabilities into different thematic narratives.
I wish the best of success to everyone at Launch 2013, but these tips are not just meant for start-ups. Anyone can use these to improve their ability to communicate what they do professionally, academically, or even in their personal life.