Pitch an idea: how to sell your idea with a presentation

Pitch an idea: whether you are a manager, a consultant, a freelance professional, a doctor or an entrepreneur, it must have happened to you to have an idea you wanted or absolutely had to share with others.

For those who work in a company, the preparation of a presentation is a daily reality.

Meetings are the occasion in which presentations are more frequent.

Imagine:

  • a periodic performance presentation session to the management to show the progress of the business and suggest the decisions to be taken;
  • the launch of a new product for which it is necessary to gain the approval of the leadership team;
  • even the presentation of the performance of a new production line in a production plant.

I could go on forever with examples of situations in which it is necessary to give presentations.

Then, there are all those occasions when you, a career manager, find yourself preparing presentations for your boss or your boss’s boss: this means that you will find yourself preparing a presentation that you will not give.

In short, in the business world the opportunities to give a good presentation certainly do not lack!

Presentations are not only related to the business world, they go far beyond that.

Imagine a visionary entrepreneur who has launched an innovative startup and needs to raise funds to carry out his idea.

Every successful fundraising campaign has gone through a moment of sharing and presenting the business idea to the perspective funders.

The entrepreneur could be in a pitch competition with other startups with 5 minutes of available time, a lot of tension and a very low attention span from the audience;

or he could already be at the stage where investors have decided to listen to him, as they sit around the table and spend a few more minutes paying attention to him;

or even, the entrepreneur could launch a crowdfunding campaign and present his idea to many potential founders online.

But the possibilities are practically endless!

Think of a doctor who has discovered an innovative treatment, an intervention procedure or even the results of an experience that show an alternative way, better than the existing solutions.

There will be a time when he will share his discovery with other doctors, for example, in order to promote his discovery, with the ambition that it will be understood, appreciated and maybe even adopted by others.

Think of the presentations in big events, the presentation of a new book, the latest presentation of Apple, with its ambition to enter the credit card world, or Google, that wants to revolutionize the world of gaming.

How many more examples can you think of?

Presentations are everywhere, they are present on many occasions and transversal to many professions.

The problem is that many of the presentations that are part of our daily lives often do not work.

Have you ever attended a presentation in which you found the speaker really boring and hard to follow?

How many times have you seen startups pitching their project and at the end of the 5-minute presentation you still wondered what they really did?

pitch an idea

When talking about presentations, it is natural to immediately think about slides and PowerPoint.

There are so many different tools to give presentations, but PowerPoint is certainly the most popular and used one.

Today, 25 years after its birth, PowerPoint is part of the children’s exams in primary schools since teachers believe that knowledge of this tool is vital to the lives of children at all levels of education and in their careers. Steve Pinker says that scientists can no longer teach without PowerPoint. Masses are celebrated with PowerPoint in reconstructed churches incorporating large screens. Diplomats use PowerPoint for UN presentations. Businesses and nonprofits of all sizes use PowerPoint. Newspapers, magazines and books mention PowerPoint without even having to explain what it is. In a world of 7 billion people, Microsoft claims that PowerPoint is installed on more than one billion computers – Sweating Bullets, Robert Gaskins, PowerPoint Inventor.

PowerPoint is a very powerful tool, not always easy to use, but certainly accessible to everyone and perfect for most of the occasions in which it is used.

Thanks to this tool, now a dominant part of the Office Suite, it is possible to give life to complex presentations, rich in media content, which can then be presented or distributed for reading.

However, it is reductive to think of presentations as only a set of slides.

pitch an idea

Each presentation is a moment of exchange and sharing aimed at achieving a specific objective.

A dialogue with a specific purpose.

Yet, how much time is lost in the embellishment of one’s slides?

Every time you give a presentation you make hundreds of decisions that affect the experience you’re designing for your audience, slide after slide.

How much time is lost in:

  • choosing colors that do not work together;
  • a font that you like but do not really know the effectiveness;
  • adding transitions and animations that only guarantee the audience a seasick sensation;

thinking that these will make your presentation more attractive?

By doing so, you invest your time in embellishing presentations that are ultimately ineffective.

But creativity isn’t for everyone, and often, those who give presentations aren’t necessarily designers with a creative background.

Presentations are given by managers, entrepreneurs, doctors, by you and me, by anyone!

How to quickly make communication and design decisions that ensure the effectiveness of the result?

The challenge is to correctly and quickly choose from the start the right font, color palette, object placement and layout for each type of content according to the target audience.

But you will understand that getting quality results in a short time means balancing the trade off between efficiency and effectiveness.

In fact, intuitively, a better job requires more time and more dedication.

In other words, is it possible to bring efficiency, and therefore standardization, to harness creativity to the point of transforming a purely creative design process into a sequence of logical deductive choices that allow us to arrive at an objectively effective result?

For us who give presentations on a daily basis, it would mean looking at an ineffective slide, identifying with certainty the reasons why it is not working and being able to “adjust” it quickly.

This would eliminate all the choices you make just because, in your opinion, they make the presentation prettier.

You would then have to implement only those changes that would lead to an actual improvement of the communicative effectiveness of your presentation.

Imagine that, while you’re drawing your next slide, I’m going to pass by and ask you, “Why are you putting this form around that text?”

If you are aware that you are inserting it because, in your opinion, it is prettier in the slide, then you are wasting your time.

In short: less is more!

Stop inserting colored boxes, ribbons, decorations, animations and transitions that don’t add value to your communication and that you, and only you, think are cute.

To make the process of giving your next presentation more efficient, it is essential that every action you take brings you closer to the real goal of the presentation itself.

Presentations often aim to achieve a business goal but, in general, it’s about persuading an audience to do something they wouldn’t have done without that presentation.

Do you understand the power of knowing how to give an effective presentation?

It means having the power to change people’s behavior!

Here are 3 fundamental components of any presentation:

  1. The audience (=who)
  2. The objective (=what)
  3. The resistance (=how)

Each presentation has its audience, and every audience has its own presentation.

pitch an idea

It doesn’t make sense to open PowerPoint and draw slides if you don’t have a clear idea of the recipient of the message.

Do you remember when your mother told you not to talk to strangers?

pitch an idea

Well, she was absolutely right!

People love to hear about themselves, nobody likes to hear about others […] people are flattered when they find out that you did some work to find out who they are Peter Coughter, “The Art of the Pitch” Author.

Your audience will feel won over when they realize that you are talking about their problems in their language and that you have worked to really understand their needs.

You see, getting to know the people you are addressing is a fundamental prerequisite for designing effective communication.

After defining a presentation as a dialogue between people, this means knowing who you are talking to.

Knowing your audience is essential to create a presentation that stimulates their interest, attracts their attention and makes you look good!

Now back to you: where do you start when you need to start a presentation?

Far too often, the answer to this question is: “from the slides I’ve already designed to understand what I have and what I’m missing”. So, you start with PowerPoint.

Shortly after this brilliant start you will find yourself on PowerPoint wasting time with alignments, distributions, colors, fonts and more, while completely losing sight of the real goal of the presentation.

PowerPoint is the perfect tool when it comes to aligning, distributing and drawing slides that anyone can receive, but all this is useless if there is no solid communicative structure at the base.

For this reason, the starting point should be the objective identification.

The challenge is to immediately identify what you want people to do, which they wouldn’t have done, without your presentation.

Once you have identified the objective you should ask yourself if there are any reasons why the specific target audience, the objective of your presentation, should resist.

Don’t worry, resistance is only natural.

After all you are proposing change, and people are always adverse to change.

Understanding the resistance to change is crucial to the success of the presentation, and in fact it is the basis for building an effective communication.

What do I mean?

I’m telling you that if you want your presentation to be persuasive, you cannot ignore the fact that you have to face and break down all the resistance from your audience.

Let me give you a concrete example from my book

pitch an idea

The ultimate guide to creating a brilliant startup pitch presentation and win funding

If you, as an entrepreneur, are introducing your startup to investors for the purpose of obtaining financing, you do not show up in front of them by opening the speech with a financing request.

Usually, there is a path in which you have to take them by the hand and accompany them to change, you have to convince them to accept your proposal.

In fact, investors may argue that your idea does not have enough market or traction (i.e. you still do not have quantitative evidence to prove the validity of your project), or does not have a business model that generates value or maybe that the team is not up to the task.

All these are what we call “resistance to change” of the audience.

For this reason, in fact, a good startup pitch has, among the others, important sections including: Market Sizing, Traction, Team, Business Model, and many others.

See?

I’m getting the information to introduce in my presentation starting from the questions that the audience will probably ask itself or, as said so far, from the probable resistances it will make.

There may be resistance typical of a specific audience, but there may also be more general resistances common to all kind of audiences.

Jeff Walker, in Product Launch Formula reminds us that there are at least three fundamental resistances that marketing must always take into account when dealing with the customer during purchases:

  1. The customer doesn’t believe in the solution you’re proposing
  2. The customer doesn’t believe that the solution you’re proposing could work for him
  3. The customer doesn’t have a sufficient budget

In an effective communication flow, resistances are faced in the final storytelling phase.

So you start from a specific objective, study the target audience and analyse it according to the objective to identify the main resistance to change.

Have you noticed?

In designing the communicative flow of the presentation I am starting from the end and not from the beginning, and certainly not from PowerPoint.

Following the Lean Presentation Design methodology, a good communication strategy starts from the definition of the objective that allows you to identify the resistance according to who you want to persuade.

These resistances will then be an integral part of the presentation.

What to say, what not to say and the order in which the information is presented distinguishes a successful presentation from a failing one.

Therefore, we have defined what to definitely say starting from the resistances and transforming them into clarifications.

Now, however, it remains to be seen where to start with the available information.

The first fundamental information to be extracted from the study of the audience is the problem that your solution aims to solve.

Why do I tell you the problem is the information from which to start?

Because most presentations fail from the beginning.

According to Squoia Capital, if you have 60 minutes of meetings you don’t have 60 minutes of attention, as there is a significant drop in attention after the first 5 minutes that could make you lose your audience forever.

pitch an idea

Do you recall those presentations in which the speaker, after a few minutes, is literally talking to himself?

He probably wasn’t aware of this initial drop or didn’t acknowledge it and didn’t take it seriously.

It often happens that, after all, you just need to raise your voice or gesticulate a little more to attract attention and become the exception to the rule.

You may think that maybe with a microphone or a planned presentation early in the morning, when everyone is fresh, there will be no problems.

The truth is that attention must be gained immediately, on every occasion.

Let’s face it, there’s no second chance to make a good impression!

In short, either you start off on the right foot or you’ve lost your audience forever.

Imagine your audience sitting in front of you in the seconds preceding the beginning of your presentation.

What are they thinking? What are they doing?

Are they looking at their emails, playing with their smartphones or are they chatting with each other?

You are finally ready to start, you clear your voice, you greet your audience, you introduce yourself, you briefly tell who you are, what you did, why you are a qualified speaker.

People are already starting to stiffen up, attention is starting to drop and you feel that you are already losing ground.

You must absolutely regain their attention.

You speed up your speech, raise your voice and begin to move gesticulating as much as possible but the situation does not improve.

What you do?

How is it possible that you have just begun to speak and are already losing people’s attention?

For the principle of reciprocity of R. Cialdini, if you want to get something from someone, first of all you have to give something in return.

pitch an idea

Let’s go back to the few seconds before the beginning of your presentation and look at your audience.

Do you want to know what they’re really thinking?

In that moment they are wondering what is a good reason to devote to you one of the scarce and precious resources that they have in this moment: their attention.

If you don’t give them a reason to follow you from the very beginning, you’ll have already lost them.

People will start doing something else, and they will look up every now and then to see if there is anything interesting worth paying attention to. But how can you give them a reason to follow you from the start?

In part, we already mentioned the solution when I told you to talk to them about them and to do so in their own language.

A bit generic?

Let’s go deeper!

Think of your favorite movie, any Pixar or Walt Disney story: where do they start? I’ll tell you.

They start with the introduction of a context in which a character, usually called “the protagonist”, is presented.

The purpose of this part of the story is to make you identify with the main character, because something is about to happen to him or her that should really interest you.

In fact, usually follows that part of the story that is called “conflict” or “complication” and that is the part where something happens that changes forever the life of the protagonist.

It’s such an event that the protagonist will not continue to do what he or she always did, but will be forced to change, in an attempt to restore the initial condition, or at least, solve the problem as quickly as possible.

Do you think I’m talking about fairy tales?

Let’s see a very interesting business example right away.

Do you remember when E. Musk presented the Tesla PowerWall?

Elon doesn’t certainly need to introduce himself, so he could have just gone on stage and talk about Tesla’s innovative Powerwall.

But on the day of the event, Elon did something different. What am I referring to?

One of the starting slides of his presentation was the representation of the CO2 concentration curve in the atmosphere. (see image below).

pitch an idea

Elon began by talking about the importance of the problem, describing its impact on our planet and making it of interest to all of us.

The introduction of a problem in which the audience can identify themselves, feeling it their own, allowed him to capture their attention from the very first seconds of the presentation.

The graph showed the severity of the problem and highlighted its impacts, the photos that run next to the graph bring the problem to life in the eyes of the audience.

At this point, the audience will have received the key information that answers the initial question: “why should I pay attention to you and do more than read your slides as soon as you’re done?”. The answer is that you have the solution to a problem that is relevant to the listener.

During the presentation of the problem, people will feel touched, in some cases even involved and, thanks to you, all this will happen in a language congenial to them.

I remind you that it is your job to translate the content into a peculiar and understandable language for the audience; you have to speak their language.

This will allow you to attract attention from the very first moments and create empathy with the people you’ll be talking to.

At that moment the audience will no longer be wondering what is a good reason to listen to you, because now it has one and it is more than valid: you are solving a relevant problem for them, and they will not be able to wait any longer.

Can you imagine what they’re going to ask themselves now?

They’re probably wondering what the solution is to the problem you’re describing.

A good speaker is able to create this “switch” in the audience’s thinking, that is to say, to make them go from asking themselves what is a good reason to listen to you to what is the solution you have to propose to them.

This way, your interaction with people changes completely as they will, unconsciously, pray to you for you to share your solution with them.

You are no longer selling your solution in a presumptuous way and then having to support how good it is and why it is the best.

Otherwise, you have created a need, a curiosity in people, and now all you have to do is satisfy it.

A well-made presentation, at this point, plays a fundamental role.

In fact, good slides that complement you, without ever stealing your scene, will allow you to bring the problem to life and make sure that your audience can live it.

Re-enacting the sensations that the problem recalls is the key to winning the attention right away.

Multimedia content, such as images and videos, within a presentation, can generate a strong emotional involvement in your audience.

Images, in particular, if used properly, allow you to generate a powerful emotional involvement in people.

What feelings come to mind when you look at the following slide?

pitch an idea

Maybe you’re thinking of a gourmet restaurant, a tasty and exclusive dish with a delicate flavor.

What sensations do you feel when you look at the next slide?

pitch an idea

You’re probably thinking of junk food, McDonald’s, Burger King’s, the fast-food world in general, or maybe that you’d like to get a bite of it, but certainly with a very different feeling than the one generated by the previous slide.

Are you ready for the next slide? Come on, let’s see!

Tell me how you feel now:

pitch an idea

I am sure that when you saw this poor cow you felt a feeling of tenderness, and maybe even the desire to be able to act and save her.

Could it be worse? Unfortunately, yes.

Hold on tight, because the next slide is pretty rough.

pitch an idea

How did it feel?

If you notice, the sensations you felt from the first to the last slide are even opposite to one another.

In the first slide you might have had an appetite, but after the cow and the slaughterhouse, I’m sure you’ll be over it.

Yet, the text in the slides never changed!

pitch an idea

Remember that images are so powerful that they can radically change the perception of a message regardless of the associated text.

They can generate emotions in the audience, leave a memory imprinted on them and trigger reactions that push people to act.

Do you realize the influence you can generate on people through the use of images in a presentation?

Visual content is, in general, a very powerful tool to make your audience live the problem by evoking specific feelings.

The human brain consists of three main levels:

pitch an idea

  1. Reptilian brain
  2. Middle brain
  3. New brain

The second and third ones are capable of processing complex, and therefore energy-intensive, information.

For this reason, the reptilian brain acts as a filter between the outside world and the other two brains, filtering out everything that is not strictly necessary for survival.

In fact, it is precisely thanks to the reptilian brain that the human being has evolved surviving the most impervious situations.

If you want to win the attention of the audience, your message must break through the barrier of the reptilian brain and get to the heart of the other two, otherwise you will be filtered out like any irrelevant advertisement.

If you want the reptilian brain to give you its permission to go through, the only way to do so is to make it understand that it really needs you, and that’s why the problem which is relevant to your audience becomes your starting point.

What better way than a presentation with a good speaker supported by excellent, well-designed slides from a visual point of view to make the audience experience a specific problem?

Here the use of images becomes crucial, and it can really make a difference by transforming a careless audience into a very receptive one.

The introduction of the problem will play the role of a stepping stone for the audience towards the solution.

What do I mean?

I mean that the problem is that part of the flow of your communication that prepares the audience to receive the solution.

Are you ready to introduce your solution?

It’s time to introduce your offer: it could be a product, a service, a strategic recommendation or, more generally, your solution to their problem.

When you present the solution, it is essential that you do not talk about the abstract process but about the solution that solves the problem.

Simple? Not at all!

When you are immersed in your project it is very difficult to synthesize the really essential information to the audience.

How often do you see those presentations of business performance updates in which the speaker feels compelled to explain all the steps he has taken to get to his considerations?

Nobody cares!

If he is doing the analyses, it is expected that he will give a summary, not share his working days’ activities!

With the introduction of the problem you have created interest in people and curiosity towards the solution.

Now, it’s time to satisfy this curiosity and reveal the solution.

Obviously, in the first instance, we introduce the solution with its benefits without going too far into the specifics.

This serves to bring the audience down to the more technical step-by-step part.

Only after introducing the solution, explaining how it works against the problem and introducing its main benefits, is it time to talk about how the solution works.

Or rather, it all depends on the audience!

What’s the point of talking about technology to an audience that doesn’t understand technology at all?

At this point, you might ask yourself: “How do I behave in front of a mixed audience where I have technicians and non-technicians?”.

In this case, you should speak in such a way that most people in the room can understand you, and therefore avoid speaking in a too technical jargon.

By doing so, most of the people in the audience will be able to follow the presentation until the end, and technicians may desire to deepen their understanding of your presentation during the final questions.

All good, right?

This is a good technique to attract technical questions in the phases following the pitch, without having to interrupt too often during the presentation.

So, let’s summarize for a moment.

You have to prepare a presentation: start with the people, talk to them using their jargon, talk about their problems to stimulate interest and create value right away.

This allows you to make them curious about your solution, which you will introduce immediately afterwards.

If all this is not enough and the audience still does not trust you?

Would you be surprised?

Well, I’m telling you, that would be normal.

Because your communication flow is still incomplete, as you are missing the final part: credibility.

Remember when I told you about the importance of identifying your audience’s resistance?

Well, I also mentioned a final section of your presentation that serves to create credibility and overcome resistance to change in your audience.

How?

Have you ever heard a presentation that begins with someone talking about their company, their results, how good and unique they are?

Well, that is, in my opinion, the worst way to start a presentation, because it starts from the one who’s speaking and not from the people.

So it will not attract any interest.

Nonetheless, the part of credibility that you were exploiting at the beginning, such as, for example, cases of success, growth of results, the team and the skills possessed by human resources in the organization, are all brought by the credibility of a speaker and the brand he or she represents.

So be careful, I’m not telling you that the credibility part is less important than the others, on the contrary, I think it’s fundamental.

However, I believe that the part of the flow of communication relating to the construction of one’s own credibility and therefore to overcome the barriers of the audience is to be managed towards the end of the presentation.

In practice, I’m suggesting that you don’t talk about yourself until you’ve really finished talking about the people in front of you, their problems and how you plan to solve them.

If all this has been handled, then you can take care of answering the question: “why should I choose you?”.

There is only one last fundamental part missing to close your presentation: the call to action.

If you want people to do something they wouldn’t have done without your presentation, you have no other choice, you have to tell them!

Otherwise it would be like pitching a startup in front of investors and not asking for funding, not declaring how much you need and how you intend to allocate resources.

After all, it would be like ending a meeting with a client without suggesting next steps or presenting an analysis of your results in the company without suggesting corrective actions.

In summary, your presentation will start with the introduction of a context to introduce your content to the target audience.

This will be followed by a section dedicated to the problem you want to solve for the audience and therefore why they should be interested in it.

A good problem will engage the audience and prepare the ground for you to launch the solution.

However, no solution stands without any credibility, and that is why the next section is precisely that: building credibility in the eyes of the audience.

The final part will be the call to action, in which you tell people what you want them to do, which they would not have done if not sufficiently motivated by your presentation.

Now you have a structured flow of thought and a methodological approach that will certainly bring you extraordinary results, if applied correctly.

Are you ready for your next presentation?

Conclusion

If you really want to earn the audience’s attention you’ll have to structure your presentation as you were telling a story.

You’ll need to start from people talking about their problems before you introduce your solution or you start building any credibility.

Start from people and talk their language to keep the attention high and pass the messages through.

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