I’m sure it has happened to you, too. You’re at some professional gathering, helping yourself to a drink and a bite, and someone comes up to you and asks ‘So, what does your company do?’. I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I may have made my career out of talking, but I messed up the answer to that question for longer than I care to admit to. Too long, too vague. But hey, at least I was enthusiastic! So, I decided to improve my pitch. How? Preparation and practice. Here’s what I learned and what I think you should know, too!
1) Know your audience and adapt. The key to your pitch is to have different versions of it at the ready. Pitching to an investor is not the same as pitching at a professional networking event. A conversation at someone’s birthday party is different from pitching to a potential customer. Make sure you have different building blocks for different pitches. This guide focuses on an informal pitch during a networking event.
2) Keep it SHORT: 20 seconds. A pitch is never the start of a conversation – it happens somewhere in the middle. The goal is to enthuse your conversation partner about you as a person, your organization and prompt follow-up questions. It is extremely important to keep it SHORT. A good pitch at a networking event should take no longer than 20 seconds.
3) Start with a great headline. Answer this question: what is the most important thing my company does? Don’t focus on what you actually produce or sell, but its consequences. If you produce toothpaste, it’s not about the actual tubes of toothpaste. No, it’s about the fresh breath or the healthy teeth that you sell. So, write down what makes your customers happy and turn that into a great newspaper Twitter headline. Make sure it’s something that arouses curiosity.
4) Namedropping is allowed. In fact, it’s a major persuasion technique: ‘That other company has/does it too!’ Make sure you mention a nice couple of names from your client list. And guess what, those customers… they have a problem.
5) Customers with problems…? Yes, please! Make sure you describe the problem succinctly and in such a way that everyone gets it – immediately. Feel free to cut a corner here and there and leave nuance out of it entirely. Just make sure your conversation partner understands your customers’ problems at once!
6) What is your solution? What is the most important advantage your company has to offer vis-à-vis your competition? Why is your solution unique? Why does it work so well?
7) People buy people. People are like investors: they buy the person, not the building. Your mission, then, is simple: show you enjoy your work, and that your company energizes you. If you transmit these positive thoughts, other people will be energized by you. And guess what – that makes you a great person to talk to!
My pitch? It used to be way too long. I started with the first idea and before I knew it, my conversation partner had drifted off. These days, I more or less say the following:
So, Rens, what does your company do?
Rens: We are BuzzMaster and (headline) we make conferences and seminars truly interactive and energetic.
Rens (customers with a problem): Our customers – think of Google, KLM and KPN – organize a ton of corporate events. However, and in spite of good speakers, these events often fail to be really interesting. There’s no feedback from the audience and it’s often a one-way street.
Rens (our solution): And we change that completely! People can use their smartphones to ask questions, vote for or against statements, and have the power to change the outcome of the conference. We are also able to select specific audience members based on their answers and have their smartphone light up. That way, the event becomes open and truly interactive.
Wow, that sounds great.
Rens (passion): So, yes, we’ve been at it for a year and a half now. We’ve done over 100 events and it’s really exciting to keep growing the company.
8) Final tip: Where do you want to be a year from now? It’s always a good idea to have a few talking points at the ready – something to talk about some more. Make sure it’s connected to your company’s goal. Where do you want to be a year from now? And what do you need (in terms of knowledge, connections etc) to get there? Before you know it, other people will spontaneously start helping you!