How to pitch your idea

Do you sometimes need to sell an idea to your own team, a subsidy agency, or even potential buyers? That means you will be pitching. And if you would like your idea to actually come to fruition, you’d better do it well.

‘Oh, that’s nice’

Are you simply over the moon with your idea, but hardly get past a casual ‘Oh, that’s nice’ from the person you’re talking to? Then something is off. While the ‘Oh, that’s nice’ response reveals that others may like your idea, it is clear that it doesn’t pique their interest enough to ask for more information.

When pitching your idea, your biggest challenge will be to turn a ‘Oh, that’s nice’ into a ‘Oh, how interesting! Tell me more.’ The best way to do this, is to to link a real problem or need with a solution.

From problem to solution

Why go from a problem to a solution? Once your conversation partner hears you describe the problem, he or she will feel the need to solve it, or at the least begin to care about it. People will now be more open to listening to what solution you have to offer.

When formulating the problem, try to key into any obvious or hidden worries that your target audience may have. Let’s say you are in charge of a small-scale coffee cultivation project in Ethiopia. How could you draw your audience in? By linking the project to their daily cup of black gold, of course.

Imagine you telling them that diseases and climate changes could bring an end to their supply of coffee (=problem)? I can assure you that people will eagerly listen to your solution on hand.

The problem creates a tension field that people will want to resolve. Here is an example from the water purification research I did several years ago:

Problem
Many industrial businesses are left with strongly colored wastewater.

Solution
Using a revolutionary technique, we will decolorize and purify the water.

The problem-solution combination provides plenty of insight into my idea, but chances are you will now be thinking: ‘Oh, that’s nice. But why should this matter to me?’ This response often shows that the problem you are solving is not all that relevant to your audience.

And why should they listen?

The problem-solution combination is often not enough to get people on board. An ‘Oh, that’s nice’ will not get you very far. Instead, what you want is an ‘Oh, how interesting. Tell me more.’

To get to this point, aside from your problem and solution, you will need to add a third element to your pitch: tell your audience what they have to gain from this, what advantages there are for them. In other words: why should your audience be interested in what you have to say?

What your audience has to gain mainly depends on… uh… your audience. Find out what is important to them. What makes them happy? What do they worry about? If your idea can solve one of their problems, then your job is done. They will then start firing off questions and will look to you to see those questions answered.

Let’s look back at our example of the colored wastewater:

Problem + solution
‘Many industrial businesses are left with strongly colored wastewater. Using a revolutionary technique, we will decolorize and purify the water.’

Advantage
‘This will improve river water quality.’

‘Cleaner river water quality’ is a clear advantage. Although the general public or an environmental organization will surely be all ears, this will not win over just anyone. A business may think: ‘I am already meeting my discharge norms. Why should I invest in new technology? When addressing the corporate world, you will need to bring to the stage a different advantage.

Problem + solution
‘Many industrial businesses are left with strongly colored wastewater. Using a revolutionary technique, we will decolorize and purify the water.’

Advantage
‘And this technique is faster and cheaper than the current solutions.’

Faster and cheaper is an advantage aimed directly at businesses. Companies that are tackling colored wastewater will begin firing off their questions. You could come up with even more advantages.

Problem + solution
‘Many industrial businesses are left with strongly colored wastewater. Using a revolutionary technique, we will decolorize and purify the water.’

Advantage
‘And various businesses are interested in this technique.’

‘Various businesses being interested’ is an advantage that you could mention to your boss or potential money lenders. While they may not be interested in advantages such as better water quality or lower-cost techniques, once they know that various businesses are interested, they will surely begin dreaming up a product that could one day generate a profit.

Always remember to share the advantage for your audience, and don’t just assume that they will come up with this themselves.

What would you like them to do?

Your problem-solution-advantage combo has reeled your audience in and gotten them to listen to what you have to say. We could write an entire book (this book for example) on how you should further build your pitch presentation, but one last piece of advice would be to always share your main message.

There will always be something you want your audience to remember or do. Do you want them to schedule a follow-up meeting, or possibly subscribe to a proposal or purchase a product? Ask them to do so. Give your audience a clear call to action if you expect them to do anything.

Happy Pitching!

Want to read more?

This post contains fragments from ourbook The Floor is Yours – Leren presenteren van Brainstorm tot applaus. In this book we will show you how to present a complex idea in a clear and appealing manner and how to shape the rest of your pitch presentation. For now only in Dutch, but we are working on the English translation!

Interested? Purchase your copy today, in English or Dutch. €24,99
If you place your order at boek.thefloorisyours.be, you get 10% of the price and free shipping.

 

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4 extra tips & tricks for researchers
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