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The Art Of The Pitch

Startup showcase at AlphaLab Demo Day

You do it. I do it. Your neighbor down the street does it.

We all pitch all of the time.

Ideas, products, strategic plans, places to go for lunch—when a decision has to be made, there’s a pretty good chance a pitch won’t be too far behind.

Some folks are a lot better than others. Like great athletes or musicians, they’re able to channel the hours, weeks, months, or even years of nonstop preparation into the perfect performance.

When they nail it, you can almost feel it in the air—the buzz from the crowd, the validation of all of their hard work, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Definitely a reoccurring theme at yesterday’s Innovation Works Investor Day on the South Side of Pittsburgh.

Armed with nothing more than PowerPoint decks and lavalier microphones, aspiring entrepreneurs took to the stage to share their “big ideas” as well as their hopes and dreams with the approximately 600 people who were in attendance.

Hidden object puzzle adventure games, an online platform that promises to take the pain out of shopping for insurance, a rehabilitative garment for active people with back pain, a gluten-free craft brewer and a host of other startups were on display throughout the day. And based on the reaction from the crowd, the culmination of all of their hard work definitely paid off.

So what makes for a great pitch? Whether you’re a startup speaking to prospective investors or a small business owner speaking to prospective customers, it’s all about content and delivery. You’ve got to:

  1. Immediately establish a need. Why should they care? Why now? If you lose them here, the rest is pointless.
  2. Crisply and concisely present your idea or solution. Especially true for new products and processes, you want to give folks a peak behind the curtain so they can understand what it is you’re doing. You want to give just enough detail without getting stuck in the weeds.
  3. Prove your credibility. Why you, your idea, or your product versus one of your competitors? Once you have them hooked on the need and how the product or process works, it’s time to make the case about why you and/or your team is right for the job. This could include educational background, relevant work experience, customer testimonials, etc.
  4. Show some personality. You’re pitching yourself as much as you’re pitching an idea. You definitely don’t want to come on too strong but, at the same time, you also want to give folks a glimpse of who you are. When you do, you increase the chance that you’ll establish a connection. 
  5. Be passionate. I’m a huge sucker for passion. For me, there’s nothing better than having someone get a little excited about what they’re talking about. Unless you start flailing around uncontrollably, there’s a pretty good chance your passion will become contagious—and that’s always a good thing. You want folks to get excited.

What do you think makes for the perfect pitch?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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