This resource was prepared by the Business Communications Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
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In the business world, time is scarce, and knowing how to consolidate information into a concise and effective presentation is an essential skill. While the length and context of a pitch can vary, the goal is the same: to spend the minimal amount of time required to affect buy-in on a product, service, or plan of action. This article will help you understand the elements of an effective pitch and how to deliver them successfully.
Remember the Three Tenets of Business Communication
Just as readers of business communication usually “skim” a document before dedicating the full time required to read it, individuals listening to a pitch will generally attempt to glean understanding from as little content of the pitch as possible before devoting their full attention to it. As a result, it helps to keep these tenets in mind:

 

  • Be goal-minded: Being goal-minded is more than simply having a goal in mind when communicating; equally important is communicating to your audience that you have a goal, what that goal is, how that goal is achieved, and why it matters to them. By focusing on this, you begin to build credibility with your listeners and encourage them to pay attention to what you have to say.
  • Be audience-driven: It is not enough to have and communicate goals in your pitches; those goals must be communicated within the context of who you are speaking to. For example, an “elevator” pitch made as a case for a recruitment would have a significantly different structure, purpose, and audience from a product pitch made to corporate buyers.
  • Front-load your pitch: By design, pitches often have aggressive time limits. Front-loading is more than being concise- it is about explaining the goal you have in your mind to your audience as soon as possible. By doing so, you enable the rest of the pitch to continually reference and make a case for your goals as you go, rather than having to force that ideological link into place somewhere near the end of your presentation.
Rhetorical Strategies for Pitching
As with all persuasive communication, you can create and leverage a Rhetorical Situation to build credibility for your case and as a speaker with your audience. Here are some strategies for doing so:

  • Connect with your audience: This is an application of being “audience-driven”, as mentioned above. It is important to consider that this connection can (and should) take both logical, objective forms as well as subjective, more emotional ones. For example, say that you are getting interviewed for a job, and have researched the histories of your interviewers. By choosing parts of your relevant work and personal experience that match theirs, you create shared understanding of things you both value while simultaneously building your case as a job candidate.
  • Tell a story: It is difficult to make a persuasive case for anything with a stream of facts alone. To tell a story in the context of your pitch, follow the classic “story mountain”- draw in your listeners at the beginning with your goal (often through an attention getter), make your argument for your goal, and finish by describing means of accomplishing it. To read more about business storytelling, check out our article on the subject.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify: As stated at the beginning of this article, one of the most difficult aspects of pitches is their time constraints. While some may last upwards of 30 minutes, there are other situations in which you may only have 30 seconds! Simplification accomplishes several things in this context- it makes your content easier to understand, faster to communicate, and, ultimately, more effective at persuading others. For these reasons, part of preparing your pitches should always include time set aside for condensing relevant information and removing unnecessary components.
Virtual Pitching
Virtual communication has long been a part of business proceedings, and has only become more important in the wake of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. While everything already stated in this article applies to virtual pitching, there are some additional skills that should be kept in mind when using this medium.

  • Be professional: We tend to relax in non-work environments, and the move to work-at-home can unintentionally bring this mood to your workplace. As a result, it is imperative to create a professional environment at home through dressing professionally, maintaining a dedicated workspace, and speaking cordially.
  • Speak slowly: When we are held to a time limit (whether it is directly stated or not), we tend to talk faster in an attempt to get across more information in less time. However, this can cause several issues. First, speaking fast may make it difficult for listeners to identify key points of your argument and how you substantiate them. Second, speaking too quickly will not give your listeners time to process and understand information (integrating pauses as transitions between ideas can help with this). Finally, virtual mediums do not always function at 100% technical health; that is, if the audio stream cuts from a presenter who is already speaking too fast, it becomes even more difficult to stay engaged.
  • Be authentic: Business professionals that listen to pitches- whether they be hiring managers, buyers, or executives- are experts at detecting the passion of the presenter (or the lack thereof). If you want the goal of your communication to be fully realized, remember to present it in a way that shows not only why those listening should care, but also why you find value in the case you’re making.
For more information on crafting an effective pitch, check out this video from Jessi Schnebelen, assistant director of the Business Communication Lab.

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