The business pitch presents the ultimate communications paradox. On one side the presenter wants to tell the potential client everything they know about their subject. They want to woo them with their technical prowess and ensure that the potential client is in absolutely no doubt about their experience and expertise.
On the other sits the client, desperate to understand how their life or business is going to be transformed by the product, but suffocated from the start by a barrage of background information and detail. It's a situation repeated across the globe as everyone and anyone from bankers and accountants to entrepreneurs and agencies forget that the key element in any pitch is not their product but their audience.
To avoid falling foul of the pitch paradox, it's worth focusing on the following eight tips. They use an imaginary example of a pitch to sell a container that keeps milk fresher for longer.
1. Don't start your pitch by â€˜pulling some slides together'. Do the opposite. Forget all about slides (you may not need any at all) and write down the ONE memorable message that you'd like your client to remember at the end of your pitch. It will usually be a benefit. For example, "A typical family will save 15% on milk each year as a direct result of using this product". That's the key to your presentation and it should create a backbone for everything you do next.
2. Once you know what they need to remember, focus next on what they need to DO after the meeting. What do you want to get out of it? It might be a second meeting, a sample, a request for further information, an invitation to an event or, ideally, an order. For example: "Please take this container home and pour a pint of milk into it and leave it in the fridge for a fortnight. I'll call you then and ask you to take a taste!" Either way, no pitch is a great pitch unless it achieves a measurable next step. Decide what this is going to be before you start writing anything at all.
3. With 1) and 2) behind you, you have a beginning an end to your pitch. What you now need is a structure that takes you as seamlessly as possible from the key message to the action. This doesn't mean that you start ploughing through detail. The argument must be logical and seamless. For example: "Milk stays fresher longer. Saves money. Ensures less waste. Environmentally friendly. How we achieve it. Reaction of people who have tried it. Please try it. I'll then call."
4. Once this basic argument is in place then all you need to do is flesh it out with RELEVANT detail. You may have spent many years trying every possible type of plastic container to achieve this effect, but your potential client doesn't need the low-down on each. Unless they are a physicist they are also unlikely to want the precise formula for achieving it. This sort of detail may not be relevant to your pitch, but it is still essential. You need to store it and be able to use it as an answer to a specific question. You may wish to house it in an Appendix. But if it doesn't fit the core logical argument then don't try to force it in.
5. Once you have an argument fleshed out with relevant detail, you can complete your script. This means polishing the words in a way that you'll be able to deliver comfortably. This is where all the key skills for great business speech writing come into their own, including short punchy sentences, no jargon, easy links from one topic to the next.
6. Never forget when writing this script that LESS IS MORE. The pitch may have been booked for an hour, but if you can tell your story in ten minutes then your client has time to ask questions that matter to him or her. No-one ever complained that a pitch was too short, or that an idea was too simple.
7. ONLY once the story has been written and you are convinced that it flows perfectly should you think about slides. Look through your script. Where could it do with an illustration? Does it need some data to justify a point? Or a picture? If so, you need a slide. If not, ignore temptation.
8. Now it's just a question of practising it so you become less reliant on the script. Say it out loud until you can finish your own sentences and you're ready to go and sell.
Speech writer Lawrence Bernstein runs Great Speech Writing, helping clients write and deliver speeches and presentations for businesses, politicians and private clients.