The Lost Art of the 30 Second Pitch
July 21, 2015

Unfortunately, given the nature of my job, I attend a lot of networking events.

I say unfortunately because of the amount of bad introductions I have to go through. You’d be surprised at how many people are quite bad at introducing themselves and their businesses.

How often have you shook someone’s hand and then had them rattle off their CV for 5 straight minutes? And then walked away still not knowing what on earth they were talking about or asking for.

We all know where those business cards go!

Currently, there is a rise of new incubators and accelerators providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to stand up and pitch their businesses or ideas, either for funding or community input. The Dragon’s Den/ Shark Tank format has exposed many for not having well prepared or well communicated ideas.

A few keys to reviving your elevator or cocktail party pitch:

Introduce yourself

Before you jump into your sell, let people know who they are talking to. What’s your history? Your background? What’s your track record of accomplishments and problems you’ve managed to solve?

Most importantly how are you different from the guy up next? Communicating your enthusiasm and passion is just as important as the actual idea and business proposition.

State the Problem

It’s quite important to position your business and give shape to your value message. It’s key to do this by explaining to your audience the problem that you are actually trying to solve. What’s the gap that you noticed in the market? The challenge you saw go unnoticed? Give your listeners a vivid example relating that problem to their lives.

Instead of: “We sell digital magazines”

Rather: “We have seen a change in the way people consume media and that traditional avenues for delivering content need to be revamped. In response, we help brands communicate with a wider and fast moving audience through cutting edge digital publishing tailor made for new tablets and smartphones.”

And when you state the problem, lose the technical jargon. It’s not the place or time to show off how many acronyms you know or how many levels deep your techie talk can go. Explain it like your Auntie Janet is in the room with no clue why your new innovation is so exciting.

Know Your Audience

Always be mindful of who you are speaking to. Your pitch should be tailor fitted to the audience not to yourself. Whether it’s a networking event, interview or client, be sure to always adjust your message adequately. There is nothing worse than hearing the wrong message in the wrong context. More importantly, if you can’t communicate to your audience the reason that you and your idea are important to their needs, you’ll be dismissed immediately. Many people are asking “What’s in it for me?” or “How is this going to improve my life” “Save/make me money?” Cut to the chase, deliver the punch line and give them a clear reason as to why you’re the guy.

Tell A Story

Every organization on the planet knows What they do. These are the products or services they offer. A few organizations know How they do what they do. These are the things that make them special or set them apart from their competition.

However, very few people can communicate Why they do what they do. Why is it important and why should it inspire a purchase decision? This is the purpose, cause or belief. It’s the very reason your organization exits. The reason you get out of bed every morning. Communicating that entrepreneurial fire is the game changer.

Identifying your Why is not an over night achievement, but work towards it each day. Focus your energy on communicating the unique reason people should buy into you. As my business partner states, “Without a powerful context, any content (the stuff that you do) lacks real meaning and is at risk of imitation but more importantly it brings little lasting fulfillment.” Tell your story and tell it with confidence.

Slow Down

As entrepreneurs, we get caught up in telling people everything we do and have worked on. The downfall of every “serial” entrepreneur is not being able to put a cap on that. “I’m currently involved in a clothing brand and I’m also into property. Sometimes I work as an app developer and I DJ on the weekends. Oh and if you need anyone who prints business cards I’m your guy!”

You aren’t Richard Branson just yet! This kills your legitimacy. Explain 1 or 2 of your projects/businesses and relate them together and to your audience. Too many directions indicates a lack of focus and a lack of success.

30 seconds is a long time friend. Woosa. Take your time and unpack it in meaningful way.

Set Up a Call to Action

The worst thing for a panel member or interviewee is to finish hearing a proposal/pitch and have no clue what someone was asking for. Do you want support? A mentor? A business card? A referral? Funds? Access to my client base? If you don’t ask for it, no-one can give it to you. Everything you’ve said in the last 30 seconds should culminate into an end goal. Know what yours is before you even start.

End your pitch with open ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. “How are you dealing with data management challenges in your business?” Provide the opportunity to take the conversation further and for your audience to unpack your expertise.

Keep it casual. You are not going to close a deal at the hors d’oeuvres table. Establish yourself, your product/service and your brand and secure a slot for another conversation. The best pitches are easily grasped and have a natural flow. There is a big difference between a rehearsed checklist and a two-way discussion. Make sure you have the latter.

So at our next networking event please, please make us care!

Happy (efficient) pitching!

For more insights, rants and motivation tune into our weekly show, The Opportune Time, telling the stories of Joburg’s entrepreneurs, Wednesday 4-6pm CAT on

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