I recently picked up Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human — and what jumped out at me was his chapter on pitching.
Pink starts by telling us about the original “elevator pitch.” This wasn’t (as we now think of it) a pitch you can deliver in the time it takes to ride an elevator — it was an actual pitch about elevators. In 1853, when Elisha Otis created a pulley-driven alternative to walking up flights of stairs, he had big trouble convincing people to step into his metal boxes, and solved this problem by holding live demonstrations in exhibition halls. (The demos involved an axe; ’nuff said?)
Pink’s point is that, more than 150 years later, the elevator pitch might be a little dated. So he offers six “successors” — playful alternatives to the standard pitch — that I recently road-tested with five other intrepid entrepreneurs.
The six of us gathered at In Good Company Workplaces, where I go to network with and learn from other women entrepreneurs. First we described our businesses to each other in fairly traditional ways. Then we spent two hours creating:
1. The One-Word Pitch
Boil what you do down to one lonely word? (I can hear the writers among you shuddering.)
Pink suggests that you begin with a 50-word pitch and keep eliminating words ’till you get down to one, but my group approached this cold by each coming up with just one word.
Answers ranged from provocative (“Story!”) to elegant (“Beauty!), with a few two-word phrases sneaking in: Dream-finder, from performance and creativity coach Josefine Fett, and Birth Support from midwife-doula Stephanie Heintzeler.
My one-word pitch was: “Talk!”
2. The Question Pitch
Questions are an excellent way to focus an audience’s attention, as successful speechmakers know. And Dan Pink, in his “To Sell is Human” chapter on pitching, recounts how, in 1980, Ronald Reagan sewed up the U.S. Presidency by asking, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”
What made this question work, of course, is that people weren’t better off; and Pink suggests that you only use question pitches when your argument is strong.
My group discovered that there’s also a difference between questions that function as selling probes (this classic sales technique aims to gather specific information about your customer’s needs) and those that open a broader conversation.
See the difference in these two questions, from Red Siren Design’s Creative Director, Masha Goltsova?
- “Is your website working effectively?” (This yes/no sales question screens out non-prospects.)
- “Have you seen a website that you like lately?” (This open-ended question explores your taste in web design, and might lead to you deciding that you’re ready for a new site.)
3. The Rhyming Pitch
My fave in this category was from On Speaking Terms founder and speaking coach Katie Karlovitz, who graciously said that she’d come to my event because “they always say that you should steal from the best”:
“If you want to learn to soar,
I can teach you how to roar.”
4. The Subject Line Pitch
You know about these; they go on all your emails! (Because aren’t you pitching the idea that the person you’re writing to should open your emails and read what you have to say?)
Here’s where I rely heavily on the wisdom of my Creative Strategist, Melea Seward, who’s taught me to put the thing your reader cares most about first. As an example, she recently flipped my book launch newsletter subject line so that, instead of saying “My New Book about Getting the Job in 2014 is HERE!” it said, “GET THE JOB in 2014: My New Book is Here!”
Visual Storyteller Dorie Hagler shared both a killin’ subject line pitch (“Stories That Stick”), and a great story about how she once got through to an elusive photo editor with the email subject line “No more stiff head shots.”
5. The Twitter Pitch
Putting what the reader cares about first is also the right approach for Twitter Pitches. And Pink suggests that you cut your 140-character “mini-blog” post down to 120 characters so that other people have room to add their own comments.
6. The Pixar Pitch
This was the Dan Pink suggestion that I viewed most skeptically before I’d actually tried it!
Based on an analysis by former Pixar story artist Emma Coats, “The Pixar Pitch” is a storytelling format that gives your pitch wonder and momentum. (You can check out Coats’s story rules here.)
My “Pixar Pitch,” about one of my favorite clients, is below; to make your own, start with only the phrases in bold:
Once upon a time there was an Executive Chef named Marc Murphy who was very generous and also had dyslexia. Every day, he cooked, and ran his wonderful restaurants, and did a lot to help other people. One day, he learned that he was going to be honored by City Harvest, one of his favorite charities. Because of that, he looked for a coach and found me. Because of that, we created customized speaking notes that let Marc read a combination of words and pictures. He used these notes to practice and practice, Until finally Marc gave a very successful speech! And best of all, City Harvest raised a ton of money to collect even more food for hungry New Yorkers!
I can’t explain why creating that story was so much fun — maybe it’s the “Once Upon a Time” beginning — but I do suggest that you give it a try and see if it inspires you. In fact, you can…
Pick a Pinch of Pink’s Pitch Proposals
Do I really think these six novel approaches will completely supplant the elevator pitch? Of course not (and I doubt that Dan Pink does, either).
What they will do, however, is shake up “your game.” They’ll help you break out of the pitching rut, give you a fresh perspective on what makes your work (or you!) interesting, and make the idea of pitching more fun.
That can only be for the good.
Because the more fun we have as we’re pitching, the more open others will be to what we say!