What makes a good pitch?

We’re about to hold an internal Dragon’s Den event at the organisation I’m currently working for and I’m seriously excited by what the prospect holds. It’s been a great exercise in seeking a different way to gain ideas from anyone in the organisation. The brief was simple enough – it needs to support one of our corporate goals. From a selection of ideas, 10 were selected and divvy’d up to work with a senior leader to help craft their idea to something worthy of investment.

I’ve been supporting the teams as they prepare for the pitch so that they can have a good chance of being successful. They were given some early parameters that they needed to bear in mind, prime being the pitch must be delivered in five minutes.

This was a great challenge for me. I want each of these ideas to be successful, and the ideas are all worthy of investment. This performance support has been all about the structure of the pitch. It’s different to presentation training as the focus isn’t on the personal delivery style of the teams. Sure it will make a difference to how engaged the Dragon’s are, but this is less about the presentation and more about the idea.

For a pitch to be successful the following has to be true.

The time is the most important factor

This is indisputable. You don’t go over the time. If you do, your whole pitch was a problem at the start. The time drives the pitch. This is singly the hardest and most important thing to get right.

The idea has to be conveyed in one statement

This has been one of the consistent bits of feedback I’ve been making every team work on. Where the pitch is only 5 mins long, the idea has to be captured in one statement. If you can’t explain the idea in that way, the whole pitch will be a ramble.

I’ve been ruthless about this with the teams. If I can’t clearly understand what the idea is in that one statement I’ve been relentless about getting it to that state.

Keep the numbers simple

A lot of the teams I worked with thought they need to get into the details of the investment they’re seeking, or showing ROI, or be clever about how it will be spent.

I’ve been telling everyone the details don’t matter. The numbers have to be as accurate as they can be, but all you need them to do is help tell the story. If the idea makes sense, then the investment makes sense. Simples.

Context and market research matter

Not as obvious as you might think. The context for the idea is hugely important. What else is happening in the marketplace? What are other organisations doing? What technology is available? What data is available? Why is that data relevant? Who wants the idea? What feedback have you had?

This can easily swallow up time. It’s a hard balance to strike between harping on about the need to make this happen, and giving brief information on relevance in the external market.

Timelines for delivery

Quite a few teams just hadn’t considered that this was important. Yes, the idea might be fabulous, and the investment makes sense, but are you realistic about the timescale of making this happen? Too soon and you’ll fail based on lack of planning. Too far and you’ll be told to come back when you have a clear plan of action.

Props help but not necessary

It’s a pitch and it’s all about the idea. Anything not part of the pitch is potentially a distraction. Clearly if the idea hinges on a product or demonstration, then this has to be well thought through in terms of the time that takes.

Demonstrating a product means the pitch hinges on the success of the product working. If it works, job done. If it doesn’t or if it delays the pitch, you’re eating into your own time.

The structure of the pitch will help you win

I’ve had all sorts of anxieties and nerves that people have been sharing and commenting on. My single piece of feedback to them all has been the same thing. Stick to the structure. Don’t detract from it. It’s only 5 mins and they’re the most precious 5 mins of your life at that moment. Let nothing else come into play. Keep to the script.

I’ve purposefully not included various other factors of successful pitching such as story-telling, such as delivery style, such as using visual aids because those things, although important, are unlikely to determine the success of the pitch.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “What makes a good pitch?”

  1. What a brilliant idea……an organisation that is genuinely interested in listening to their people!

  2. Love this idea. And the clarity you’re pushing them for is great – it’s often hard to think that clearly and concisely about your own idea. I was once banned from offering any more feedback to a group project because I kept pushing for that level of clarity 🙂

    1. Ha! That’s a great place to be if the group can’t handle that. They realise the value of such focus (or scrutiny if you’re cynical).

      The level of support this group had was immense. An incredible amount of focused performance support to be potentially successful on the day. Most people don’t receive that their entire working life.

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