The problem with most investment pitches is that they sound like investment pitches. They all trudge along with a tried and true formula – here’s who we are, here’s what we do better, here’s where we’re going, and here’s what we need to get there.
This is all completely relevant information, of course, but about as captivating as watching toenails grow. So how do you lift yourself out of the muck of mediocrity?
There was a terrific story on Elon Musk’s pitch style a short while back. I’ve often built pitches with the same framework that Musk uses:
- Define the evil enemy
- State why we have to fight the enemy now
- Describe the glory of victory
- Identify obstacles along the hard road ahead
- Define why we’ll overcome the obstacles, even though others haven’t
- Prove that we’re already doing it
The problem is, it’s a framework—another damn formula. And the problem with formulas is that they’re perfectly happy with your mundane and less-than-captivating information.
In an interesting conversation with an Investor Relations friend at a mining company, he told me what set apart the master pitchmen/women from the rest of the rabble—they’re captivating. Captivating, unfortunately, is ethereal. You are or you aren’t, right?
Not quite. As part of my work, I help executives and entrepreneurs create pitches that shoot for ‘captivating’. In four steps, here’s how we do it.
1. We hunt for the gold nugget in the vast, interminable mine
When we begin, we always ask the executive or entrepreneur to lay out their current pitch. Buried in the data somewhere is always a nugget that could capture the imagination. Usually, it’s a passing remark on how success might make life better for ordinary folks, or how the inspiration for the company came from the unlikeliest place.
We jot that point down, wait for them to finish the pitch, then bring them back to find out what the heck they meant when they uttered that little nugget of pure gold.
2. We ask them to elevate the nugget to the level of profound, universal, human truth
The problem with most pitchmen and pitchwomen is that they’re afraid to elevate. They’re far more comfortable framing their story in a business context. We challenge them by saying investors are just plain humans (despite popular belief). They like to be inspired by the occasional profound human truth, too.
If you happen to inspire them in a pitch meeting—probably the place they’re expecting it least—you’ll set yourself apart from everyone else asking for money.
3. We ask them how JFK would make their pitch, starting with the nugget
JFK, MLK, Churchill and Reagan were incredible pitchmen. They were captivating. And they knew how to grab us by the collar with an incredible human insight.
Think of JFK’s moonshot speech. He didn’t lay out a ten point plan for getting there—that was for the leave behind document. Instead, he told us we were doing this not because it was easy, but because it was hard.
In one short sentence, he summarized everything that encapsulated the human spirit, made success inevitable, and elevated a highly technical operation to the pinnacle of human achievement. So, then, how could we turn your nugget into something that big and inspiring?
4. We dare them to dream
At this point in the conversation, we start to notice a giddy excitement seep in. We realize our executive simply hasn’t dared to dream this big. It would be irresponsible. The audience might laugh. I’m no psychologist, but I think it comes back to being humiliated in the Grade 5 violin recital, or something similar.
At any rate, we play with the idea. We push it higher and higher up the mountain, past the base camp of tactics to the midway camp of strategy, all the way to the summit of vision.
Congratulations. We’ve found an idea that will eventually have investors craning forward, putting down their Blackberries, and wondering where the heck this could lead. That’s in the next story.