How speed pitching ends up as slow pitch softball

Every so often, an article on “the elevator pitch” comes along where you’re supposed to present your product in 30 seconds or less… five sentences or less… two eye blinks or less….

I don’t want to add specific examples, because I don’t want to single out any one example, but you’ve certainly seen this advice multiple times for multiple scenarios… resumes, product pitches, confessional booths, marriage proposals…

I’m sure when I first heard the suggestion my brain did something like;

Hmm… that’s a neat idea…

Well, yea I can really see the befit to being succinct…. and I know I hate it when people “broadcast only”

I really learn by getting a chance to ask questions…

So, I guess once they’ve gotten a good summary they’re smart enough to see the value on their own..

Then they’re hooked and will want to learn more!!

Although I’m a planner by profession and have a consumer nature, I’m naturally a “less talk more do” kinda person. So this aligns with the “optimization” and slight east coast mentality that I have.

So the faith in this advice has permeated my career for many years now. I’ve practiced giving succinct status statements (I also know rambling can get you in trouble) and I’m usually able to answer technical questions with something succinct and satisfactory like “yes, I’ll make that happen”.

Thus today’s revelation has come as a bit of a shock when I realized the advice I’ve been following all these years is very misleading and often downright wrong!

In such an information dense dialog what should be a rapid give and take has, in retrospect, degenerated into “take and move on” with you losing out. Often I’ve delivered such a fantastically succinct statement that it’s apparently left the exec, customer, or finance speechless.

It’s a clear alternative for you to consider my possible ineptitude and I admit to not being a natural sales man, often expecting facts and my passion to speak for itself. So think back to a time where you’ve epitomized this approach and how often the person on the other end was left speechless, uncertain where to continue.

I’m sure there was one of those pauses where you were expecting them to ask a question or say something. You had the next reply ready, only the chance never came and you were forced to continue as though you’d only meant to take that awkward break.

My experience has shown me that too often the person on the other end is scared looking stupid, and that without something for them to “grasp” in the verbal discourse they resort to Mark Twain’s old advice that keeping silent is the wisest thing to do. As another counter example consider meetings, where it’s often the person who talks the most who’s given credit for being the expert.

I saw this illustrated clearly while working at a tradeshow last week. My instinct was to give a quick pitch and then answer questions to help explore their understanding. However, the recipient of my “wisdom” wasn’t certain how to continue the conversation and had I not continued with “trivialities” they would have left with no continued interest beyond a “thanks”.

I’m certainly not advocating a dialog of dysentery, however I believe there’s a bit of human psychology that’s at play here which people “elevator presenters” overlook;

  • People are far more likely to forgive you for telling them something they know then for making them feel like idiots.
  • There’s also a level of repetition required for people to intuit and internalize information. Repeating information through variation is a powerful tactic shunned in the 60 second pitch.
  • Even if the person on the other end has already been told “this is fast” saying “the obvious” is a chance for them to judge your passion and authenticity.

That’s just a start, but I think there’s many reasons why you should take as long as you’ve got, to say as much as you can. Just as Web 2.0 focuses on being “feature stingy” rather then “feature rich” the new 2.0 way to pitch your plan is in through a conversation, not a soundbight.

You clearly need to think out how to say what you want to say, this is no excuse to not prepare. However, thin-slicing aside, no matter what power tie you’re wearing, there’s too much competition for you to expect people to get hooked by 60 seconds of information.

About jay

I'm trying to build something interactive where I can learn from others and hopefully share useful knowledge too. thecapacity@gmail.com
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2 Responses to How speed pitching ends up as slow pitch softball

  1. What about simply making the other person talk more. This way, they sell themselves on your idea using their own words, and all you have to do is ask questions.

  2. jay says:

    Tom,
    I wish I thought that was straightforward and would really work. What I’ve found is that they don’t know what to talk about.

    Asking lots of questions aka the Socratic method is a good start to getting them to talk and think about how your solution could work for them, but it’s predicated on their ability to quickly grasp what it is your offering and figure out how it fits into their need.

    Some people are great at that, and I think of it like “Tetris with ideas” but rationally you’re the expert on your solution and I think expecting them to instantly grasp what you’ve been working on for years can lead to lots of disappointment.

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