Pitch Perfect: The Seven Essential Elements of the CEO Pitch
Getting people excited about your company is part of the modern-day mandate for today’s CEOs. And for good reason. A CEO’s ability to gain confidence and trust has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. CEOs know their company inside and out, but that doesn’t always translate into an effective pitch: a succinct summary that establishes a company’s mission, vision, and unique value. Whether speaking to an investor, key hire, prospective partner, or industry influencer, a CEO—like anyone—only has a few moments to pique interest, sell their company, and move on to next steps. It’s a skill most CEOs recognize as critical but often struggle with as they seek the balance between being polished and sincere; dynamic and succinct; engaging and market-moving. “Like it or not, today’s CEO has been pre-cast in the role of their company’s chief brand ambassador,” says Karen Tibor Leland, branding expert and author of The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand. Are they ready for it? Here are a few key elements for any CEO to use to master the perfect pitch:
Remember that Authenticity Matters:People trust people more than they trust brands, which is why the CEO’s opportunity to emerge as a genuine voice of their company requires pitches to resonate, extending far beyond just marketing speak. According to Jeff Leventhal, CEO of WorkRails, Co-Founder of WorkMarket (recently acquired by ADP), and Boldstart Venture Partner: “The best pitches come from inside of yourself. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be delivered as a well-crafted message, but passion must come through to gain buy in.” However, enthusiasm alone won’t close the deal. According to Leventhal, a pitch should focus on three main points and end with a clear ask and next step.
Make it Relatable: The best pitches are always the simplest, which means putting jargon and overcomplicated descriptions to the side. “It's important to speak about your company in a way that your audience can understand. If they don't like your business, that's on them. If they don't understand your business, that's on you,” saidDrew Silverstein, Co-Founder of Amper Music, an AI music platform that recently secured an additional four million dollars in seed financing.Silverstein starts off with this description of Amper: A.I. that composes music. “Now this isn't the whole of it, but it's a digestible and easily understandable sentence that creates intrigue and leads to follow up questions and productive discussions.” Start with a simple description; if time permits listeners will provide the opportunity to add more detail specific to their interest.
Always Be Problem Solving: “What do you do?" According to Sara Holoubek, CEO of Strategy and Innovation consultancy Luminary Labs, this is the first question potential customers, employees, or investors will ask you. And while the answer will evolve over time, Holoubek suggests having a ‘True North’ answer always at the ready. “It is completely normal for your pitch to evolve over time and in tandem with your company's trajectory. That being said, there's a fine line between evolution and trying to be everything to everyone. Why does your company exist? What is the business problem that you are trying to solve? The more these answers are rooted in your customers needs, the better.”
Marisa Evans Alden
Tell Them A Story: “When you talk about a big problem and make it real for people with examples, a story starts to emerge,” said Marisa Evans Alden, CEO and Co-Founder of Sawyer. Throughout her career in fundraising for startups, including raising more than eight million dollars for Sawyer’s tech platform for discovering kids classes, Alden found storytelling key to her success. Especially when she used parallel industries and business to make ideas more concrete. Adds Leventhal, “Know your audiences so you can connect stories and analogies to the people you are speaking with— without establishing a connection or building a rapport, nothing else will matter much.”
Read Your Audience: Paying attention to the real-time reactions of any audience will help you focus in on the most impactful points. “In improv, they train you to listen for the laughter while you are performing. When you hear it, you are supposed to do more of what you just did. Pitching is the same thing,” notes Alden. “You listen for patterns. If every time you tell a story you see people jot down a note at the same point, you know you are on to something. Or, if every time you pitch, at the same moment people smile, you’ve nailed it.” Whether delivering your practiced pitch or speaking to the media, common points of resonance will start to emerge. Track those. Write them down. Remember them and incorporate them into your messaging, as these are the points that will elevate the awareness, understanding, interest, and excitement in the story you’re telling.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Pitching is an art form, and while it might take some time to develop your own natural rhythm, there’s absolutely no substitute for practice. “Your pitch is like the big show, rehearsal is how you get it to be perfect. And you can always do better. The business changes, the market changes, so you are constantly updating and refining your story and the language,“ says Alden. “Pitching a company should be a performance, not a thought experiment. You should have every line memorized, know every answer to the questions you're likely to hear, and be confident in how you deliver the information. If you have to think too much in a pitch meeting, you didn't prepare enough,” adds Silverstein.
I am the CEO of RAISE Communications (@raisecommsgrp) a boutique PR and content strategy firm that helps tech startups, VC Firms and Leadership Teams shape ideas, create influence and inspire action. Follow me @carisommer.