If you’re in the world of startups, you might know my latest podcast guest, Christoph Sollich, better by his alter ego: The Pitch Doctor.
True to his name, the German consultant has helped roughly 2,000 fledgling companies learn how to present their ideas better (not to mention countless entrepreneurs and university students).
Christoph says his mission is to make sure that budding businesses fail for good reasons – and that having a bad pitch isn’t a good reason.
Find out why Christoph thinks pitching is like dating – but not rocket science – and how he believes ALL parts of your life will improve if you learn how to deliver your ideas properly.
Put simply, Christoph says that a pitch is when you “present something to someone in order to get something in return”.
Even more specifically, pitching is presenting a concept in order to get a ‘yes’.
Being good at pitching gives you control over your life, according to Christoph. “It allows you to go where you want to go,” he says.
Here’s an example: you pitch an idea so successfully to your boss that they agree to the proposal and ask you to run the project because of how passionate you were about it.
But if you pitch the same idea badly, and your boss says no, instead she’s going to give you work that nobody else wanted to do.
“So good pitch, great life; bad pitch, miserable life. That’s the formula,” says Christoph. “And that’s why I think pitching is actually a life skill.”
Pitching is like dating, Christoph says, adding that there’s no value in trying to convince a hundred people to go on a date with you. Even if you manage to get them along to that first meeting, they’re not all going to be interested in you – and you’re not going to be interested in all of them.
The same applies to pitching. There’s no value in getting a hundred companies to say, “yes, let’s set up a meeting”.
Instead, it’s better to filter down to five potential investors and figure out the people you’re going to have the most valuable partnerships with.
OK, so you’ve got a meeting organised. The next part of the puzzle is to start researching your audience. What’s their background? Are they very technical? Are they not technical at all? What’s driving them? What’s their goal?
Christoph says you should always start with two questions before pitching:
Don’t just have one pitch for your company, project or idea that you use for everyone. Successful startups create 10 or so very different pitches that they can then adapt depending on who they’re going to be talking to and what they’re trying to achieve.
Human beings always think about themselves, Christoph says. The big question every single person has in mind every time you communicate to them is ‘what’s in it for me?’.
This should be the starting point of your pitch. You need to look at your proposal from the perspective of the person you’re trying to appeal to by honing in on what they get out of it.
Begin by describing the problem that your target market has and then show how your company will solve this issue. That’s the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. The more ambitious and the more innovative your idea is, the more you need to talk about the ‘why’.
“For example, if I tell you that I’m opening a barbershop, you’re probably not going to ask why, because you know exactly what a barbershop is,” Christoph explains. “But if I tell you that I’m doing a location-based pony rental platform, where people can rent other people’s ponies and ride on them to get home from the bar, then you’ll want to ask why.”
People tend to believe that pitching is about getting facts from their brain into somebody else’s brain to convince them into investing in their company.
“But that’s not how pitching works,” says Christoph. “You need to trigger an emotional reaction in your audience. If you achieve this, people will start listening immediately and be more receptive to your idea.”
Startup investors hear a hundred pitches a day. Making them care about yours isn’t about engaging their brain – it’s about tugging on their heartstrings. Once you’ve triggered an emotional response, the person’s brain is actually going to pay attention to what you’re presenting.
You need to grab their attention in the beginning, because the first 30 to 45 seconds of a pitch is super important, says Christoph. You need to get your audience hooked in this short space of time or they’ll lose interest and won’t listen closely enough or at all.
We touched on this earlier, but Christoph stresses that the easiest way to capture attention is to start by describing a problem. This builds a pressure situation – so much so that it makes the audience feel that pain point so much that they get a sense of anxiety where they start to think, “Oh, damn, this is really an issue.” Then they immediately want to hear a solution that will get rid of the bad feeling that they’re experiencing.
Essentially, you’re managing how the audience feels and are putting a little bit of pressure on them. After that, you present the solution you’re proposing and they will have this moment of relaxation that helps them to fall in love with the idea that you’re pitching.
Pitching is not rocket science, says Christoph. There are very few facets of it that are actually hard to learn. It’s just a matter of educating yourself on the right things and then putting a little effort in, he explains.
If you’re spending hundreds and hundreds of hours building a great company, then you might as well also spend a couple of dozen hours making sure that company doesn’t fail because of a bad pitch.
“I’ve coached roughly 2,000 startups and corporate entrepreneurs,” says Christoph, “and I’ve met exactly one person in my life who was not able to improve massively within just a couple of hours of thinking and working on pitching.”
He also stresses that the beauty of pitching is that it doesn’t have to be your best skill – you just need to be good enough at it to not ruin your business. “It’s a status that almost everybody can achieve if you put a little bit of effort into it,” Christoph says.
There’s no limit to how much you can practise a pitch, but you can practise too much in a short space of time, according to Christoph. He advises you to finish preparing your pitch a week before you actually have to deliver it. Otherwise you’ll get bored of your own content, he explains, and won’t be able to exude enthusiasm when you pitch. And your audience will pick up on this right away.
So there you have it: 8 steps to follow for the perfect pitch.
But what if you want to get better at pitching in general and don’t have a meeting with an investor coming up?
Here are some basic pitching tips from Christoph.
Christoph’s signature look may be an adidas jacket, but he recommends taking a leaf out of Nike’s book when it comes to pitching. “Just do it,” he says. His advice is to go out and pitch, whether it’s in your next meeting with your boss or when you’re trying to convince your friends to watch the film you really want to see at the cinema.
“Pitches are everywhere,” Christoph adds. “Basically, life is a series of pitches interrupted by other things.”
Christoph jokes that his goal by the time he retires is to ensure pitching becomes a subject that’s taught in schools. He firmly believes that by beginning young and practising often, people will automatically become better at persuasive public speaking.
“If we can start with 8-year-olds, that would be awesome,” Christoph says.
“If you’re a young person listening, make pitching one of your skills,” says Christoph. “Or if you’re an old person like myself, I have a Chinese proverb for you:
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Yes, it would have been better to learn how to pitch earlier in your life, says Christoph. But that’s no excuse not to get better at pitching from today. So put it on your list!
Feeling inspired by Christoph’s pitching tips? Let me know if you use any of them, or get in touch with me to chat about startups, pitching and more.
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