Got a minute?
That’s enough time to convince people they need to hear more, says Jay Janney, associate professor of management and marketing and founder of UD’s Business Plan Competition, now in its eighth year.
“The goal of a pitch is to entice people to listen further, not to get a final commitment,” he explains. “For an entrepreneur, that means getting an appointment to pitch the full plan.”
Janney, the Robert and Patrica Kern Family Foundation Faculty Fellow for Engineering and Entrepreneurship, has coached hundreds of students in UD’s elevator speech competition — named because the spiel can be shared in the time it takes to ride three floors in an elevator. He says it’s the component students usually dread.
“It’s a good life experience for students, but they hate getting up to give pitches. After they do it once or twice, though, they begin to enjoy it, and they get it. We founded the Business Plan Competition to give students an experience they don’t get in class,” he says.
Here’s how to knock your own pitch out of the park:
1. Be an attention-getter. “A good opening, or ‘hook,’ resonates with the listener and leads to the problem statement, which ought to make your audience nod and say, ‘Yeah, that needs a solution,’” Janney says.
2. Say (or play) it again. Janney teaches this technique: Give your pitch, then visualize the sort of good news you’d want to call home and tell your parents about. “I ask them how that feels and how they’d say it. Then, repeat the pitch. It changes. They are more enthused, more natural.” Or, follow the lead of Aaron Pugh ’13, who won first place in this year’s contest. “I recorded myself giving the speech, then listened to it on my iPod. When I went to sleep, I left it playing.”
3. Know it’s not all business. An elevator speech isn’t just for entrepreneurs, Janney points out. “When I networked campus, I found many departments have a pitch; they’re just called different things: an audition, a tryout, an interview,” he says. “The worst thing you can do when selling yourself is ramble, or be unsure or appear to waste someone’s time. Someone who is focused, relaxed and sincere stands out.”
4. Make ‘em laugh. Pugh is energetic and funny — and he wanted his pitch for Hot Seat, a portable, heated stadium chair with a USB hub, to reflect that personality. “I like to joke around, so I incorporated that into my pitch; it made it feel more natural. My tagline was, ‘Don’t let frost bite your buns.’ It was clever — and I figured, nobody else is going to be talking about your butt, so it’s memorable.”
5. Remember your audience. “What you need doesn’t matter to anyone else besides you; your pitch has to appeal to the person you’re talking to,” says Pugh, who has developed a prototype — and attracted some investors — for Hot Seat. “You only have 60 seconds; make sure you’re emphasizing the benefit to them.”