In my career as a nonprofit executive, I have the opportunity to make a lot of pitches. Most of them only last five minutes and are in the middle of employee benefit meetings. If there’s a better environment to cut one’s teeth on getting attention, telling a story and making an ask, I haven’t found it yet. This is why I follow a formula.

Get Attention! (30 Seconds)

In a short pitch, working with limited time, I can’t risk losing my audience in the beginning because I don’t have the luxury of winning it back over the course of an hour. When I approach the front of the room, with only five minutes to talk, I have to get their attention.

It’s no easy task. In years past, a speaker only had to be more interesting than the wallpaper, but now each of us keeps endless entertainment in our pockets. Not to mention the side conversations, personal business running through their heads and the fact that some resent having an interruption to their work schedule. To get attention, follow these rules:

  • Use silence. Don’t speak right away. Just take a minute to hold the attention of the audience.
  • Ask a question with a show of hands. This involves the audience early and makes it feel interactive.
  • DO NOT INTRODUCE YOURSELF. (Someone should have done this for you. If not, get their attention first)
  • DO NOT TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF (There’s a place to build credibility, but this isn’t it)
  • DO NOT APOLOGIZE (This sets the entire presentation for failure)

Before we can make our pitch, we have to get the audience to pay attention. Once their listening, we can move forward.

State Your Business (30 Seconds)

There are questions burning in everyone’s mind when you start; who is the person and what do they want. If we don’t answer these questions, in the beginning, we risk losing them before we can even think of making our case.

Most speakers are afraid to state their business upfront, but this lets some of the pressure out of the room and lets the audience warm to our message. These are my rules:

  • If no one introduced you, this is where you do it.
  • Avoid the phrase “I want”. This will turn them off even though they want to know.
  • I love the phrase “In our time together, it’s my goal that..” this is a great way to state your business in a nonthreatening way.

Answering the questions already on the minds of your audience puts you in the position to share your message because it will let them put their guard down. Don’t be afraid to state your business up front.

Share Your Story (3 minutes)

The biggest mistake most people make in a pitch is forgetting that people make decisions emotionally and justify it rationally. Facts matter and we need to have them in order, but we need to share them in the form of a story.

The best speech coach I’ve ever worked with told me that a great speech is nothing more than telling a story and making a point. People will remember the story and if they get the story, they’ll remember the point. I follow these rules:

  • Never begin with “ I want to tell you a story” just tell it.
  • Whenever possible, share your story in the present tense. “ I am,” rather than “I was”.
    • Keep your stories as personal as possible.
    • Only use a story relevant to your pitch.
    • Make your point clear.

The story is the most important part of the pitch. It’s the part that your audience will remember after you walk away and that’s when the decision is made.

Take A Question (30 Seconds)

Most bad speakers close on a Q&A. This is a mistake. Take questions, but do it before you’re ready to close, that way you can close on your terms, not theirs. Here are my rules:

  • Use the phrase “Who has the first question” this sets the expectation that there will be a question.
  • Use the phrase “ A question I thought you’d ask is..” If no one asks a question
  • Always repeat the question back. This ensures everyone will hear it and clarifies your thinking.

Q&A time is an opportunity to drive home your point, don’t waste it.

Close Strong (30 Seconds)

If your goal with your open is to get their attention, the goal with a close is to be remembered. A strong close answers the question that was asked in the opening and makes the ask for the next phase.

If you don’t make an ask, you’ve not only wasted your time but that of your audience as well. Summarize your story, answer your question and ask for the order, the donation or the appointment. Here are my rules:

  • NEVER SAY “THAT’S ALL THE TIME I HAVE” It’s insulting to the audience.
  • I love the phrase “What I’m asking from you is this is” this makes it clear what your intentions are and that you’re making the ask.
  • Leave them on a high note. People hate cheesy motivation, but they love to be inspired. If there’s a place for soring rhetoric, this is it.

The most important minute following any presentation is the minute after the speaker leaves the room. With a strong close, we leave no room for doubt what we were asking for or why it was important.

This has been a longer post than normal but I traded brevity for detail. Often times, the biggest decisions in life come after a five-minute pitch. This is what has worked well for me and I invite you to give it shot and change the world.




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