Suzanne Smith, CEO and Founder
Social Impact Architects
Spring always reminds me of one of my family’s favorite pastimes – baseball. When my nephew Alexander was first learning to play a few years ago, I got a chance to help him practice for a game. At practice, he was struggling with hitting the ball, and I finally realized his error – he wasn’t watching the ball. He was watching everything but the ball – his teammates clowning around, the pitcher, the audience – and he got lost in all the chaos. When I taught him to focus on the ball and only the ball, he hit it almost every time AND got three runs in the game. Many nonprofits and social entrepreneurs make the same mistake in their pitches. They get lost in the chaos.
As someone who has given and seen many pitches, here are some helpful tips:
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: We’ve all been there. Someone is describing their organization and, although they understand every little detail, we don’t. As some would say, they “drank their own Kool-Aid” – their use of insider language detracts from their explanation. To avoid this mistake in your pitch, break down your message into the simplest terms, so everyone will understand. Avoid grant language, in particular, which is usually only familiar to insiders. In our storytelling training, we encourage participants to focus on a simple message: “How do you impact human life? What is the problem? Why does it exist and why does it persist?”
Pictures Are Worth a Thousand Words: PowerPoint (and its close cousins, such as Google Slides, Prezi and Canva) is meant to be a backdrop, not the main feature. As the speaker, you are the main attraction. People have a hard time listening to the speaker and reading slides at the same time. Don’t make them try. Use presentation slides to elevate the main point of your message – only share data or a picture to drive a point home.
Number Sense: As we often say, the bottom line of the social sector is impact, and impact is best shown through numbers. However, we have seen some failed attempts of well-meaning organizations that lose their audience by throwing out numbers without explaining their significance or relevance. In pitches, only use data that matters and always interpret the meaning for the audience. Your audience should come away knowing why your data matters.
Know Your Audience: We typically recommend a 2×2 approach. First, we endorse two versions of a pitch deck – a visual version (for when someone is walking through it) AND a visual + explanation version (for when it is sent via email). Some investors want to check you out first before allowing you to pitch, so both are necessary. Secondly, and unique to the social sector, we suggest creating two versions for stating your unique value proposition: a socially oriented version for foundations and government and a business-oriented one for entrepreneurs and companies. You may also want to develop a written prospectus.
Connect the Dots: Pitches need to flow from point to point, slide to slide. A pitch slide should answer a logical series of questions. From my years of judging business plan competitions, here is a tight flow that always seems to work:
- What is the problem – why does it exist AND persist?
- What is your solution and why is it unique?
- Why are you the right person and/or organization to solve it – what are you adding to the equation that will shift the dynamics?
- How much impact will you have?
- How will the world look different with your solution?
By following a logical arc, your story will keep your audience interested. Be sure to connect your points together so they build to a crescendo, with supporting evidence at the end.
Best of luck on your pitches – remember to focus on the right messaging, practice and remember to have fun. People want you to succeed! If you follow these tips, we are confident in your ability to hit it out of the park!
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