The Anatomy of an Amazing Pitch
A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stays open.
That was the logline for Jaws – also known as the main reason I feared the ocean in the late 70’s.
A logline is the pitch screenwriters use to sell their movies. The Jaws logline was so effective because it identified the key elements of the story in one sentence: the main character, his weakness, his conflict, and the hurdles he had to overcome. It is concise, clear, and hooks you!
There is an art to getting people excited about you, what you’re about to speak on, or an idea you have. That engagement starts with one sentence to paint the big picture. In other words, speak to the overarching meaning before the details.
John Medina is a molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and he’s studied why it’s important for the brain/a listener to understand the big idea in a pitch before they can digest the details.
I gave a presentation at Texas A&M University recently and was asked about the ideal 30-second elevator pitch. My response, “It needs to be shorter – and the shorter the better.” Seriously. Have you ever timed yourself, talking about yourself, for 30 seconds? Even you would be bored.
Additional advice included adapting the content and the words you use to cater to your audience. For example, my explanation of what I do to a potential client sounds VERY different from when I explain my profession to my relatives.
Stephen King has spoken about the importance of an opening line in writing, and the same advice goes for a verbal opening pitch. “An opening should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” To do that, you have to think about the reader – and the listener.
You also must be memorable and ensure the audience walks away with at least one thing to remember – about you or your pitch. Steve Jobs mastered this approach at Apple. The original iPod allowed you to carry “1,000 songs in your pocket,” and “the world’s thinnest notebook ” was the MacBook Air.
Lastly, don’t forget the ask. Whether you are selling yourself, an idea, or looking for funding, you must leave the person(s) with a request. What do you need or want? It could be additional time for a face-to-face meeting or an introduction to a key decision maker; you have to be able to articulate the ask so the listener understands a response is required.
Whether you are looking for a job, asking for a raise, starting a presentation, or asking for funding – what makes up your pitch is critical. To be amazing, remember:
- Give the overarching meaning before diving into the details
- Keep it short
- Think about your audience
- Ensure they have one thing to remember
- Ask for what you want
And if that’s not enough to convince you, go watch Jaws 3. Dennis Quaid (yes, he said “yes” to this movie) runs through the waterpark screaming babble to warn people about the 35-foot monster in their midst. Because he can’t even sputter out a complete sentence – or an amazing pitch – in his freaked out rampage, he likely ends up causing more injuries than the shark does!