Article from Techyvent/Pittsburgh ()
June 21, 2004
The Fastball of Pitching Your Company
Tips on Planting Ten-Second Hooks

by Mary Louise Ray

The concept of the "elevator pitch" is that you have one minute to introduce yourself and explain your business to a stranger with whom you are sharing an elevator. The goal is to get the stranger to respond to your pitch with the magic phrase, "Tell me more." While the odds are slim that the stranger will just happen to be Warren Buffet, the person may be someone who is in need of your product or services. Even if they do not need what you are selling, they may know someone who does.

"Elevator pitches are important because you don't know who you are going to run into," said Mel Pirchesky, President of Eagle Ventures, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based firm that assists entrepreneurs in obtaining equity funding. Pirchesky, along with Ron Morris, Director of Entrepreneurial Studies at Duquesne University's School of Business, and Carolyn Green, Director of Enterprise Development/Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, stressed the importance of having a strong elevator pitch at Duquesne University’s Sixth Annual Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference held at Duquesne University on June 17.

Before Pirchesky, Morris and Green coached individual attendees on building their own presentation, Pirchesky outlined the characteristics of a successful elevator pitch. According to Pirchesky, the first 10 seconds of a one-minute pitch are critical. "You need to say something that really grabs their attention, something that leads someone to 'listen differently' to the next 50 seconds.

Pirchesky then broke down the first 10 seconds into two components:

•     Part 1: Who you are and what you do
•     Part 2: A strong data point to back it up and "hook" your listener

Following Pirchesky's formula (and using information offered by him during his presentation), the first 10 seconds of his pitch might be: "Hi, I am Mel Pirchesky, President of Eagle Ventures. I am proud to say that I have secured more than $48 million in equity financing for entrepreneurs." While it is safe to assume that no one in the audience could top Pirchesky's data point, he urged them to determine what it was about their business that differentiated it from its competitors – "what makes it special." Examples of the type of information you could use for part 2 of the pitch are:

•     "We are number one in sales in the state"
•     "We just received a patent on our new product"
•     "Our customers consistently rank our customer service number one against our competitors"
•     "We are the only company in North America to offer this product"

When crafting this portion of your pitch, make sure to use clear, concrete words and avoid jargon or buzzwords. "It ought to be so clear that kids could understand it," said Pirchesky. You should also avoid using vague descriptors. "If you use 'more' or 'much' or 'a lot,' people will not get the importance of the number," he added.

While differentiating your company from your competition is critical, Pirchesky warned that you must be honest. "You want to tell the truth; this isn't hype. You have to be able to back it up."

Once you have honed your pitch, it must be delivered with enthusiasm and confidence, letting the listener knows that you are passionate about your business and that you are successful at it. If you do not have an attitude of success, your listener is not likely to be interested in hearing more about your business, let alone invest in it, said Pirchesky.

And what if your business isn't actually successful yet? "Then fake it 'til you make it," advised Pirchesky.

Mary Louise Ray is a principal partner of Group Wellesley, Inc., a technical writing and electronic publishing consulting firm that has raised $0 in equity funding.

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