Anyone can come up with an idea. But, the winners in business and life are the ones who can effectively get others onboard and execute.
Studies show that the top 20% of salespeople make 80% of all sales!
The difference between these ultra-successful sellers and the rest is not innate talent or natural-born selling skills—they’ve practiced the art of pitching.
No matter what you’re selling, you can master your personal or business pitch with this step-by-step guide.
What is a Pitch?
A pitch is a short, compelling presentation that answers the questions:
- What do you have to offer?
- Why should a customer buy your product or service?
- Why should an investor or business owner take a chance on you?
A successful pitch is like your verbal business card—it says what you have to offer in a nutshell and is appealing to listeners. Pitches are inherently persuasive but shouldn’t feel pushy, sleazy, or desperate. Instead, pitchers can use their charisma and enthusiasm to make a stellar case for why their idea is better than the rest.
Pitches come in many forms:
- The Sales Pitch: The most common pitch type is a shortened sales presentation where a salesperson convinces a customer to buy their product or service. Think of a consultant, an insurance salesman, or a grocery store sampler trying to get you to make a purchase.
- The Business Pitch: A business pitch is a presentation of a startup idea or existing business to investors who may invest capital in improving or fundraising the business. The TV Show Shark Tank features aspiring entrepreneurs’ most notable business pitches.
- The Idea Pitch: This generic pitch can be as formal as a business pitch or as casual as a meeting presentation. Essentially, someone convinces an audience to buy into or implement their idea. For example, a marketing employee may present an idea for improving their social media strategy to their colleagues.
- The Elevator Pitch: You can shorten any pitch to a 20-30 second speech you can communicate during an elevator ride. An elevator pitch is designed to be as short and sweet as possible. It could explain what you do, what business you are starting, or how you plan to save the world. A good elevator pitch should be so compelling that a person wants to hear more after the figurative elevator ride.
What Makes a Successful Pitch?
A successful pitch grabs the attention of your listener, gives them a crystal clear picture of your idea or concept, and leaves them with a call to action that they cannot resist. This is about persuasion—why should this person choose your solution to a problem compared to others?
There is a common myth that entrepreneurs and salespeople are born with a natural talent for selling. In reality, selling is a people skill, just like telling a story or starting a conversation. With the right tools and practice, anyone can learn it!
How to Pitch Ideas in 6 Simple Steps
The perfect pitch uses concise language and juicy details to explain a problem, present your solution, and offer an irresistible call to action. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Start with a problem or story
Scientists found that people make a snap judgment of you within 1/10 of a second. Thankfully, you can take a bit more time to grab your prospect’s attention and make them eager to hear more. Think of these first thirty seconds as your pitch’s first impression. Instead of going in for a handshake, your magnetic opening lines should make the audience’s ears perk up.
A great pitch starts by addressing a pain point. A pain point is a persistent customer problem or an unmet need that needs to be satisfied.
The world is full of problems. The most impactful and successful people are on a mission to solve them. When thinking of your pain point, ask yourself:
- What problem does your product/service/idea solve?
- Who feels this pain point?
- Why does this pain point matter to your audience?
There are two main ways you can make this opening: create a pain point statement or tell a story that reveals the problem.
Option 1: Write a pain point statement.
The simplest way to open a pitch is with a 1-3 sentence statement highlighting the pain point. Marketers and copywriters use the P-A-S formula to describe a pain point briefly:
- Problem: Present the issue in the customer’s or audience’s language, so they know you understand them. For example, developers need to know the common coding terms, while a security brand should use up-to-date security lingo that their customer understands.
- Agitate: Use emotion to remind the audience just how bad the pain point is.
- Solution: Paint a picture of how your solution (product, service, or idea) can solve the problem and improve their lives.
For example, consider you are a personal development or life coach. Instead of a lackluster statement like “I am a life coach that helps people improve themselves,” you can pitch your coaching services with the P-A-S formula:
- Problem: “When you’re feeling like you’re lacking purpose, motivation, or direction, it can be hard to enjoy life and reach your goals.”
- Agitate: “You might feel completely stuck or lost and unsure how to get where you want to be.”
- Solution: “My life coaching services help inspire and motivate people to get back on track so they can create the life of their dreams.”
Action Step: Write your opening lines using one of these templates and the P-A-S formula. Remember to phrase your pain point to make it relatable and relevant to your audience. Use a highlighter to point out your Problem, Agitation, and Solution.
- “For years, [customer demographic] has struggled with [pain point]. Our product fixes that by [how it solves the problem].”
- “If you’re tired of [pain point], it’s time to level up and [solve pain point]. We help people [core offering].”
- “Finding the perfect [product/service] can be stressful. Hunting down all the options and reading reviews takes forever, and you have to pay a steep price tag. Our [solution] streamlines the process, so you get the quickest, best deal possible.”
Option 2: Tell a story that demonstrates the problem
If a direct pain point statement isn’t your thing, another way to present a problem is with a story or anecdote. Most of the 495 Shark Tank pitches we analyzed included an inspirational story about the company or the entrepreneur.
The human brain is naturally intrigued by stories. Stories create a culture and a sense of belonging. Most importantly, scientists have found that stories build human connections.
A relevant personal anecdote is a powerful opportunity to make yourself more authentic and relatable. This can help your audience feel connected to your product or idea. When including a story, remember to:
- Highlight the pain points: The key purpose of an anecdote is to emphasize how your idea solves the pain point in real life. Use language that aggravates the target customer’s problem. For example, “It was frustrating to have all my to-do lists scattered around on different papers and apps. I couldn’t keep it organized! That’s why I finally invented this all-in-one productivity system for busy people.”
- Keep it relevant: Your pitch story can be somewhat personal, but keep it on track. It’s most important for it to be relatable so that it builds the connection you’re seeking with the audience. The story must be relevant to the business when pitching to potential investors. Write it out and trim any details that aren’t specifically relevant to the pain point and the business solution.
- Keep it brief: A pitch story should be short enough to tell in 2 minutes or less. It may be longer than a pain point statement, but it should still be fast-paced enough to keep your audience’s attention. Don’t tell your whole life story. Summarize the big picture and get straight to the main point.
For example, this Shark Tank pitch from entrepreneur Dave Vasen includes a powerful storytelling element. His app, Brightwheel, solves the problem that parents don’t know how their kids spend their days at daycare. Are they learning? Are they behaving? His presentation features cute videos of kids from the app and a relatable story about why parents want to figure out what their kids do all day.
He makes it personal by showing how he can see what his little girl Serena is doing throughout the day thanks to the app. In the end, Vasen got a double Shark deal with Mark Cuban and Chris Sacca, investing a total of $600,000 for 6.67% equity. Obviously, that personal story worked!
Pro Tip: As you introduce your pain point, use this opportunity to showcase your awesome first impression. People with the body language of a winner tend to be more likable and competent right off the bat. Remember to:
- Make eye contact
- Show your hands
- Give a wave
- Genuinely smile
- Stand up straight
- Slightly expand your chest
Step 2: Share a concise and clear value proposition
Your value proposition is the make-or-break point of your pitch! Once you’ve hooked them, it’s time to share an outcome-focused statement highlighting your offer’s benefits. This is often called a UVP or unique value proposition.
A unique value proposition is a 1-2 sentence statement that explains what differentiates your business from the competition and makes your product or service the absolute best option.
A value proposition summarizes why they should choose you. Ask yourself:
- What value does your offering add to their lives?
- Why is your idea/product/service better than competitors?
- What specific pain relievers does your idea offer to solve the pain points?
- What would the prospects gain from your offering?
For example, this fifteen-year-old entrepreneur and his dad on Shark Tank wow the sharks with their unique value proposition for Touch Up Cup. They knock the entire pitch out of the park, but the value statement sticks out most initially. Notice how their pitch merges parts one and two so that the pain point threads straight into the value proposition.
Open the video in an adjacent tab and follow along as we highlight their specific tactics:
- “Does your paint closet look anything like this?” [He pulls the blanket off of a messy paint can demo] *Presents the customer problem*
- “If so, you have half a dozen gallon cans with just this much [small hand gesture] paint. We went to open just a few cans, and Oh! The rust, the clumps, and smell.” *Agitates the problem*
- “We looked at each other and said, ‘There has to be a better way!’ So that’s why I invented the patented Touch Up Cup for paint: the most innovative solution to all your pain storage problems.” *Solution and unique value proposition*
- “It even has a stainless steel blending sphere for mixing. Just shake and paint, baby!” [They demo the product] “Say goodbye to rusted clumps forever. Touch Up cup has extra threads and an airtight silicone seal to keep paint fresh for over ten years.” *Unique product details that differentiate from anything else on the market, plus more agitation of the problem*
- They present the sharks with a demo and highlight their slogan, “Shake n’ paint with us.” This pitch inevitably ended in an awesome deal with Blake Mycoskie for $150,000 for a 17.5% stake. Their website now includes a crystal-clear value statement at the very top of the page:
- “With Touch Up Cup, eliminate rust, clumps, and store paint for 10 years. When it’s time for a touch-up, just Shake n’ Paint, BABY!” *Two-sentence value proposition explains precisely what the product does and how it solves the customer problem*
Notice how the slogan is part of the value proposition. If you already have a slogan or tagline for your pitch idea, you can use that to formulate a UVP. However, while a slogan can be catchy, it may need to be more comprehensive to get the point across. Ask yourself:
Could my audience understand my offer with these 1-3 lines alone?
For these companies, the answer is “Yes!” Here are a few more well-known value proposition examples that tell you exactly what they offer in the fewest words possible:
- Uber: The Smartest Way to Get Around
- FedEx: Manage Your Home Deliveries
- LG: State-of-the-art Living Experience
- Subaru: The most adventurous, most reliable, safest, best Subaru Outback ever
- Slack: Be More Productive at Work with Less Effort
These value propositions have simple language, specific outcomes, and things that differentiate them from the rest.
Action Step: You can write a value statement without being a professional marketer. Write a few sample value propositions with these templates:
- “We help [target customer] do [problem] by providing [solution].”
- “For a [target customer] who needs/wants [solution or outcome], our [product/service] transforms their experience by [how it works].”
- “The [industry] is filled with [common quality], but customers want/need [new solution]. What makes our [idea/product/service] different is [key differentiator].”
Pro Tip: If you want more buy-in from your prospects, deliver your value statement with passion and pizazz! Say it as you believe in the idea with every cell of your being!
Confidence is key for giving a value statement with a punch. If you want to speak more confidently, remember to:
- Dress to impress: Wear an industry-appropriate outfit that makes you look and feel your best.
- Speak slightly faster: A 2011 University of Michigan study found that a moderately rapid speech rate (about 210 words per minute) is the most effective way to get people to listen.
- Hydrate: Research shows that hydration directly affects vocal performance. Drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to your pitch.
- Do a vocal warm-up: Toning your vocal cords isn’t just for singers. Vocal warm-up exercises such as tongue twisters, chants, and tongue trills can help you sound more confident in your pitch.
Step 3: Explain what your idea will do with a pitch deck or demo
Now that you have presented a problem and offered a unique valuable solution, it’s time to dig into the specifics with a visual element. Show your audience your idea or product in action. You can use a:
- Pitch Deck: A pitch deck is a collection of digital slides that overview key points using enticing design elements. You can design one with an application like PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi.
- Demonstration: A visual demonstration is great for presenting the capabilities of a new idea, technique, or product. For example, it is far easier to demonstrate a workout machine in use than to describe it with words. In this case, you can use a video demo since the product is too large to bring to the presentation.
The first part of your pitch gives a high-level view of what you have to offer to potential customers or investors. This step is the “meat” in the middle. It explains exactly what your idea does and how it does it.
For example, pretend that you are pitching an idea to your boss and officemates about why you should integrate standing desks into your workplace. You can start with a quick pitch deck that outlines the current science of standing desks and the benefits of spending more time standing (better circulation, better posture, and less back pain, anyone?)
You may have statistics about why sitting for too long is bad for your back and hips. There can be a spinal diagram showing the alignment of your spine in a sitting versus standing position. Lastly, you can show a video of different standing desks in action or bring a standing desk to demonstrate your standing workflow.
Action Step: Make a digital or handheld slide deck that outlines your idea. If you want to present with a screen, create a presentation with diverse slides. Pictures, diagrams, colors, and bold words are key! If you prefer to keep it verbal, consider using index cards to outline what you want to say as you visually demonstrate the product or idea. Either way, you must have a rehearsed and memorized script to guide your presentation and explain your idea.
Step 4: Use proof points, real examples, and successes
Anyone can develop a figurative idea, but how many people provide evidence that their concept works IRL? This is the research portion of your idea or product pitch. You need robust evidence to convince your prospects that this is an idea or product that actually solves the pain point! Try introducing your:
- Financials and numbers
- Data points and stats
- Testimonials from existing clients
- Case studies from customers
- Personal or company milestones
For a product or service pitch, memorize your key numbers and optionally highlight them in bold text on your slide deck. Significant numbers include:
- Gross sales
- Net sales
- Profit margin
- Wholesale price
- Retail price
- Customer acquisition cost
- Current valuation of your company
- Percent equity stake for angel investors
For other types of pitches, like a new idea for your family or workplace, focus on proof points like:
- Scientific evidence supporting your argument
- Specific ways that this idea transformed your life
- Social media views or stats
- Experiences of other people who have implemented the technique
- Celebrity endorsements
- Book, movie, or online references
- Quotes from a customer or someone who has used the idea
Even though this is a data-driven and numerical part of the pitch, it can be fresh and exciting. Staying fast-paced and upbeat will make you seem excited and proud of your evidence. Just be sure that your numbers are accurate and communicated.
In this innovative one-minute idea pitch at TEDx Brisbane, you will notice how quickly the pitchers dig into the evidence. With such a condensed amount of time to get their point across, pitchers must present their proof immediately.
Want examples of great evidence in action? Try watching Shark Tank. We analyzed all 495 entrepreneurial pitches from Shark Tank episodes here at Science of People. The results showed that the most successful pitchers had ten traits in common:
Learn the Secrets Behind the Best Shark Tank Pitches of All Time and how you can apply their proven formulas to your pitches.
Step 5: Learn the Art of Stage Presence
Did you know that public speaking is actually a skill? Many people struggle with stage anxiety because they feel they ‘missed the memo’ on public speaking or they are lacking because they do not have a natural stage presence. Not true!
Stage presence and public speaking are skills you need to be taught—very few people have them naturally.
Here are all the aspects of public speaking you can master.
- How to make a first impression with an audience
- How to have stage presence
- Powerful body language
- How to speak with a commanding voice
- What to do with your hands while speaking
For every speaking skill you add to your toolbox, the less speaking anxiety you will feel.
If you want help really diving into your presentation skills, be sure to sign-up for our course…
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
Step 6: Close with a clear call to action
The secret sauce to a fantastic pitch is the ending. The serial-position effect explains why people are psychologically wired to remember the beginning and end of a presentation more than the middle. The call to action (CTA) will stick in their minds long after you finish!
After the stories and statements you’ve shared, what is the one takeaway point that your prospects can take action on?
The call to action answers your audience’s question, “What do I do with all this information?”
Online, we see CTAs all the time with statements like:
- Buy now and get 20% off
- Learn more
- Download here
- Subscribe today so you never miss a post
- Donate here
However, you may want to sound less salesy in your idea pitch. Instead, use these techniques to evoke an emotional response and propel your audience into motion:
- Use numbers: Piggyback on the last section by re-emphasizing numbers that promote your cause. For example, “Invest now for 10% equity in a company that has doubled net profits every year for the past three years.”
- Emphasize action words: People like to know precisely what you want them to do and where their money or efforts will be channeled. Action words are powerful verbs like “buy, download, donate, invest, call, write, vote, or eat.” They signal the mind to “go!” For example, “Donate $25 today to provide a shelter animal with food, toys, and medical care for a full month.”
- Be specific: Instead of a general request, make it very clear what you would like your audience to do. For example, “I am requesting a recommendation to the board to move this proposal forward by the end of the month.”
- Include timing: A sense of urgency or timeliness compels people to act more quickly. Stores do this with limited-time sales and expirations on their promotions. For an idea pitch, you could say, “I suggest we schedule a team meeting to vote on this idea by the end of the week.”
Key Takeaways: The Best Pitches Solve Problems and Compel Action
Whether you’re a startup looking for funding or trying to convince your office to implement a new protocol, pitching ideas is a social superpower that will help you in both professional and personal scenarios. In a formal setting, the best pitches include several or all of these elements:
- Clear pain point: Whether you write a pain point statement or tell a personal anecdote, the core aim of any entrepreneur or thought leader is to solve someone’s problem. Concisely present a pain point with the P-A-S framework—problem, agitate, solution.
- Powerful UVP: A unique value proposition explains why your idea is different and better than the rest. Think of a slogan or 1-3 line explanation that could stand alone to explain your concept.
- Proof to back up the idea: Money talks! If you’re presenting to potential investors, remember to know your numbers. If making a different pitch, have your research and data points in line to explain why people should act on your idea. Including evidence in your pitch can make you seem more reputable, prepared, and knowledgeable.
- Juicy call to action: Tell your audience what to do before ending any idea pitch! Instead of being salesy or demanding, close with an enticing and actionable statement that lets them know how they can support your idea or bring it to life.
If you want to learn to be more concise and memorable in your professional and personal interactions, use these 9 Steps to the Perfect Elevator Pitch to masterfully answer questions like “What do you do?” or “What does your company do?”