Pitching is a great way to learn; however, pitching can often have anxiety-laden connotations. People often equate the concept of a sales pitch to the high-stakes world of the television series Shark Tank. Yet, at the core of pitching is storytelling. When we hype up a trip for our families, present information to a classroom, or try to convey an opportunity over email or a Zoom call - we are always pitching.
I choose to look at any next phase of my career journey as getting my story right. How will I learn it? Whether you find yourself in a job transition or trying to lobby your supervisor to run a project, you need to practice telling and shaping your story. I made a list of friends to contact for opportunities. I wanted them to both look at my initial email, and get them on a phone call with me so I could articulate what I was looking to do. I had resigned myself at the time to look for both job opportunities and contract work to gain even more time to think on the next move.
The first few pitches were confusing in writing and unclear on the phone. As people began to give me feedback, I learned several things about how to move my story toward more clarity.
One takeaway was to modify the old writing structure I used to teach my students. Tell people what you’re going to say. Tell them. Tell them what you said. Be simple and pithy when you can.
After you’ve shared the pitch with them, ask them a simple set of questions.
What do they like?
What do they wonder about?
What gives them pause or might make them say yes?
What questions do they have?
By going through several of these pitches, you start to get a sense of when people show emotion as they reflect on the same thing you share every time. This exercise gives you a sense of timing, what resonates with people, and how you might continue to shape and share the perfect pitch.
Another helpful lesson I learned during these conversations was the Rule of 3, which basically suggests that a trio of events or characters is more humorous, satisfying, or effective than other numbers. For example, Steve Jobs applied the Rule of 3 in nearly every presentation and product launch. In 2007 Jobs introduced the first iPhone as the “third” of Apple’s revolutionary product categories (the first two were the Macintosh and the iPod). He even said that Apple would be introducing “three” revolutionary products—a new iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Jobs repeated the three products slowly until the audience finally figured out he was talking about one device capable of handling all three tasks.
While it is certainly true that money and data can shape a narrative, people are compelled by story. If I was asked to show something on these calls or over emails, I went away from the standard PowerPoint messaging, and overtime I transitioned to three slides shaped in Pecha Kucha format.
Pecha Kucha means “chit chat” in Japanese. And it’s also a storytelling format where a presenter shows twenty slides with twenty seconds of commentary on each. At a Pecha Kucha Night, individuals gather at a venue to share personal presentations about their work.
I chose to adapt and modify several of these rules, styles, and formats into my pitches as I was having conversations about an organization I might want to work for and contract work I was trying to be hired for in terms of short-term opportunities.
I was also continuing my practice of trying to outlearn people I might be competing with for these roles. I was reading To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink, and I was spending significant time on his website. I drafted his six pitches, and I practiced telling more people about the type of work I was doing, what it looked like, and how it could help their work.