Winston Churchill famously said “If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.”

Mr. Churchill was right – a short talk is devilishly hard to do. That’s why the South Island Prosperity Project called me in to coach a roomful of aspiring innovators who had to pitch their ideas to investors in under three minutes.

I wanted to provide you the highlights of our coaching session – there are lessons for anyone who needs to educate and persuade quickly.  In keeping with the spirit of things, I thought I’d see if I could compact the learnings into a three minute read.

Start the clock.

the ten, umm, eight, errr, three slides you need

Guy Kawasaki created a great template for effective pitching called The Only Ten Slides You Need In Your Pitch. Here’s the ten:

Marc Stoiber_Pitch

Kawasaki describes in wonderfully simple language exactly what should go into each slide. For example, the Go-To-Market Plan is simply “how you’re going to reach your audience with your selling message without breaking the bank.” Don’t fall into the trap of using fancy words to cover weak ideas. Like Kawasaki, keep the language simple, and the thinking strong and succinct.

But wait – even with simple language, there’s still a problem. Ten slides in three minutes? That’s 18 seconds per slide. Clicking at this pace will only give your audience head spins, and convince them you’re unfocused.

So I had the workshoppers narrow it down to eight slides.

Marc Stoiber_Compelling pitch

Everyone had the opportunity to try out their eight points in a mock-pitch. The conclusion? Still too long.

We agreed their pitches would ideally cover three or four points. But which ones?

In my experience, you can’t do without a description of the problem, and your solution. You need to touch on the magic in your idea. And if you have traction, that’s a sure way to get everyone to sit up and pay attention.

At this point, we all agreed the key three (or four, or five) points should be decided on a case by case basis. And the best way to feel confident the right points had been chosen? Practice in front of ‘friendlies’.

you’re pitching in front of people. So practice in front of people.

Creating a pitch should be a team sport. Asking outsiders what the most remarkable features of your company are gives you ‘outside the jar’ perspective, and helps you get to the compelling stuff – instead of losing yourself in points only you think are important.

It never ceases to amaze me how few people bring friendly listeners into the process. Most of the workshoppers had never bounced their pitch ideas off others.

If you really want to get the most of this exercise, pick friendlies who can understand the headspace of investors. Businesspeople and entrepreneurs, good.

Now, the story

It doesn’t matter how compelling your slides are. In three minutes, with ten people pitching before you and ten after, I can virtually guarantee you’ll blend into the blur.

Unless, that is, you tell a story.

We humans are wired for stories. From the time we lived in trees, we told stories to make complex concepts memorable. For that reason (and many others) turning your pitch into a story will increase the odds that your idea will embed in the investor’s head.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a natural born storyteller. For the less Mark Twain-y among us, there are templates. I provided four that work especially well in a pitch setting.

The origin (founder’s) story:

Compelling pitch_Marc Stoiber

The customer story:

The industry story:

compelling pitch_marc stoiber

And the venture story:

compelling pitch_Marc Stoiber

We came to the conclusion that blending the industry and venture stories might provide fertile ground to create a classic three act play format:

  1. Introduce the characters and setting
  2. Create conflict, make victory seem highly uncertain
  3. Resolve. The hero wins, and rides off into the sunset.

You can probably identify many of these three act play points in the industry and venture stories. Even better, you can see how these stories weave Kawasaki’s slides into an engaging format for listeners.

practice, practice, practice

We finished off our coaching session with more practice. And I sent the workshoppers off with a recommendation to continue practicing, up to the moment they took the stage.

Practice is the one absolute necessity in this process. It’s also the part most of us naturally shy away from. We say it’ll ruin our  spontaneity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ruthless rehearsal gives you calm confidence in your material. And when you feel calm and confident, spontaneity happens.

I hope this brief review helps you tune your own three minute pitch, and illuminates some points you may not have considered.

And hey, if nothing else, I hope it provided an entertaining read, in under three minutes.

And, stop the clock.

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