Pitching business ideas is becoming more of an art. Given how easy it is to get distracted, entrepreneurs must learn the best ways to captivate their audience from the start. To do this, there are some strategies that have been proven to work. No single one is best, so it is important to understand all of them.
This will allow you to be more creative with your pitch, and provide you with an opening that engages your audience. Too many presenters open up with the typical introduction, than dive right into the sections of the business. They state the problem, then the solution, team, etc. This is a surefire way to kill the entire room from boredom. Instead, grab the audience's attention from the start and don't lose it until the end. Here are some opening strategies that will help you achieve that mission.
1. The question, question, hammer technique
Getting your audience involved and thinking are two good methods of getting their attention. Quick surveys are a great way to get the audience involved and a way for them to start relating to the problem that you're solving. To do this best, try asking two obvious questions that almost everyone in the audience will relate to.
For instance, if you were pitching a backpack you could ask the audience how many of them hate carrying books. Then you could ask them to raise their hand if carrying a lot of books makes their arms tired. (Everyone but the Bodybuilders in the audience will raise their hand.) Now we drop what I like to call "the hammer." In this scenario, we would say something like, "Well what if I told you we had a solution that would help you to never have to carry books again?" Boom! The audience is intrigued, and now you just got everyone thinking and relating to your product.
Be careful about using this opening too much, because it's becoming more and more common among presenters. While still a powerful way to captivate the audience, if you're the tenth person using it the same day, it can get boring fast. Also, if you're building a specialized product, this probably isn't the way you want to go. Asking a question no one can relate to is like when a comedian makes a joke and no one laughs. It's awkward and we all get a little uncomfortable.
2. Putting makeup on your ugly numbers
"Heating and cooling uses (Insert big ugly number here) of (Insert boring measurement here) a year. That's a lot of energy." That's also a lot of people in the crowd who just left. The reason I used this example was because one of the people who executed the number technique well was Matt Rogers from Nest.
When he told his story at Stanford, he didn't say the large amount of energy that is being used. Instead, he put makeup on his ugly numbers by making comparisons. "It's more (energy) than all the nuclear power plants in the U.S. produce." Whoa, now you have my attention.
While he didn't use this at the beginning (the talk was not actually a pitch), he used his market as something everyone could understand. This allows people to see how big the problem is, which in turn gets their gears moving to wonder more about your solution. Another classic example is Apple. When they talk about how thin their products are, they don't give us numbers. They compare their devices to household items. It's a proven technique, and one that can cause a bang from the beginning of your pitch.
3. The Visual demonstration
In Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath talk about the power of visual demonstrations. Demos can either be a pitch nightmare or a differentiator that helps you against your competitors.
While there are times to show off your product when you are talking about the solution, outlining the problem with a demo can be a nice move as well. I remember sitting in the audience once and hearing a pitch about a technology to help bring phones back to life from water damage. At the beginning of the pitch, the guy tossed his phone in a bowl of water. Everyone in the audience froze. Looking around, the audience had eyes like owls, stunned in amazement. This was such a powerful opening because it was a shocking demonstration and one that many of us have been through.
Another example is a toy company that was improving the technology of teddy bears. To outline the problem, the speaker brought a teddy bear on stage and went through its limitations. By the time she got to the solution, the audience was able to quickly compare the amazing new teddy bear with the old boring one. This was not only effective, but really made it easy to understand the business. If you can open up with a physical example of the problem, you'll have a strong advantage over most of your competitors.