If you want your biggest dreams to come true, at some point, you'll probably have to pitch them to someone. Maybe it's pitching a pit project to your boss. Or pitching your startup's business plan to raise money. No matter what future you're convincing folks to fashion with you, how do you give yourself the best chance of sharing your vision so that the other side says yes?
Kabbage, an Atlanta unicorn startup, is one of the best pitches I've ever heard--and I hear over a hundred a year in person. The company's raised $1.3 billion dollars and counting telling its story. Mark Gorlin, co-founder at Kabbage (and now CEO at Roadie), said it wasn't easy at first, because storytelling was a learned skill. "In many ways it was harder to raise our first $25,000 than it was to raise our last $30 million," he shared with Sramana Mitra on her popular One Million By One Million blog. So what changed?
"You have to go out there and make your story one that people can understand. People in the venture community are used to seeing slide decks, and they all start to look the same. You have to sell a story. Our first slide deck was full of bullet points and looked like every other deck out there. Our next one had pictures and told the story from the perspective of our customers. You can immediately see the differences in their faces," he shared. I remember that pitch, about an entrepreneur who had a shop and needed to buy inventory. I don't remember anything else I heard that day.
Are you pitching ideas like they're 'good' or-- 'game changing'?
Not surprisingly, one of the best places to sharpen your pitching skills is the entertainment industry. From screenplays to storyboards, nothing moves forward in the movie business without a solid pitch. Fortunately Pixar, the animation company behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Inside Out and other blockbusters, just released an online learning module on how to tell a compelling story. It reveals three ingredients in their special sauce for pitching with star power.
1. Seeing is believing.
Madeleine Sharafian, story artist at Pixar, says pay attention to descriptive language, pacing, and varying your voice. For example, don't say, generically, "it would be awful if this happened." Say, descriptively, that if we don't do this, "it would destroy the company's culture." Put a stake in your story with language that makes it memorable. Speak with emotion. Make eye contact. Bring the reality alive and use your voice to convey the nuance.
Humans are visual. Rather than charts and graphs, like Kabbage's first and less successful deck, give your audience a preview of what it looks like when they decide to do what you're asking. Help them live it with you in their imaginations by shaping your comments as a chronological narrative, starring the real people whose lives will change if the future goes your way.
"The best advice I've ever got for pitching was to be super, super excited about whatever you're pitching to your audience. Be all in it, and it'll be infectious," shares Domi Shi, another Pixar story artist who lives and breathes pitching story concepts.
2. Don't sweat the small stuff.
"Let it flow. You want the movie to feel like the movie," says story artist Bob Peterson. His advice can be adapted to how you sell people on your dream, too. He points out you don't want to dive into details and over-explain or apologize. The tiny details don't matter--the big strokes do. Don't interrupt the flow to fill in the gaps when you're pitching a concept to a decision maker.
3. Practice pitching.
"The more you talk about it, the easier it is," says Shi. She says pitch your big idea to friends, partners, and peers until you feel the flow and have it down cold. It may seem like seasoned entrepreneurs--like the Kabbage team--simply have a better way with words. The fact is, storytelling is a skill. You can learn it. With practice, a dedication to narrating ideas with genuine emotion, and a focus on what change will look like, you can learn to be a strong storyteller, too.