We all have to do it. No, not jury duty. Pitch our ideas. Entrepreneurs pitch for funding, corporate employees pitch an idea to their chain of command, a husband pitches his wife on moving to Texas for that job.

Those best at pitching, with the best idea, can do it in 10 seconds. After all, if you can't get someone excited about your idea in 20 words, making it 2,000 probably won't help.

Now, I'm not saying you have only 10 seconds in your case, but what if you did?

Well, you'd turn to Hollywood for help. Tinseltown and author Shane Meeker, that is. Meeker has penned StoryMythos: A Movie Guide to Better Business Stories and is expert at helping people tell their business story, brand story, or pitch, with resonance. Meeker has extensively studied the Hollywood process for telling stories in movies and in pitches and has crystallized that magic into some helpful pitch principles, which I'll share in a moment.

First, a bit more about the pitch. The business world, of course, calls this the "Elevator Pitch", the succinct story you have to tell while sharing an elevator ride. By the time you hit the lobby, have you lobbied support? It takes speed, but anyone can talk fast. Mastering the art of the pitch is also about leaving the audience wanting more.

As Meeker told me, "The pitch is something that writers in Hollywood have to do a lot (and it's the same in business, we just call it Shark Tank)".

Hollywood receives thousands of screenplays each year. Execs can't read them all and pitches help them brutally sift through the pile. Good pitches get your screenplay read. If you can boil your story down to its most powerful essence, and it creates intrigue, then there's probably something there--for the Hollywood exec, the angel investor, the private equity fund, or the spouse.

Great. How do you do that? With these four movie-molded pitch principles.

1. First, answer three key questions.

Writing a pitch isn't easy and requires using just the right language and truly understanding the essence of what makes your idea powerful (while stripping away the rest). It requires iteration, testing, and most importantly, practice. To start, take a crack at these:

  • Who is the hero in your story? (In the business world think of your audience or end user)
  • What are they trying to do? (What is their goal?)
  • Who or what is in their way?  (This one's critical as conflict is the lifeblood of a story)

The author or screenwriter of just about every movie or story ever written grappled with these three questions.

2. Try to keep it to 30 words or less. 

Brevity and focus is the key. There's no way a pitch can cover your entire story, so don't try. Instead, focus it on the most important part of the storyline, the one that truly creates the power. For example, here's a pitch shared on IMDb (a movie site):

A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive help catching another serial killer.

Of course, that film is The Silence of the Lambs

3. Avoid "business lingo bingo".

Words like "innovation" and "customer focused" are generic. What company doesn't value those things? Instead, keep your pitch focused on the real story. Consider this great comparison example from the book, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Imagine if this was how JFK shared his "space race" speech:

Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.

Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? This looks more like a generic manifesto than a focused story/pitch direction. Instead, JFK said something more like this: 

We will put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.

Clear. Simple. Powerful. 

4. Create a "What if?" pitch to use in the elevator or hurried situations.

The "What if" is a provocative question that leaves the audience wanting to hear more.  

What if...you could go to a zoo today and see real dinosaurs? (Jurassic Park)

What if...you could have 1,000 songs in your pocket? (iPod launch)

What if...your phone could find and pay for a ride to anywhere? (Uber)

What is your idea, businesses, or brands "What if...?" 

Practice inspiring, compelling pitches for your ideas and brands. Be clear what the most powerful idea behind it all is and how you would express it. Avoid the usual corporate lingo words and remember what Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Published on: Nov 15, 2018
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