Practice Pitch makes Perfect

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By Michael S. Kazmier

Every major league pitcher takes a few practice pitches when he takes the mound, so as you are getting ready for Startup Weekend Glacier I would also encourage you to take a few practice pitches of your own!

But what makes a good pitch?  In baseball, there is a pitch for every situation.  What pitch is thrown depends on the batter, the count, the inning, who’s on base and even where the sun is.  Pitching a business idea is really no different.  How you pitch your idea could vary greatly depending on who you are pitching to (investors, customers, or the press), where you are pitching, where your idea is at in the full business life cycle, and quite a few other factors.  But the most important factor for both MLB pitchers and aspiring entrepreneurs is to know who you are pitching to.

Specifically for a Startup Weekend, the goal of your pitch is to be popular among participants and to attract the best team members to join you.  There will be significantly more pitches than there are final teams, so getting past the initial cut is your first goal.  The format of Startup Weekend is designed to greatly level the playing field. You have 60 seconds, with no visual aids or slide decks or trinkets, to WOW the audience and get them to vote for your idea.  To do that, you need to focus on 3 areas: Passion, Vision and Feasibility.

For your pitch to be successful, you need to start from the heart.  Pitching with PASSION will inspire others and cement you as a leader that people would like to follow.  If you are not passionate about your idea, then why would others be?  But be careful, if you take passion too far and go over the top, people may think you are too entrenched and inflexible – you don’t want to be perceived as hard to work with because you are so blinded by your own greatness.  So have passion, not arrogance.

Your second area of focus needs to portrait the VISION of your idea.   Passion only takes you so far, if you can’t paint a picture of how your idea competes in a competitive landscape and the potential impact of your idea, you’ve already lost.  When people can see that their efforts have a clear future that is also a bright future, they will rally behind you in masses!

So after you have inspired the audience with your passion and the clear vision of your idea, you need to demystify it.  Many people immediately discount great ideas because they don’t understand the feasibility of the idea.  In your head you probably have already figured out how easy it will be to conquer the world, but you’ll have only a few seconds to bring that comfort to others because if you don’t give them comfort, they’ll discount your idea as impossible and vote for others.

Assuming you mastered the Passion, Vision and Feasibility of your idea, don’t forget that your secondary goal is to recruit the best and brightest from the audience to join your team.  To do this, you should explicitly call out the “cool” factor of what teammates will get to experience by joining your team and what you’re looking for in teammates.  People want to do things they enjoy and feel needed, so if you can paint that picture for them, your team will be brimming with the brightest talent from the weekend.

Needless to say, it is very difficult to cram all of that into a 60 second pitch.  You need to plan and you need to practice. Once you’ve gotten the message down, practice in front of people that have no background with your idea and see if they “get it” and if you’ve inspired them.  Don’t get discouraged, you’ll likely find that the first few times they won’t get it and you’ll be back at the drawing board.  So be humble and take the input to heart and revise your pitch.  If you do that, you’ll be sure to have your pitch selected at Startup Weekend!