Guest Columnist

Column: Be prepared to make the perfect pitch

Guest columnistJanuary 6, 2014 

If you’re making resolutions, be sure “improve my pitch” is on the list, because a clumsy pitch makes your small business sound raggedy.

The pitch, or elevator speech, is a short description of your company and what it offers. A good one is powerful but short enough to be delivered on the ride up an elevator. Therein lies the challenge.

“A solid, well-practiced pitch will make an impression and get your business noticed,” said S. Briles Johnson, director of the Women’s Business Center of North Carolina, which offers individual and group coaching on perfecting a business pitch, among other services. “Opportunities to meet potential clients, investors or to market your company can arise anytime. Being prepared is priceless.”

I’ve heard pitches of all kinds as I’ve networked in the Triangle. Many pitchers stumble as they try to concisely describe their businesses.

Some pitches rhyme and sound like a standup routine. Some are cool and engaging, like spoken word. Others are so labored that they make you uncomfortable. Some are earnest and slick. I heard one recently with group participation: Members of a real estate agent’s networking group filled in keywords as she gave her elevator speech.

Regardless of the type, a pitch can be the first step to getting the attention of someone who wants to hire you or buy your product.

Olalah Njenga, a marketing strategy expert and CEO of YellowWood Group, was one of several judges for the Urban Rebound pitch contest, which was coordinated by the Women’s Business Center with help from sponsors.

The judges heard 40 pitches from women business owners during the competition last month in Raleigh. Thirty-six were picked as semifinalists, eligible to compete for the Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence business accelerator program, which provides coaching and education to help grow company revenues by 30 percent.

During judging, Njenga praised contestants’ courage, smarts and honesty about their successes and failures. But in a follow-up interview, she noted several ways they could improve. Based on her insights and my observations, here are tips to improve your pitch.

Be brief: Your pitch should take two minutes, max. Any longer, and attention will wane.

Don’t stuff it: Hit the highlights and leave room for follow-up questions.

Get excited: Lean in, gesture and put excitement into your voice to demonstrate your passion.

Focus on benefits: Tell how your service or product would benefit your audience. What’s the value?

Be special: Say how your business is different from competitors’.

Tell a story: Find an interesting way to include the backstory of your business. What or who inspired you to start it?

Name your niche: Describe your ideal customer.

Practice, practice: Run through your pitch until you can deliver it without a stumble or blank-faced stare.

Sheon Wilson is a writer and personal stylist in Durham. Find her on Twitter @SheonWilson.

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