At our first gathering at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich we had lots of opportunities to practise our ‘elevator pitches’ for our social ventures. By design, the folks at SSE East had us describing our enterprises on four separate occasions. Bear in mind we’d already had to give 2 and 5-minute pitches to get on the course itself, so are we now experts?
Well, I don’t think we’re quite there yet; and that pitch does matter. In my one-day marketing communications workshops, I have a ‘first impressions’ section. Whether we like it or not, we never get a second chance to make a first impression. A bit clichéd maybe, but true.
The plaque below this statue of Aristotle Onassis says “Men have to construct their own destiny.” The same applies to your pitch – make it yours; people will listen if you believe what you’re saying.
In pairs, I invite learners to ‘sell their organisation’ to a would-be funder in an imaginary coffee queue. They then introduce their partner’s organisation to the whole group (without using notes) and we reflect on what sticks; what creates a lasting impression. They have 2 minutes each in the workshop scenario, but the first 30 seconds (or someone recently suggested 140 characters if it’s in print) is probably the actual time we have to grab someone’s attention.
So what’s makes a good pitch?
I believe that the ‘why’ and ‘how well’ elements (outcomes and impact) are relatively more important than the ‘what’ (outputs). Yet when I ask people to describe their organisations, they nearly always start by talking about products and services, rather than describing the difference they make to people’s lives.
[A tip – if you want to encourage your stakeholders to become your advocates, give them a few postcard profiles of your clients/ customers. Describe the issues those people had when they came to you, how you supported them, and where they are now]
The best pitch I’ve ever heard was from Paul Watkinson, founder of social enterprise Working Herts which, sadly, no longer exists. When I asked Paul what Working Herts was about, he said:
“We recruit young people who’ve been abandoned by the school system. In 20 weeks we train them to provide a world class service, they save lives and, 6 months after leaving us 60% of them get jobs.” [Just 163 characters!]
He still hadn’t told me Working Herts’s business (and the name didn’t give anything away). But I was impressed by the ‘world class service’ and ‘saving lives’ bits, and their obvious employment successes. In fact, they were training young people how to insulate houses – preventing the death of older people through hyperthermia – which explains that life-saving outcome.
But as Paul explained, “we weren’t training house insulators, we were training young people for the world of work, instilling a sense of pride in doing a good job – providing a world class service”. I don’t know why Working Herts isn’t still… er… working – it deserved to thrive.
Clearly having a great pitch is not enough.