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by Jenny Vandyke

coffee-break-1177540_1280Unfortunately, there’s something about pitching that kind of seems un-Australian. The Tall Poppy Syndrome discourages us from holding our heads high and sticking our necks out. We’re not typically very good at talking ourselves up. When I started my first business in 2009, my elevator pitch was terrible. I was like many consultants who are used to providing bespoke solutions for each client they work with, and often struggle to explain what they do without management speak or clichés.  I called myself an innovation consultant and when i spoke to strangers, most of them were polite but ultimately had no idea what I did.

Despite my terrible pitch I still managed to build a solid reputation and client base through word of mouth. After a few years, the time came to grow my business, and I sought out the right mentors to help me get there. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible mentors, particularly Glen Carlson, co-founder of Dent Global, Ian Elliot, former chair of George Patterson, and Matthew Michalewicz, founder of SolveIt and Complexica. Glen, Ian and Michael have all helped me to get out of my own way and craft an elevator pitch that opens up conversations rather than closing them down.

By working with Glen, Ian and Michael on my pitch, I came to realise the mountain of value I was sitting on but not talking about. In the past, i didn’t tell people about my track record working with big brands like NAB and KPMG, because I thought I’d come across as big noting myself and name dropping. My pitch was vague. I never told prospects that I have a predictable, repeatable recipe for innovation, the formula I use when advising my corporate clients on how to implement their innovation projects.

Today, I can now clearly articulate in 60 seconds or less what I do and why clients and partners should choose me. My elevator pitch has opened all sorts of doors for me over the last few years. I’ve had numerous unsolicited offers to promote my book to lists of up to 20,000 people after five minute conversations with complete strangers.

I also regularly get unsolicited partnership offers from influential industry players, all larger than my own business, after 15 minute conversations. By sharpening my pitch, I increased my revenue by 20 percent, while reducing my workload by 30 percent, by sharpening my niche and letting go of clients that didn’t fit.

Since moving to Adelaide from Melbourne 18 months ago, I’m pivoting in a new direction and shifting away from innovation consulting. My pitch is evolving as my pivot takes shape. Years later, I’m still applying the pitching tactics that Glen, Ian and Matthew have given me.

1. Get on the same page.
Before you can articulate your point of difference, you need to make it clear what you actually do. Start with your profession, (I’m a dentist, I’m an accountant) or your industry niche (I work in the training industry)

2. Keep it simple.
Strip away all the buzz words and fluff. Don’t tell people you’re leading edge, show them you’re leading edge, through the brands you work with, the results you achieve, or the awards you’ve won. A good elevator pitch doesn’t need adjectives or marketing speak.

3. Don’t assume that you don’t need to pitch.
I think particularly in Adelaide, we sometimes don’t pitch because we assume that Adelaide is so small that people already know what we do. The reality is, people may have a general idea of what you do, but that doesn’t mean that they’re clear on your niche, or what makes you unique. The best elevator pitches are distinctive and memorable, so that others can repeat your pitch to talk you up to their contacts. Does everyone in your network know you well enough to pitch you to your potential clients? If the answer’s ‘No’, start pitching.

4. Pitching is a conversation, not a monologue.
Resist the urge to deliver a 3 minute monologue in a social situation. It’s important to adapt versions of your pitch for different situations. A 20 second and 60 second version are a good place to start. In conversation, the best approach to pitching is to break your pitch down into one liners or soundbites that you can casually drop into conversation. Start with your 20 second pitch, then drop in the rest of your 60 second pitch as one liners at the right point in the conversation.

5. Get real.
Be realistic about the results you can expect from pitching. Too many people go to networking events hoping to get sales or land new clients, or even land a new job. This just isn’t realistic. My aim from my pitch? The only result I’m looking for is to hear the words ‘tell me more’ – I’m just aiming for a quality conversation.

6. Quality conversations.
When I’m having a quality conversation, my aim at the end of the conversation is that the other party asks to continue the conversation, either by asking for my business card, or asking for a meeting. I always try to wait for the other party to ask, because then I’m getting a good measure of their interest in continuing the conversation (if I ask them, they may say yes just to be polite, rather than out of genuine interest).

7. Practice, practice, practice.
One mistake I see startups make is spending hours and hours pouring over their written pitch, getting the wording just right. The reality is, it doesn’t matter how good your pitch sounds on paper, what matters is the results you get from pitching your ideal clients in the real world. Glen often says ‘sharpen your pitch on the stone of the market’, and I couldn’t agree more. Speed networking events like Icebreaker, where you’ll get to pitch 20 times in one night, are a great way to fine tune your pitch and also memorise your pitch, so that you’re always ready to pitch at the drop of a hat. Now of course, a 3 minute speed networking slot is not long enough for a quality conversation, but it is definitely long enough to pique someone’s interest in continuing the conversation.

8. Pitch every day.
In the early days I only pitched if I thought I was talking to a potential client. Glen, Ian and Michael encouraged me to pitch every day, because you never know who you might be talking to. Now, I pitch at the hairdresser, I pitch on the bus, pitching has become part of my daily DNA, and as a result, I’ve won clients at the hairdresser, and landed partnerships on the bus – you never know where your next opportunity might come from.

At Icebreaker 16, there will be 1600 people pitching 20 times on the night, and there will be thousands of quality conversations. I look forward to seeing you there. Now, if you’d like a little extra help in prepping your pitch for Icebreaker, particularly for entrepreneurs who want to stand out from the crowd, I’m partnering with Dent to give away 100 free books in the lead up to the event. You can order your copy of Become a Key Person of Influence, by Dent co-founder Daniel Priestley.

Pitching can open up doors you didn’t know existed. I once scored an invite to a VIP launch at one of Melbourne’s top restaurants, seated next to the Head Chef, after a 10 minute conversation with a complete stranger on the tram. You never know where your next pitch could lead you.

Jenny Vandyke is the new Managing Director at Startup Adelaide and the author of The Innovation Recipe. Jenny is on a mission to help South Australia to pivot from the Industrial Age to the Entrepreneurial Age.

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