Daniel Pink photo credit: Jerry Bauer
“The purpose of the pitch isn’t necessarily to move others to adopt your idea, it’s to offer something so compelling it begins a conversation,” according to New York Times bestselling author, Daniel H. Pink. I recently talked to Pink about his new book, To Sell is Human, The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.
Pink says that today there more opportunities than ever to get your message out. Yet the traditional elevator metaphor of pitching (the 30 second pitch) is in need of a tune-up, especially in the digital marketplace of ideas.
Pink and I talked about his “six successors to the elevator pitch.” You might want to consider some of these before pitching your next idea, product, company, or cause. The six alternatives are:
The one-word pitch. “The ultimate pitch for an era of short attention spans begins with a single word,” says Pink. When someone says ‘search,’ you probably think of Google. When someone says ‘priceless,’ you might think ofMasterCard. Pink believes it’s a good exercise to think about the one word that defines your brand. This even applies to a personal brand. For example, the one word that defined president Barack Obama in 2008 was ‘hope.’ According to Pink, “Reducing your point to a single word demands discipline and forces clarity.”
The question pitch. Pink cites research out of Ohio State University that shows, when facts are clearly on your side, pitching with questions is more effective than pitching with a statement. In 1980 the economy was clearly doing poorly and Ronald Reagan connected with voters by asking, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
The rhyming pitch. “Pitches that rhyme increase processing fluency,” says Pink. In other words, the content is easier to grasp. Who doesn’t remember lawyer Johnnie Cochran’s famous remark to O.J. Simpson jurors in 1995: “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit.” Pink cites research that shows pitches that rhyme are memorable and effective. “If you’re one of a series of freelancers invited to make a presentation before a big potential client, including a rhyme allows your message to stick in their minds when they compare you and your competitors.”
The subject-line pitch. This pitch technique is based on Carnegie Mellon research into emails—what gets opened and what doesn’t. The researchers found that utility and curiosity were equally potent. Pink adds a third, specificity. The most effective subject lines are either a promise or a benefit to the person opening the email, drive curiosity, or include ultra-specific information. One example of utility and specificity is: 3 simple but proven ways to get your e-mail opened.
The Pixar pitch. This technique is a way to organize your pitch in story form. According to Emma Coats, a former artist at Pixar Animation Studios, every Pixar film has the same narrative DNA:
Once upon a time____________. Every day____________. One day____________. Because of that, ____________. Because of that,_____________. Until finally___________.
For example, the pitch for Finding Nemo is:
Once upon a time there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day, Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away. One day in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into open water. Because of that, he is captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in the fish tank of a dentist. Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo….Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite, and learn that love depends on trust.
The twitter pitch. This is my personal favorite. I’ve been recommending this strategy since 2008 based on my observation that every Steve Jobs pitch for an Apple product easily fit within 140 characters (iPod: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” MacBook Air: “The world’s thinnest notebook.”) According to Pink, the Twitter pitch isn’t a replacement for a presentation, but rather an invitation to engage, to take the conversation further. “What’s your Twitter pitch for your new book?” I asked Pink. “We’re all in sales now, but sales isn’t what it used to be.”
Pink and I agree that the purpose of these elevator pitch alternatives is not to say something so profound that it flips a switch in your listeners’ minds and they adopt your idea on the spot. The pitch is an opportunity to engage, collaborate, and participate in the development of your idea. Above all, don’t just think of your pitch as a traditional 30-second sales promo you would use in an elevator ride. Think creatively and use one or several of the six alternatives to stand apart from your competition.