Poornima Vijayashanker

Why It’s Important to Pitch Ideas Even If It Doesn’t Come Naturally to You


Have you ever had an idea for something, like a process or product that you wanted to improve? But instead of sharing your idea with others, like your friends or coworkers, you just kept it to yourself because the thought of having to “pitch it” felt icky and salesy?

Many of us who are creative problem solvers feel this way. Since pitching doesn’t come naturally to us, we just leave it up to CEOs, founders, and salespeople.

However, pitching is a really valuable skill that all of us need to hone, because only if we pitch our ideas will people hear us out, adopt them, and believe in our solutions.

In today’s episode of Build, we’re going to tackle a number of misconceptions people have about pitching as well as the common mistakes people make while delivering them.

In future episodes, we’ll talk about how you can pitch in a way that resonates with your personality and the various types of pitches you need to prepare—because it turns out that an elevator pitch isn’t enough!

To help us out, I’ve invited Marie Perruchet, who is the author of the latest book, One Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Your Idea, Your Product, Your Business or Yourself.

Even if you don’t plan on pitching anything in the near future, chances are someone is going to pitch something to you: a project or a product, and you need to be able to filter the best from the worst!

So I highly recommend you watch this episode to learn:

  • why no one is a natural when it comes to pitching;
  • how to get over the discomfort of pitching; and
  • why you can’t stop at the first “no.”

You’ll also learn the three most common mistakes people make while pitching and how to avoid them, such as:

  • not taking the time to make people care enough about your idea;
  • not realizing that most pitches are shared; and
  • overwhelming people with data.

After you’ve watched the episode, you’re probably going to realize there are more mistakes you need to tackle. Share those with Marie and me in the comments below this video and we’ll respond to them shortly.

Watch the episode on YouTube!

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

Why It’s Important to Pitch Ideas Even If It Doesn’t Come Naturally to You Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: Pitching an idea feels icky and salesy and for those of us who are creative problem solvers; it doesn’t come naturally to us. So, we just end up not doing it all together, leaving it up instead to founders, CEOs, and sales people. However, pitching is a really valuable skill that all of us need to hone, because only if we pitch our ideas will people hear us out, adopt them, and believe in our solutions. Today, we’re going to tackle a number of misconceptions and mistakes that people make when it comes to pitching and in future segments, we’re going to talk about how you can pitch in a way that resonates with your personality and the various types of pitches you need to have prepared.

Welcome to Build, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. Each Build episode consists of a series of conversations I host with innovators and together we debunk a number of myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. Today we’re going to be diving into the misconceptions around pitching and to help us out, I’ve invited Marie Perruchet, who is the author of the latest book, One Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Your Idea, Your Product, Your Business or Yourself. Thanks for joining us, Marie.

Marie Perruchet: Thanks for having me, Poornima.

Poornima Vijayashanker: We met at a conference earlier this year, and as I recall it, your background is not in tech. So, walk us through your background and what lured you into tech.

Marie Perruchet: My name’s Marie. I grew up in Normandy, originally from South Korea, born there and was adopted to French parents. Because I always loved traveling, my first career was actually being a journalist.

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK.

Marie Perruchet: I was a radio journalist and I started out from Brussels, then I decided to move further and I worked for the French National Radio from New Delhi in India covering politics, earthquake, and two years later I thought it would be great to also work from one of larger clients in Asia, so I moved to Shanghai where I worked for the BBC. And then after, that was my big turning point, because I moved to Silicon Valley. In the beginning, I was covering some tech, but mainly it was for the Presidential elections for former President Obama, end of 2008. You know, when you arrive here, you realize that first you don’t have to use VPN to get access to information coming from China. But also that everybody is embracing entrepreneurship and that means that you have a laptop, you have a Wifi connection, and you have an idea, and you want to see if you can put it through and then push it to the market.

I thought it was very exciting, so I thought, “OK, what’s going on here? What can I do?” I always loved helping people tell their own story through the media, but at the time, it was a big explosion about the platforms. How do you communicate your company’s story, how you can communicate about yourself, how do you go for funding? And I started helping entrepreneurs and startup founders communicate that story to the world and also to investors here, but also users and partners. I mentored at different incubators, including 500 startups, mentored at Japanese, Korean, Chinese incubators here and then starting having my own clients helping them communicate their idea for funding, but also on their website, on social media. And I’m going to corporate training where I brought these large companies here, because you know internally you also need to be able to present your ideas effectively in very short formats, because people they have very short attention spans.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. That’s a lot of great work that you’ve done around pitching. What then inspired you to go from doing that work to writing the book, One Perfect Pitch?

Marie Perruchet: So, you know when you’re a journalist, you think that down the road you’re going to write a book at some point.

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK.

Marie Perruchet: But I was not a journalist anymore. And what happened is that I was featured in the Wall Street Journal for my work and McGraw-Hill they actually pitched the book idea to me.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh, that’s great.

Marie Perruchet: Yes. And I said yes, even without knowing what it means to write a book.

Why people find pitching uncomfortable

Poornima Vijayashanker: So, I know a lot of people don’t enjoy pitching, they don’t feel like they’re good at it, they’re not a natural, they might be shy or introverted. How do you help people get over those situations?

Marie Perruchet: First of all, people should think about why they’re so uncomfortable pitching. And it has to do with…you know, think about your business ahead. So, it takes a lot of time to think about it and it takes a lot of preparation knowing your user, what your business does, your brand identity, your identity. So, that’s why it’s very important to think ahead about what you’re trying to convey. And then when you’re confident about your idea, it makes it much easier to be able to pitch your idea. The second thing is also practice. Don’t wait for the last minute for people to feed you questions to pitch, because here it’s very competitive. People are coming from all over the world to go for funding, look for funding, but also trying to get and acquire users and customers. And I would say the sort of thing that I tell people who feel shy, “OK, maybe you’re doing this presentation, maybe you’re pitching, maybe it doesn’t go so well as you think, but you have to keep going back to the stage in the room and keep pitching until your idea goes through.” So, you can’t stop at the first “no.” You have to keep doing it.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a really good point.

Marie Perruchet: Of course, if you’re looking on the internet, if you’re looking at great speakers, think about in 1988 at the Democratic Convention, there was the Arkansas governor called Bill Clinton. He was a very, very bad presenter at the time, but you know how much money he makes today while speaking. So, nobody’s ever a natural. There are techniques and you need to acquire those techniques to feel more comfortable and manage your anxiety.

Pitching mistake #1: Not taking the time to make people care about your idea

Poornima Vijayashanker: There’s also a number of mistakes that people make when they are pitching and you cover some of them in your book. The first one is not taking the time to make people care about what it is you’re talking about. So, what exactly does that mean, and how do you make people care?

Marie Perruchet: How do you make people care when you’re trying to convey an idea? You have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. So it means that you have to have empathy because maybe you got that idea from the closet of your room or from your garage or from your basement if you’re living on the East Coast or in any other countries, but you know you have to understand how your product, your service is solving a problem for the person who may buy that product from you. And that’s why when you’re a founder because you’re so entrenched in the work, you need to take some perspective and really put yourself in the shoes of your audience.

Pitching mistake #2: Not realizing that pitches are shared

Poornima Vijayashanker: We also have people in our audience who are very technical, and a lot of times when they are presenting an idea, the get really bogged down in that jargon, which may not be comprehendible by somebody who is not technical or on the business side or has some other expertise. So, how would you explain to them how to manage that?

Marie Perruchet: So, they should think about how to make their pitch simple, because whoever they’re going to pitch it to, that person is going to pitch the idea to somebody else. So that’s why they have to make it simple. For many founders, their biggest problem is knowing where to start their pitch. And in my book, I describe three ways to start your pitch. The first one is telling how you’re solving your tech problem. No, the first one is telling about the problem that you’re trying to solve. So putting yourself in the shoes of the person. Another way to start your technical pitch is talking about the breaking news. What’s the latest about your product or your idea? Maybe you’ve just debugged something in your software or you’ve just released a new product. Something that makes it exciting for people. And the third way to start your pitch, when it’s a technical pitch as well, is talking about all the achievements that your team has achieved in the past week or in the past month, so that’s a great way to grab the attention of your audience.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Now, I know another thing you mention in the book is having a universal story, right? And this is something you can start your pitch with. So, walk us through, what exactly is a universal story?

Marie Perruchet: I recommend founders to start with a universal story, because that’s how they find something that they can have related to what they’re doing, meaning that founders think that what they are doing is very unique and very special, but if you’re looking around, you realize that maybe 10 companies are doing the same thing as you’re doing.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Sure. Yep.

Marie Perruchet: And when you’re thinking about the people who are going to buy your product or your service, they cannot just be your family or your close friends. You have to understand that hey, this product could be used in that country in that segment, in that market and make it relevant for everyone.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Do you have an example of a reader or somebody that you coached to come up with a universal story that you could share with us?

Marie Perruchet: Yes. I’ve coached a company that were developing sensors and those sensors were actually bees and those bees were able to detect some substance, illegal substances for example, and what we found out is that the founder, his grandpa was actually the largest exporter of honey from Turkey. And so everybody understand honey, everybody understand bees, so that’s where universal, because it’s a common in plain English in English language that people can use to convey their ideas.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. So you started with that, and then talked about the sensors rather than starting with sensors, which people may or may not understand anyway.

Marie Perruchet: Exactly. Because you always have to think that people are going to pitch for you, as I’m pitching about himself today. I need to be able to understand and the more simple you make it, the easier it travels.

Pitching mistake #3: Overwhelming people with data

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yep. So simplicity’s important, but I know a lot of us in tech love information and data. One of the things that you talk about in your book is sometimes we don’t present enough information or the data that we share isn’t the most relevant or can be confusing. How do you recommend people decide on how much information is enough and how to present data that’s valuable?

Marie Perruchet: Well, I love data. Most of the time, people they tend to overwhelm people with data, so you have to maybe—for example, if you’re thinking about a slide presentation—just maybe one data per slide, that’s enough. Not 50 data per slide.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Marie Perruchet: And also, when they’re saying, “Oh, not enough data,” what they mean is that they’re not precise enough. Sounds like high level or it’s too much jargon, but we don’t really picture in our mind what it means, so the more precise you are with your data, the better it is. For example, in a span of three weeks, our traffic increased by 50%. So that’s very precise, instead of saying that, “We’ve got great traction in developing our product.” That doesn’t mean anything.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. And so showing kind of the growth trend could be one way of representing it. Are there other techniques that you talk about?

Marie Perruchet: To talk about traction?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Mm-hmm.

Marie Perruchet: You can say traction in a short amount of time, saying like in a month, required X number of users. That could be another way to show it, so growth, but also, “Our application has been number one for six consecutive weeks or six consecutive months at the Apple Store in three countries.” And you’re not bragging but you’re just stating the facts and it gives context to people because imagine what you’re pitching, other companies are also pitching. So how do we get the right context to make a decision about should we have the next meeting?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. Well, thank you so much Marie. This has been fantastic. Now Marie and I want to know, are there mistakes that we haven’t covered in this segment, that you’re worried about making? Let us know what they are in the comments below and we’ll be sure to address them.

OK, that’s it for this segment. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next segment where we’ll continue the conversation and dive into how to create a pitch that resonates with your personality. Ciao for now.

This episode of Build is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.