Poornima Vijayashanker

Why You Don't Need to Change How You Speak When You Pitch Your Idea


One of the reasons people don’t like pitching is because they feel like they have to be someone else. They have to abandon their personality, get into character, and speak in a way they normally wouldn’t in order to impress a colleague, customer, or investor.

However, people on the receiving end of the pitch are going to see through and disengage quickly. A sales-y pitch is one that isn’t rehearsed and the person pitching hasn’t taken the time to figure out how to engage their audience.

What we don’t realize is that we don’t need to change who we are or how we speak to engage audiences. Many of us are already practicing a powerful pitching technique in our everyday lives—storytelling. And when we deliver stories in a conversational approach, we come off as clear and authentic.

But we may still be opposed to starting a pitch with a story. We worry about it being too long or short, and whether or not the theme and details will resonate with the audience.

Well in today’s Build episode, Marie Perruchet is back. She’s the author of One Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Your Idea, Your Product, Your Business or Yourself, and here’s what you’ll learn from her:

  • why storytelling is a powerful technique for pitching;
  • how you can tell a great story in a business setting;
  • how to condense a long story so that it’s short and to the point;
  • how to weave your credibility into a story;
  • why most demos fail (hint: it’s because they fail to walk an audience through a story); and
  • how to incorporate an ask into your pitch.

After you’ve watched the episode, tell us some of the additional techniques you have tried that have worked as you’ve been pitching your ideas in the comments here. The first three people to respond are going to receive an autographed copy of One Perfect Pitch from Marie!

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

Why You Don’t Need to Change How You Speak When You Pitch Your Idea Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: Hey, guys. I’m back today talking about pitching. In the last segment, I covered a lot of the mistakes that people make when pitching. If you missed out, I highly recommend you check it out. The link to the video is below this one. Today I’m gonna dive into how to pitch in a way that resonates with your personality.

Welcome back 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 myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. Today we’re gonna continue the conversation around pitching, and I’m joined by Marie Perruchet, who is the author of the latest book, One Perfect Pitch. Thanks again for joining us today, Marie.

Marie Perruchet: Great to be here.

Why storytelling is a powerful technique for pitching

Poornima Vijayashanker: Last week we were talking about a number of mistakes people make when it comes to pitching. Now I want to shift gears and talk about how we can pitch in a way that resonates with our personality so that we feel effective as people who are pitching. I know one of the techniques that you talk about in your book is storytelling. But a lot of people have an aversion to starting a pitch with a story, because they’re not sure how to craft one. They worry about whether it’s too long or too short, and they want to make sure that it really resonates with the audience. So let’s just start by talking about why storytelling is an effective technique to start your pitch with.

Marie Perruchet: I love storytelling. You’re born and then your parents, your family, reads you stories. I grew up with stories from Charles Perrault, from Brothers Grimm. You know Cinderella…the first story of Cinderella was found in the fifth century in China. And since then you have more than 1,400 versions of Cinderella. Take Japan, the Japanese telling stories using animation. Think about in China there was this guy who would hang around and sell candies and actually would tell stories to sell more candies. And so if you’re thinking about the story of immigration in the U.S., the show and tell that kids learn how to do at school, the kids would talk about their fluffy toy. That was a great way to have kids from immigrants who wouldn’t speak the same language unite around a story. And when you think of what storytelling is today for technology companies, which is the main industry here in Silicon Valley but also blossoming in other countries, storytelling talks about transformation, and that’s what technology companies are doing, transforming a certain industry.

How you can tell a great story in a business setting

So storytelling is a very powerful technique because it’s something that people know already, they grew up with that. Every weekend you’re telling your friends stories, how you got away from a parking ticket, or how, in my case, I have lost my passports, or how the toast you did for your friend’s wedding didn’t go so well. So we all know how to tell stories, except in a business perspective, in a business setting, it has to be very short because we can not spend hours telling stories.

So how do you tell a great story? First, think of the pitch meet being a mini story that creates emotion. So stories are a way to start and that’s the method I describe in my book. You start with the problem, talk about the solution, and then finish with an ask that is the transformation.

A great image to remember is the image of the rainbow. There’s the rainbow, there’s the storm, that’s the problem. The rainbow, talk about the solution, and then supposedly there’s a pot of gold, which is the transformation. So whenever you want to tell a story, there should be a beginning, a middle, and an end. And you know the James Bond movies, they all start with something that grips you to your seat. Think about the Cinderella story, at the end there’s a transformation. That’s what storytelling is about. There’s a problem, there’s tension in the beginning, there’s a resolution. That’s what we want to hear because it creates a tension, it creates an emotion, and we want to follow up.

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK, so for our audience out there, start with the problem, and that will present a good tension point to hook the audience right from the beginning.

Marie Perruchet: Absolutely.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Now, I know another concern is having the story be too long or too short. How do you recommend it being just the right length for the pitch that you’re doing?

Marie Perruchet: People shouldn’t worry so much because a story takes time to craft and to refine. Anyone is able to tell a story for an hour, for two hours, but it takes a lot of practice to chop it to maybe a minute. And there’s so much you can tell in a minute. The radio pieces I used to tell would be a minute long, and there’s so much you can tell in structure. So people shouldn’t be worried about that because the story changes over time and you should practice it.

How to condense a long story so that it is short and to the point

Poornima Vijayashanker: So how do you condense that hour-long story down to a minute? Do you have an example?

Marie Perruchet: I advise founders, engineers, and designers to take a page, write their story, look at it, and then eliminate two thirds. And those two thirds should be anything that’s not relevant or that’s not gonna interest their audience. Anything that’s not precise, that doesn’t have data or numbers, you should get rid of it. Any personal opinions shouldn’t be there. That’s the first step.

The second step, when you want to know about your story you should focus on different parts like they’re LEGO parts, because each part should be breakable. Imagine yourself at a cocktail party, you start pitching and somebody comes and interrupts you. So you should be able to tell those parts very separately and if you put them together they work very well. So think about what’s your hook, how do you start your story? How do you differentiate yourself? How do you bring up the solution? Talk about your team.

So each segment should be a minute long. And it’s very easy. If you’re taking your Word document, there’s a word count. It should be between, I believe, 150 words per minute. You can use your calculator in the toolkit for the Word document to calculate it. And then you practice it and you should be very slow, very articulate, especially if, like me, you’re non-native English speakers, so that people can get used to your accent.

How to weave your credibility into a story

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. Now, I know another thing you talk about is credibility and leading with it. How do you recommend people lead with that credibility?

Marie Perruchet: I’m gonna give you an example. When I meet people and they don’t know me or they want to question my expertise, I tell them that I’m an award-winning journalist, worked for the BBC in three countries. I’ve also written a book at McGraw-Hill on the art of writing your pitch called One Perfect Pitch. You are establishing credibility giving examples or giving awards or giving achievements to people about what you’ve been doing in the past so that you can create trust.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Right. Now, I meet a lot of people who often will tell me their credibility and they’ll mention things that maybe happened 5 or 10 years ago that may not be relevant to the work that they’re doing now. So how do you create credibility when you’re just getting something off the ground?

Marie Perruchet: I worked with engineers, with founders and designers to create credibility from the ground, and when you think that nothing happened in the past 10 years, yes, something did happen. But you need to really look into it and work and find out, what you’re doing today, you didn’t get up in the morning and start it. It comes from somewhere and I want to know that. I want to know why you and why not somebody else. One great way to do it is ask your friends, “Why do you think I’m so passionate? Why do you think I’m working every day for 12 hours a day and building and developing my product or my startup?” Ask people you’ve met with or you’ve worked with, “This is what I’m doing right now, but I’m unsure, I have doubts. What would be the reason why I should pursue it? Could you help me and shed some light?” Understanding what is your path, your passion, for me, writing a book has been very transformative because I could find out why I was so passionate about storytelling and that storytelling has been with me my entire life.

Why most product demos given during pitches fail

Poornima Vijayashanker: Now, I know another technique is the proof is in the product. Especially for those of us who are engineers and designers, we like to have something tangible to show. Can you talk about demoing a product? I’ll admit, I’ve done a lot of terrible demos in my past. How would you recommend people have an effective demo of their product?

Marie Perruchet: Yes, people tend to overlook their demo. They work on their questions, they work at telling what they’re good at, sometimes telling about the problem if it’s great, but they think, “OK, I’m just gonna do the demo on the fly.” But the demo should be extremely prepared because if you need Wi-Fi, you don’t know any technical issues. I lived in India, I know about electricity cuts happening all the time. So you never know and you want to be prepared. So don’t depend first on your demo to explain your product.

The second thing would be have somebody else handling all the technicalities so that you don’t have to worry about that. And the third thing would be, of course, practicing your demo. We worked with a client who was presenting a product to Samsung, and what we did is that we took it from…it’s like a journey or taking a trip from A to Z. From the moment you have to click on the button to get into the software to the moment you have to scroll down the menu, you have to show all that. Maybe you have to spend 20 minutes or 30 minutes, keep it maybe under 10 minutes. A couple of minutes is great, but you have to go step by step so that the person understands from their user’s perspective what they have to do to get to the product.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, I like what you said about the user’s perspective, and I know in your book you talk about even presenting a scenario. Not just like, “Oh, let me show you my product, and here’s how you sign up, and here’s how you get started,” but having a very directed workflow maybe based on a specific use case.

Marie Perruchet: Yes, so you can also do that. If you can show the product, people always like to see something tangible. When you’re bargaining in certain countries, you want to show the dollars, the euros, the money that you have. What you can do if you don’t have the product with you, you can pick a name. This is Kate, this is Andrew, this is Jane. Jane starts her morning that way. This is what her journey looks like. This is her problem, this is the problem she faced, and this is how our solution helps her transform her day.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice, so yeah, that’s very relatable and that comes back to incorporating storytelling into your demo.

Marie Perruchet: Yes, because behind every product there’s a team, there’s a leader, and we want to know the struggles your team are going through to give birth to that product.

How to incorporate an ask into your pitch

Poornima Vijayashanker: And finally, there’s the ask, which you talk about incorporating into your pitch. But again, depending on backgrounds, you both feel like that can be really sales-y or sleazy. So walk us through why it’s important to have an ask at the end of your pitch and how to craft one.

Marie Perruchet: To me, a sales-y pitch is a pitch where people have it rehearsed, and they don’t really connect and they only talk about themselves. So an ask at the end of the pitch is another great way to reconnect with the person if by any chance you’ve lost her or him during your presentation.

So why finishing by an ask? Because every story has an end. And you’re telling this story, imagine you’ve created a tension, you’ve got people very excited about the problem because they felt, “Oh, they’re relating to my own problem, they brought us a solution.” But then, nothing happens at the end of your story. You leave them in a state of anxiety. So people, if they’ve been seduced and excited by your idea, they want to help. So you have to give them clear directions.

For example, “Hey, I’d like to have an intro to that person to support my project. I need more resources. What can you do to help me fund that project?” Be extremely clear, and I know in American English it’s much easier. In certain countries, you don’t want to be so direct, but find a way to have your team or the person or your subject act on something. Just don’t leave it like this because people want to help. They want you to be successful, so what can you give them so that they can help you?

Poornima Vijayashanker: That’s fantastic. Thank you, Marie. This has been really helpful.

Now Marie and I want to learn from you. What additional techniques have you tried that have worked as you’ve been pitching your ideas? Let us know in the comments below and the first three people to respond are gonna receive an autographed copy of One Perfect Pitch from Marie.

That’s it for this segment. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next and final segment on this topic of pitching, where we’ll talk about the various types of pitches you need to prepare. 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.