Building the Perfect Pitch Step 5: Tell The Story

This is my fifth post about delivering strong, effective pitches—and it’s the one where everything comes together. Today, the concept is story. Everything hangs on story.

Story is not the same thing as having a goal—though there is a goal of storytelling, and it’s to make people think. No, story is more like a system. It’s both the content of what you’re saying and also the context for everything else we’ve talked about in this series. Indeed, as you follow each step in the process—learning your audience, mastering their language, perfecting your visuals, delivering your pitch—the story itself might grow and evolve. Ultimately, though, it should permeate everything you do.

Now, I have to urge some caution. Story can mean a lot of different things, and some definitions are more helpful than others. Consider that a story can mean a plot; a tale; a whisper; a testimony; a report; it can even mean the floor of a building.

This last one is helpful: You build your story first by laying a firm foundation (knowing your audience), and on top of that you add knowledge of the language, then visual, and so on. But story is always the big picture; it’s what you’re building toward, and it’s what connects each individual step.

Story may also make you think of journalists, but that’s not quite right here. We’re not reporters. If all we were doing was offering people price and delivery specifications—just the facts—pitches wouldn’t be needed. A website can give “just the facts” without any need for a sales presentation.

Story also has social media connotations, and I think Twitter is an especially interesting look at story. My 95,000+ Twitter followers don’t come for story; they come for quick, salient hits. Yet everything I tweet about fits within a certain context. All of it fits within a broader narrative; none of it is “off-brand” or irrelevant to the story I’m telling about myself. (And by the way, whether you like him or not, Trump is a master of using Twitter to advance a narrative.)

One final note: Your story should always be tailored to the individuals in the room. (This takes us back to that ground floor, knowing your audience.) I remember giving an important eight-digit series B funding pitch once to three individuals—the managing director of the fund along with her financial analyst and operations director. My job was to speak to all three of them; to tell the story (important: tell the story, not a story) in a way that encompassed all three of them, and showed how each of them fit into the broader narrative.

That’s not easy to do, but one way to master it is to use the systematic approach—which is, of course, what this entire series has been about.

And by the way: This series has not been the five easy steps of giving better presentations. All five of these steps are difficult. Many have failed at them. I still fail at some of them sometimes. But when they all come together—well, as Steve Jobs always told us, it’s magic.

PS: Record your presentation. If you use Keynote on the Mac, the Rehearse feature is perfect. Post it privately on Vimeo, send me a link to it, and I’ll give you honest feedback. Just please don’t pull a collegiate “night before” and expect an instant response!