Subject: Elevator Pitch Tips
Sell, don't tell - Give people the most relevant selling points and nothing more - Why you exist,
Why they should pay you to do fix the problem, Why you are better than than the current 'Way
Things Are', and most importantly - why they should care at all.
Give a strong, emphatic leading statement - "We Solve X Problem for Y Customer" The rest of
your pitch simply expands and explains this statement.
Say what you are, not what you are not - don't talk about the competition directly or say that "We
are cheaper than X" as your main value proposition.
Use broad metaphors and leverage well-accepted existing brands when appropriate to frame
your value proposition, market, and business model. Some common ones:
McDonalds - fast and cheap food
Starbucks - ubiquitous coffee shops
Rolls Royce/Rolex - luxury goods for the wealthy
Gillette - Razor/Razor Blade Model
Myspace - online social network for kids
Rehearse, don't practice - this is a live performance so you have to prepare for the moment. You
should not memorize your pitch, but you should know it by heart - that is to say you need to be
able to convey the general idea in as few words as possible.
Give your pitch standing in front of a mirror at least five times from beginning to end until you are
comfortable with the rhythm and flow of your story.
Watch your body language - stand up straight, shoulders back, project you voice, hands by your
sides (not in pockets), eye contact for 2-3 seconds with individuals in the middle section of the
Audience, timing, positioning - Think about who you are speaking to - users, investors, partners,
friends? Are you going after a great pitch?
How about an awful one? Are you the first pitch when the audience is fresh or the last one when
the audience is tired after lunch?
Try to leave the audience with this:
Make them like you
Make them believe
Make them support you
The take away for an elevator pitch is: company awareness, customers/users, positive word of
mouth and openness to a follow up meeting - think business development, strategic partnerships
Director of Development, IT
Becomining an effective presenter
by Joe Schall
Recently, I attended a talk where the speaker held everyone's attention for a
crucial five minutes by pulling the Seinfeld trick-putting on "a show about
nothing." An engineer at a small, struggling company, he was near the end of a
slick PowerPoint presentation about whether or not the design for acritical
machine should be modernized to speed up production. He presented three
1. Retool the machine in-house, which would sacrifice a month of production
time but result in faster output in the long run;
2. Buy a new machine from a known distributor, which would involve a hefty
up-front expense but save labor costs and time;
3. Do nothing.
That's right-do nothing. Continue with production and learn to live with the
sacrifices. To dramatize this third point, the speaker filled the presentation
screen-which up until then had held colorful PowerPoint slides utilizing slick
transitions and graphics-with nothing. He simply left the screen blank, proposed
the option of taking no action, and then shut off the projector.
For the next five minutes, he engaged the audience members-which included the
company president and accountant-by switching to a lecture format. He moved
around the room without so much as a pointer or a note card, and argued his
case: that it was smarter for the company to maintain status quo, especially since
it was struggling financially. Ultimately, he impressed his point on the audience
not with the magic of presentation software, but with reasoning, creativity,
common sense and the bottom line. As the speaker hoped, the company bought
into option number three.
As this example demonstrates, effective oral presentation is more about creative
thinking on your feet and basic skills than about wearing good shoes and
knowing how to create a dazzling PowerPoint presentation. For years companies
have sought graduates who can give dynamic talks as a key way to bring
concerned parties to a common decision. But many recent graduates make the
mistake of trying to let the computer, bells and whistles blaring, do all the work for
them. They forget the fundamentals of oral presentation, and thus whatever
polish they have quickly loses its luster.
To become a modern speaker worth listening to, whether you're serving as a
company representative or presenting at a conference, you must take stock of
how you come across as a speaker, come fully prepared to any presentation,
engage your audience's attention and memory, and attend to some visual design
Preparing a Talk
There's a rule-of-thumb in carpentry: measure twice, cut once. The tenets behind
this principle should be obvious-once a mistake is made, it's difficult or
impossible to undo. Though the carpenter can usually use spackle or glue to
repair an error, as a speaker you simply cannot get back those three minutes you
just wasted in a fifteen-minute presentation. The following preparation principles
will keep you on the right track.
Practice your talk straight through, and jot quick notes to yourself about
how to improve it. If you cannot manage to go through your talk, perhaps
you are not yet ready to offer it.
Ideally, practice your talk under conditions similar to those in which you
will give it. Consider factors such as acoustics, distance from the
audience, lighting and room size. Lighting becomes especially important
when computer equipment is involved. Be mentally prepared to adapt to
the environmental conditions.
As a draft, present your talk to a few friends and have them critique it for
you. If you're really gutsy and can tolerate the unforgiving lens ofthe
camcorder, videotape your practice talk and afterwards critique it yourself.
View all of your visuals from your audience's perspective prior to your talk.
Be sure that your audience can easily see all that you want them to see,
especially materials that appears in the lower half of the screen.
When you give a talk professionally, always request presentation
guidelines from any relevant organizations and conform to them explicitly.
It would be embarrassing if you were expected to present units in metric,
for example, and you did otherwise because you failed to follow the
As part of your preparation, choose an appropriately snappy and helpful
title. You are expected to not come off as stodgy. Which talk would you
rather attend: "Specific Geometrical Objects with Fractional Dimensions
and Their Various Applications to Nature in General and the Universe at
large" or "And on the Eighth Day, God Created Fractals"?
Become highly familiar with any technology you'll be using during your
talk. Practice with the actual hardware or type of hardware you'll be
working with. Making sure that compatibility or speed issues don't get in
your way. I've seen students go to present at a conference with a Zip disk
of their talk confidently in hand, only to find that the computer they were
using didn't have a zip drive. To facilitate faster computer speed, load your
presentation onto the desktop rather than run it from a disk or CD. If Web
sites are needed as part of your presentation, check connection speeds
and make sure all URLs are up and running.
Helping Your Audience Remember Key Points
Andy Warhol is known for the comment that everyone will be famous for 15
minutes. If your 15 minutes of fame is during your oral presentation, you want to
be sure not to blow your allotment of time. I'm amazed at how frequently I've sat
through a talk and come away with only a vague sense of what it was about.
There are many reasons for this-some speakers view their talk as simply a
format for reading a paper, while others fill the air with many words but little
substance. The most common reason, however, is the simplest one: The
speaker didn't even know what the talk was about.
If you don't clearly spell out your premise, highlight your key points, and make it
easy for your audience to remember the thrust of your presentation, you can't
expect your listeners to come away with a clear understanding.
The subsequent pointers will help you develop a talk that your audience will
Use a formal introduction at the beginning of your talk and a summary
afterwards to highlight your major points. Make sure your audience can
remember your key points by keeping them simple and straightforward-
Give your talk "parts"-usually no more than three major parts for practical
purposes-and let the audience know when you're transitioning from one
part to the next. This will help your audience remain interested and
Give the talk's objective-and even a hint of the conclusion-right up front.
Articulate the objective on its own slide so we can't miss it. Revisit the
objective at the end to underscore how it was realized
Mastering the Basics of Slide Design
PowerPoint helps users to think of each projected page as a "slide" in a
slideshow. But just as someone else's home movies can be thoroughly
uninteresting if they're grainy, poor in quality or irrelevant, PowerPoint slides that
are too flashy, cluttered, meaningless or poorly designed can quickly turn a
darkened room full of smart people into a mere gathering of snoozers.
PowerPoint will help you design your slides, but don't assume that a standard
PowerPoint template will always match your needs. Take charge of slide design
by considering first the most efficient way to transmit the necessary information.
Keep slides as simple and uncluttered as possible. If the information must
be complex, prioritize it for your audience as you present it (e.g., if
presenting a ten-column table, direct your audience to the most significant
Apply the "rule of eights": include no more than eight words per line and
eight lines per slide.
Design slides so that their longest dimension is horizontal rather than
vertical. Use both uppercase and lowercase letters and orient pictures left
to right. Avoid the overuse of animations and transitions, especially audio-
based transitions, which can be distracting and downright silly. by keeping
it consistent and subtle.
When possible, replace words with images. Use images in particular when
presenting data, demonstrating trends, simplifying complex issues and
Spelling does count, and you can't rely on PowerPoint to be an effective
proof reader. Be sure your slides are free of grammatical and spelling
errors. As Will Rogers quipped, "Nothing you can't spell will ever work."
Presenting Your Slides Effectively
Even the best-designed slides can be ineffective in the hands of a bungler. The
author Douglas Adams once commented that the problem with "foolproof
designs" is that they "underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools." I have been
to talks where literally one-fourth of the presentation took place on the speaker's
chest because he kept standing in the way of the projector. Basic presentation
skills still matter, and the master presenter wins over the crowd by taking charge
of the entire room.
Though PowerPoint is usually the presentation method of choice these
days, don't forget the value of a good old-fashioned easel or chalkboard.
Not only do they offer variety, they are especially good for writing down
basic information that you want your audience to muse over or write down.
Easels or chalkboards are also appropriate for presenting a pictures, flow
charts, or schematics.
Take care not to stand in the way of your own slides-many speakers do
this without even realizing it. Especially when using an overhead projector,
point to the projected image of your slide (ideally, use a stick pointer or
laser pointer) rather than the original source. This helps you avoid
covering up more of the image than you intended. It also keeps the
audience's focus on the projected image rather than your accidental hand
Offer only one major point per illustration. If you need to focus on more
than one point, re-present the illustration in another form on a separate
slide with the different point emphasized.
Ideally, use the mouse pointer, stick pointer or laser pointer to draw the
audience's attention to a particular item on the screen. One simple circle
drawn briefly around the selected information is enough to draw attention.
Beware of slapping a stick pointer loudly against a screen, or leaving a
laser pointer on for so long that its bright dot shakes all over the screen as
a blazing red reminder of your nervousness.
When you are not using a slide, keep it out of sight or out of your
audience's line of attention. Turn off the projector or create a dark screen
when no visuals are relevant. Invite your audience to turn its attention
away from one thing to another.
When working with computer projection, do not trust that hardware will
always perform as you anticipate. Sometimes equipment fails midstream
or what worked fine for one speaker in a group doesn't work for the next.
Be certain that an overhead projector is available beforehand as a
fallback, and take backup transparencies of your slides.
Maintaining the Look and Sound of a Professional Speaker
As Christopher Lasch once noted, "Nothing succeeds like the appearance of
success." Good speakers attend to their wardrobe, dressing as well as their
"highest ranking" audience member is likely to dress.
Part of looking and sounding like a professional speaker is how you handle your
body language and your voice. You must exude confidence if you want to be
taken seriously. Remember that a high percentage of your audience's perception
is not about what you say but about how you look when you say it.
Maintain eye contact with at least a few people-especially those who are
being the most responsive--in various parts of the room. Conversely, if
you're especially nervous about one or two audience members or you note
some audience members looking sour or uninterested, avoid eye contact
Refer to time as an organizational tool: "For the next two minutes, I will
summarize the city's housing problem, then I will move on to . . . " This
keeps both you and your audience anchored.
Use the "point, turn, talk" technique. Pause when you have to turn or point
to something and then turn back towards the audience before you begin to
speak. This gives emphasis to the material and keeps you connected with
audience members. Strictly avoid talking sideways or backwards at your
Use physical gestures sparingly and with intention. For instance, raise
three fingers and say "thirdly" as you make your third point; pull your
hands toward your chest slightly as you advocate the acceptance of an
idea. Beware, though, of overusing your body, especially to the point of
distraction. Some speakers habitually flip their hair, fiddle with their keys,
or talk with their hands. I've heard some people recommend that speakers
keep one hand in a pocket to avoid overusing physical gestures.
Minimize the amount of walking necessary during your talk, but do stand
rather than sit because it commands more authority. As you speak, keep
your feet firmly rooted and avoid continual shifting your weight.
Intentionally leaning slightly on one leg can keep you comfortable and
Take care to pronounce all words correctly, especially those words that
are key to the discipline. Check pronunciation of ambiguous words
beforehand to be certain. It would be embarrassing to mispronounce
"Euclidian" or "Mšbius strip" in front of a group of people that you want to
impress. I once mispronounced the word "banal" during a speech and one
of the audience members actually interrupted to correct me. Most of that
speech was-as you might guess-banal.
Dead air is much better than air filled with repeated "ums," "likes," and
"you knows." Get to know your personal dead air fillers and eliminate
them. Out of utter boredom during a rotten speech a few years ago, I
counted the number of times the speaker (a professor) used the word
"basically" as an empty transition--44 times in just five minutes. Don't be
afraid to pause occasionally to give your listeners time to digest your
information and give yourself a moment for reorientation. To quote Martin
Fraquhar, "Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech."
If you know that you have a mannerism that you can't easily avoid-such as
stuttering or a heavy accent-and it distracts you from making a good
speech, consider pointing it out to the audience right away and moving on.
I've been to several talks where the speaker opened by saying "Please
accept the fact, as I have, that I'm a stutterer, and I'm likely to stutter a bit
throughout my speech." One such speaker even injected humor by noting
that James Earl Jones, one of his heroes, was also once a stutterer, so he
felt in good company. As you might guess, the following speeches were
confidently and effectively delivered, and when the mannerism arose it
was easy to overlook.
Avoid cliches, slang and colloquialisms, but don't be so formal that you're
afraid to speak in contractions or straightforward, simple terms. Use visual
language, concrete nouns, and active single-word verbs. When using
specialized or broad terms that might be new or controversial to some
audience members, be sure to define them clearly, and be prepared to
defend your definition.
Be animated and enthusiastic, but carefully so-many notches above the
"just-the facts" Joe Friday, but many notches below the over-the-top
Using the Web to Improve Your Presentation Skills
Public speaking is often cited by people as their number one fear (with death,
ironically, as number two). Clearly, no one overcomes such fear overnight, and
no one set of tips can transmogrify you into a polished speaker. In addition to
applying the "practice makes perfect" principle as you work on your speaking
skills, be willing to do some formal study.
Many Web sites are available to help you get up on your feet, so to speak. These
sites offer advice on everything from integrating humor and quotations to
specialized strategies for using PowerPoint and downloadable sample
presentations. As you advance your study and skills, here are a few
Joe Schall is the Giles Writer-in-Residence for Penn State's College of Earth and
Mineral Sciences and a free-lance writer.
The Scholarly Lecture: How to Stand and Deliver
By WILLIAM GERMANO
It's conference season again. All over academe, thousands of unsuspecting
papers will make their way to the front of the lecture hall, where they will be read
badly by scholars to fellow scholars who, slumped and glassy-eyed, will be
wondering how late the dry cleaner stays open or whether The Sopranos is on
It's a peculiarity of scholarly life that everyone is expected to be able to deliver a
lecture well, but almost no one is trained to do it. Academe resists the idea that
the teacher is a performer, but the classroom and lecture hall prove that, like it or
not, you need performance skills to get your ideas across.
Once upon a very long time ago, educated people studied rhetoric and oratory.
When they spoke, people listened. There are remnants of oratory even in our
own time. You may not have liked Mrs. Thatcher, but she knew how to speak.
You may not have liked Mr. Clinton, either, but what president has loved public
speaking as much as Bill did? Of course, comparing politicians and scholars is a
bit unfair. World peace is one thing, but no chief executive has had to hold an
audience's attention with a paper on small notes in Haydn or character
development in the novels of Jean Rhys.
Most problems that beset academic lectures aren't specific to the scholarly world,
but saying that they're common isn't the same as saying that they're easy to
ignore. Here are a baker's dozen survival tips for academic speakers:
Remember that people who show up to hear you want to believe that you're
smart, interesting, and a good speaker. Whatever you've got to say, say it with
conviction. If you don't entirely believe in yourself, try believing in others' belief in
you. An academic audience wants its speaker to succeed.
Before you get up to speak, be sure you're well hydrated (you need that for your
vocal cords) and have made a stop. Even if your talk is only 20 minutes, you
could be seated on a dais for a three-hour panel. It can be an uncomfortable
three hours if you're worrying about when you can get to the restroom.
Have water beside the podium, but don't drink unless you have to. If you do, use
a glass. Don't swig from a bottle. You may be one of those people who wouldn't
dream of crossing a street in Manhattan or Hyde Park without a bottle of spring
water in your backpack (you never know when the sand dunes might blow up
and leave you stranded), but the podium isn't the place. Bottles, hip flasks, and
Slurpee cups look unprofessional.
Technology is a tool, but a tool is not a friend and is often a rival. Unlike your
audience, machines don't wish you well. Use as few gizmos as possible, and
then check everything to be sure everything's in working order. Don't try out a
complex set of visuals for the first time when giving an important lecture.
Consider, too, that some great lecturers don't want any visuals at all, since those
lovely pictures in a darkened room draw attention away from the speaker herself.
(By the way, if you're speaking in a room with a blackboard, be sure to erase it
clean. If your lecture begins to falter, your audience may focus instead on chalk
scribbles and what they can remember of quadratic equations or the Russian
patronymics in Dostoyevsky.)
PowerPoint is for sissies. All right, not for sissies, exactly, but it's being done to
death. PowerPoint Makes Everything Really Important in a Telegraphic Way.
That's Fine in Some Cases, But It Gets Tiring When It Happens Too Much.
Besides, PowerPoint is the triumph of the quick "fact" over the art of
argumentation. And a lecture is, or should be, a kind of argument. It's more, too --
a chance to observe a voice, a body, a brain, and a personality engaging an
audience with similar interests. If you put your bulleted ideas up on slides, your
audience will look at the slides, not at you. You'll also be teaching them that What
You Have to Say Can Be Summarized in a Few Words. Can it?
A lecture isn't a casual conversation. The larger the audience, the less casual it
is. When you get up there, don't rattle through what you've written as if you were
on the phone or face to face with an old friend. That's talking. When you're in
front of an audience, you're doing something else. It's called public speaking --
not public talking -- for a reason. So speak slowly and clearly. E-nun-ci-ate. And if
you can't speak clearly, at least speak slowly.
Look at your audience frequently. Disappear into your page and your audience
will wander off, at least mentally. (The bravest will simply get up and walk out.)
Remember to smile. If that's hard, try a gentle expression of nonspecific
pleasantness from time to time. The audience wants to like you.
Don't hook the air with your fingers to indicate that you're quoting someone. Tell
your audience that what follows is a quotation, and then modulate your voice so
they know when the passage begins and ends. Master this technique and you'll
be able to read quotes without looking like your marionette just fell down.
Don't read aloud subheads or part numbers that may divide up bits of your
lecture. This only makes your audience suspicious that the paper is so poorly
organized that its structure couldn't possibly be understood otherwise. In most
cases, a speaker who announces, "This paper is in six parts" hasn't thought
enough about the paper's shape. Your paragraphs should press forward, taking
the listener along without your calling out the mileage markers.
The printed page is different. Scholarly prose can often be usefully interrupted,
and shaped, by subheadings. But even if you're planning to publish your lecture,
skip them when you're delivering the text live. Ditto for epigraphs.
Never, ever, ever interrupt your lecture to say, "I'm going to skip some pages
here in the interest of time," or, "In the longer version of this paper, I will explain.
... " Both are discourteous to the people in your audience, who could easily be
doing something else with the time spent listening to you. Write your paper to fill
the minutes you have been asked to speak. Don't run over. Don't run wildly short.
A 20-minute talk is around 10 pages long. It's never 35 pages long.
Don't apologize for your lapses as a speaker, for the paucity of your research, or
for the fact that you couldn't get your hair cut that month. As has been said, if you
can fake sincerity, you've got it made. When you're giving a paper, you might
need to fake a degree of confidence that you don't actually possess at the
moment, but you need that appearance of confidence -- and your audience
needs it from you, too.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then stop. Write your lecture well in advance of
the event, so that you have time to practice reading it several times. Stand in
front of a mirror, time yourself, and listen to your text, word by word. As you read
the text over and over it becomes a kind of song that you can now interpret; you
find places where you want to speed up, slow down, brighten your voice, stress
words, even where you want to steal a glance at your audience.
When your lecture is finally revised and well practiced, declare the text finished.
Lots of academic papers become worse during plane trips to the meeting and in
hotel rooms the night before the presentation itself. A good night's sleep will help
your lecture more than a tumble with Roget's Thesaurus at 4 a.m.
many airports' security checkpoints, first class passengers can use priority
lines. On the better airlines, our luggage comes out first. And if something
goes wrong and a flight is cancelled, as a full-fare first class passenger,
we'll have priority on the next flight out.
3. We scheduled most of the travel in the early afternoon, when airports are
relatively quiet. Most people want to take morning or evening flights, to
avoid wasting the best part of the day, so airports seem to have something
of a lull in the early afternoon. This worked well for the world tour
schedule: we did most of our demos in the morning, then headed straight
to the airport.
4. We never booked a flight until we were sure there was at least one later
nonstop flight that would get us where we were going. If our flight got
cancelled, we would have had all afternoon and all evening for another
flight. In a worst case scenario, we would have had until the next morning
to find some way to get where we were going.
5. Oh, and we refused to fly Northwest Airlines (NYSE:NWA), which routinely
schedules more flights than they have the ability to operate.
So far, this seems to have solved the airline problems completely. In the first two
weeks of the tour, we didn't have a single delay of more than an hour, and the
longest line I waited in was about 10 minutes for security at Seattle airport.
Website Bonus #2: Presentation Tips
Here are a few of my tips for good demos:
Ban PowerPoint. People don't want to hear bullet points about all the
wonderful benefits of your wonderful software. They want to see it work.
They're smart enough to figure out how it would benefit them.
The people watching your demo watch TV, they go to football games, and
most of the things that they watch are very professionally done and have
very high production values. If you don't live up to those values, you'll look
bad in comparison. I try to watch video of myself to learn how to be a
better presenter--recently I realized that it looks surprisingly sloppy when I
just let the microphone wire dangle randomly instead of hiding it in my
jacket. We have a carefully chosen soundtrack of music (we got a license
from BMI to play music in public) to play before and after the demo. All our
graphics are professionally done. We even wore polo shirts with a custom
embroidered kiwi where the alligator should be.
It's OK to tell jokes. Your audience wants you to be successful. As long as
you have 50 or more people in the room, they'll laugh at your jokes, no
matter how pathetic they are.
When someone in the audience asks a question, nobody else can hear
them. Always repeat their question for the rest of audience before you
Website Bonus #3: Road Gear
In my carryon luggage:
My laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad X61s… the smallest, lightest, most
powerful, and most reliable laptop I could find.