Are you getting your message across? Pitch your story

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been running career workshops again – with INSEAD in Fontainebleau and Singapore and, for the first time, with Science Po in Paris. So, after a long hiatus, I’m inspired once again to write – this time about how to put together your job search ‘story’ and pitch it effectively.

In one of my workshops, a student kindly volunteered to share his pitch with the group for us to dismantle and discuss. His pitch went along the lines of:
“My name is… I have a lot of diverse skills… I want to apply them in your organisation…”

He was not convincing. Why? 1) He presented himself as diverse, rather than distinctive. (Which was quite surprising because he actually had a very distinctive background!) 2) He wasn’t able to build a vision of how he could fit in the company – leaving his audience to figure it out. 3) It wasn’t clear what he wanted or how his target audience could help him.

He told his story, but he didn’t pitch it. To pitch it, you need to know what you want and lead the person to it by being relevant, convincing and clear. Create a connection with the person and get them interested in knowing more.

Here is the exercise they go through in the workshop:

Think about a situation in which you need to win over someone: To give you a job? To buy your services? To fund your venture? To participate in an event you are running? There are some key elements of your message that are useful to prepare before your conversation.

  • Think about your target audience. How do you know them? What makes them the right audience for your pitch? What can they do for you? Assuming they are the right audience, now give some thought to their needs and how your request/offer addresses those needs. What matters to them? What gets them interested? What is their pain? What are their options? Find ways to check your assumptions so that you are targeting appropriately.
  • Now why does it make sense for them to be interested in what you are offering or requesting? What is your fit with what they need? What is the compelling reason? Why should they choose /help you? What makes you stand out compared to their other choices? Make it connect to something meaningful or urgent to them. Remember, it isn’t just rational argumentation. You may be more effective to make an emotional connection.
  • What is the background information they need to know about your request/offer? Think about what is really relevant to your argumentation. This can be the tricky part – less is more. You have lots of background information you could share but what is the key information that links to the ‘why you have a great offer’ statement? Think about what you are asking from them and only share the information that is core to the request.
  • What do you want from them now? If your audience really is hooked, what would you want them to agree to as the next step? Usually there are many steps between the pitch and the purchase/hire. Where are you at in the process? What specific call-to-action can you make?

Putting it all together:
You want to be brief and build connection with your audience. Here is a simple mental structure that can keep your message focused:


Start by clarifying your objective of the conversation. Your overall objective may be ‘to be hired’ or ‘to sell your product’ but the objective you want to express here is why you are reaching out to this person in pursuit of that larger objective. For example, “I am contacting you in application for…” or “My colleague Joe advised me that you are the best source of information on…”.

Choose the right tone for your audience. Should you have high energy or quiet confidence? Be the cool professional or more personal? Be detailed and factual, or visionary and passionate? What can build the emotional connection and credibility with your audience so that they want to follow-up on your request?

State the background information that connects your objective to your offer. Watch your target as you deliver this message to gauge where you are having impact. Your introduction becomes the groundwork of your discussion. Ignite the interest in your audience so they further build your case, not you.

Offer something: a compelling explanation or vision for how you will be able to serve your target audience. Even if your suggestion does not fit what they need, having a suggestion gives them something tangible to discuss.

To close, be sure that there is a clear and specific action that your audience can take to move things forward.

Making an effective pitch can have as much to do with what you don’t say, as what you do say. It doesn’t communicate everything your audience needs to know; rather, it should communicate just enough to get someone wanting to learn more about what you are offering.

Here are some key tips to keep in mind:
1. Be clear on your objective.
2. Be confident about what you are offering.
3. Understand your audience, check assumptions.
4. Choose the right time, right place, right messenger.
5. Appeal to their values not yours.
6. Choose relevant and accurate facts.
7. Don’t state opinion as fact.
8. Don’t assign emotions to the other person.
9. Respect their power to say yes or no.
10. Make them feel good about saying yes!

The more you deliver it, the clearer your story becomes. As one student said when I asked to think about his target audience, he said he would first target 4 or 5 people who were friends or ‘plan B’ contacts – to try out his message and hone it for when it really counts. Sound advice. Practice and feedback. That’s how it will come together.

What are your thoughts/experiences on pitching your story?

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