Perfect Pitch


I was rifling through my old Evernote notebooks looking for a few bits of info I hadn’t copied over to OneNote just yet when I came across the following. I kept the original title, which (rather ironically) is very close to another expression that has an altogether different meaning1 now that I’m at Microsoft.

At the time I wrote this (March 2015) I was trying to even out a number of idiosyncrasies displayed by my colleagues at SAPO when preparing (or delivering) presentations in English around our fledgeling service offers. I remember putting together a sample Keynote deck with a lot more tips, but lost track of it.

Nevertheless, given the number of non-native English speakers out there vying to capture investors in any number of ways (yeah, I’m looking at you guys in that startup over in the corner), I thought this was more useful out there than in my recycle bin - just bear in mind it was written for a very specific audience, and in the context of pitching existing, live products/services to decision makers.

The basics of a product pitch:

  • What is your product
  • Who are its target audience
  • How do people find out about/use it
  • Why they should use it

The order is not fixed, but starting with “Why” is usually a very bad idea - it hints that you need to justify your product’s existence. Finishing with “Why” helps close the pitch, and you should build up to delivering a solid final argument during the presentation.

Overall, you should:

  • Cover the Four Ps: Product, Price, Promotion and Place from both a customer perspective and from an intenal (operational) perspective.
  • Know your numbers - we’re not in Shark Tank (yet), but the idea here is that you should be able to reason about them instead of just spitting them out.

Don’t. Just Don’t.

  • Do not, ever, tell the long, rambling saga of your product. Nobody cares about that you did two years ago (or five, or ever besides now and maybe, just maybe, when you got started).
  • Do not wax lyrical about how nice your product is. Either you have concrete examples of how users, developers and partners can benefit from it, or GTFO.
  • If you put up more than four bullet points in a row, you’re doing it wrong. Group things into logical parts of your proposition/pitch.

On Pricing and Freemium

  • If it’s free in some fashion, state it up front. Then follow-up with a very tight monetization story.
  • If it’s not free, explain what users get by signing up and what your ARPU/NPS is. If you don’t have ARPU/NPS figures, break down your overall revenue into subscriptions/partnerships/advertising.
  • When you say “community”, I hear “freeloaders”. Be very careful when you present revenue figures from community-driven services - if possible, show that costs are nil (or close enough as to make it plain that the community is doing the monetizing for you).

As Seen on…

  • Unless you’re an indie company or have one product, never mix community references (tweets, blogposts) with “real” reviews. Highlight print and high-traffic website reviews, use the rest as filling.
  • Contextualize references. Nobody knows what [insert name of obscure magazine] is outside your country, or who [insert name of niche blogger] is in finance circles. Do it effectively, and convey a measure of reach/importance when mentioning press.

Mind Your Language

  • Research your target audience, key vocabulary, typical sentences, etc.
  • Understand the nuances of British and US English. Remember your audience hasn’t grown up learning English by watching TV shows.
  • Brevity and clarity go a lot farther than rambling on about something.
  • Never, ever use Google Translate to translate anything of consequence. Industry or technical terms are inevitably mauled to death.
  • Never use metaphor, popular sayings or dialect. The risks of misunderstandings outweigh the benefits of seeming hip - you either have a good story to tell or no amount of style will save you.
  • Do us the kindness of running your presentation through a spellchecker, and, if possible, a grammar checker tuned to the particular flavour of English you’re targeting. Those wiggly lines are not cosmetic.

Finally, on English copy, don’t use possessive forms (‘s) without being absolutely sure of what you’re doing:

  • Single possessive nouns take an apostrophe and an “s”, pronouns (hers, his) don’t2.
  • Pluralized possessive nouns take the apostrophe after the “s”.

  1. “Pitch Perfect” is somewhat of an ingrained practice, and a lot more than a research subject↩︎

  2. This was one of the bits that aggravated me the most. That and things like people’s tendency to write “et viola” instead of et voilá, complimentary instead of complementary, etc.  ↩︎


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