How Do I Pitch an Idea That Actually Gets Heard?

Glad you asked:

by Adam Dachis

Dear Lifehacker,
I have good, sometimes great ideas from time to time but I don’t really know how to get anyone to listen. Usually I start and I can see there attention fade away after a few minutes. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or how to keep people interested. What can I do to make my pitches more interesting and get people to actually listen to them?

Sincerely,
Pitch Imperfect

Dear PI,
Making a great pitch only requires an understanding of the person you’re pitching to, a knowledge of the pros and cons of your own idea, and a lot of practice. Not one of those three things is hard to come by, but if you don’t have much practice pitching well it can seem a little daunting. Pitches also vary in length depending on the situation. Generally speaking, you start by making a short pitch and then, if you do well, you’ll have a chance at a longer one. First, let’s go over all the things required to make a great pitch and then look at how to actually give it.

Know Your Audience

Generally speaking, you can assume a couple of things about your audience (i.e. the person or persons you’re pitching to):

  1. They’re busy.
  2. They hear a lot of ideas on a regular basis and most of them are bad (or irrelevant to them).

As a result, people who hear pitches regularly have often lost their hopefulness and optimism in regards to new ideas. They know there’s a chance you’ll have a good one, but they also know that chance is statistically slim. On top of that, they’re busy and hearing an idea that has a good chance of being bad isn’t an exciting prospect.

In many cases, you have the cards stacked against you. This upsets many people because it’s intimidating and feels unfair, but it’s important to sympathize. The pitch recipient wants to hear a great idea more than you might think. They love great ideas, but don’t necessarily expect them. It’s important to understand their position so that understanding comes across in your actual pitch. Consider what it must be like to hear bad ideas several times a day when you’re worried about getting things done so you can get home to your family (or other aspects of your personal life). Imagine taking the time to hear a bad idea and realize you not only wasted your limited time but also now have to give someone bad news. Even if the pitch only lasted five minutes, there’s a fairly high emotional cost with being the bearer of bad news several times a day. Nobody likes being that person because it’s stressful. You wouldn’t like being that person. When someone says “sure, pitch me your idea,” they’re willing to risk that for you. To return the favor, it’s important to understand that situation and tailor your pitch accordingly. (How you actually do that is something we’ll discuss a little later on.)

 Aside from this general assumption, specifically who you’re pitching to matters. Are you pitching to someone who can instantly write you a check and make your dreams come true, or to a lower-level executive who simply vets ideas on a regular basis? Perhaps you know the person, or even work for them. Take your relationship and their abilities into account. Clearly state what you hope to gain by making your pitch and do not ask for anything they can’t provide.

Read it all

This is, quite simply, the most helpful article we’ve read all year, regardless of what kind of idea you’re pitching where – and, you’ll notice, we’re at the end of the year. Even the comments are helpful. Read this! Read!

One thought on “How Do I Pitch an Idea That Actually Gets Heard?

  1. geraldsanford says:

    Look, been doin’ this for 50 years, still doin’ it; forget about ‘PITCHIN’! Write the entire script. Beginning to end just like it was going into production in a couple of days. And do whatever you can, short of using deadly force, to get someone to read it. (But keep deadly force in mind.) I’m tellin’ ya, I wrote a dozen scripts before finally selling one. And to this day I’m still at it. Although it is a little easier — having 5 made — but not much. Simply put, for an unknown to sell a “pitch” well… But lottery tickets instead. gs

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