The Elevator Pitch: Want to Make a Point? Just Be Yourself

One incubator has this to say about making a pitch: “We advise you not to read from a prepared script. Just talk spontaneously as you would to a friend. People reading prepared scripts seem dumb.”


A few weeks ago I made a 5-minute pitched at NYC Startup weekend. Unfortunately, it was video taped. I thought I had done pretty well and made my point. But as the video showed, sure I made my point, but I most certainly didn’t get the message across. There’s a big difference.

Your lips are moving. You’re making points. You’re showing all sorts of colorful charts. And you’re doing it all in 4 minutes and 47 seconds, less than the allotted time. Great job! But you know what? You didn’t connect with your audience. You looked rehearsed and unauthentic. You were tense and almost too aggressive because you just had to get through your list of points. You looked more like an uptight bible-beating preacher than a calm, relaxed, and pleasant Obama.

Net: You didn’t connect. You lost your audience.

Watching that video made me cringe.

So tonight I had an opportunity to redeem myself. In my application to an incubator, my partner and I were asked to prepare a 2 minute video. The incubator’s advice was not lost on me:

“We advise you not to read from a prepared script. Just talk
spontaneously as you would to a friend.
People reading prepared scripts seem dumb.
Unless you’re a good enough actor to fake spontaneity,
you lose more in the stilted delivery than you gain from a
more polished message.”

So I gave it a shot. At 11:53pm, we took just one take of our video recording, and captured every “uhm” and “uhh”, every unrehearsed and sometimes awkward pause to grope for facts in my tired brain, and every backtrack to remedy incorrect word usage. All fumbling with technology was laid bare for all to see. Was it better? You be the judge.


I did not hit all the points. Didn’t talk about projected revenue growth. Forgot to mention our phase 2 and 3 releases that would blow our competition away. Even forgot to mention that I’m leaving my cushy job to work full-time on this startup. But I think it was a more approachable and more genuine delivery. That tired guy who’s burning the midnight oil, trying to get a little help from an incubator or investor, is like your cousin, neighbor, or college friend. He’s imperfect, unpolished, and unrehearsed–just like he always is when he’s hanging out in your kitchen and sipping on coffee.

I liked my imperfect pitch more than the rehearsed one. The takeaway: you can follow all the rules you’ve been taught about public speaking–don’t shift your feet, eye contact with audience, don’t turn your back on them, use big gestures if you’re small framed, don’t forget to smile, etc.–but if you don’t connect with your listener and project your heart, you’re not getting through. As Pink Floyd once sang, “Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re sayin’.” Now if only Al Gore got this advice 9 years ago, he might’ve actually become President.


About the author

Jeff is a Certified Trained Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with a focus on finding new ways to apply technologies related to process improvement – situations which demand entrepreneurial thinking, a deep understanding of the financial impact of technology decisions, and collaboration with strategic partners. Jeff belongs to IBM's Business & Technical Leadership Resources (BTLR), a program which grows IBM’s future leaders with the “best potential.” At IBM's Retail Emerging Business Opportunity Group, a corporate "startup", Jeff launched an SMB-focused business which later grew to account for 20% of EBO revenues worldwide. He was awarded IBM's Innovator Award. Jeff holds a Masters of Science in Engineering from UPENN's Management of Technology Program, co-sponsored by Penn Engineering and The Wharton School