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Pitch competitions and elevator pitches have been a frequent topic of my blog, but a recent experience has compelled me to address the topic again. Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a virtual conference hosted by the incredible Leading Cities organization. Leading Cities is an international nonprofit that connects cities around the globe with the innovations that solve our most pressing challenges.

The event provided promising startups with the opportunity to pitch their companies to each other and potential investors. From developing low-cost and quickly-built housing to generating affordable green electricity, these entrepreneurs are developing true innovations—ones that might actually save us from ourselves!

The exercise was to explain what they do in five minutes. As you would imagine, different organizations took different approaches, some successful, some packed with far too many facts and figures for such a short amount of time.

To be fair, this exercise is not easy in the least. Whether it is a five-minute pitch competition, a 30-second elevator pitch, or just a simple introduction to explain what you do, here are five suggestions for making your pitch successful and not mind-numbingly dull.

  1. Understand the goal. Before beginning your oration, stop and verify what you want to accomplish. It is never to impart everything there is to know about your work. Ever. The goal of your first description of your work is always to start a relationship with someone. Share with them only the details about your work that will get them emotionally invested enough to want to learn more.
  2. Know your audience. In order to inspire people to want to learn more, you have to understand what is important to them. Do you know how they feel about the problem you’re solving? For example, is the problem you’re solving causing them frustration, disappointment, or anxiety? Is it costing them money? Make that determination, then speak to how your work addresses their needs and wants.
  3. Remember that less is more. Ditch the slides. Think of them like an illicit drug that might make presenting easier but will do serious harm in the long run. If you do feel the need to have some visual aids, make them simple, single sentences or representative images of the point you’re trying to make. Even in a long presentation, no one wants to see bullet points in small fonts or graphs that are only readable from two feet away. No one. Remember, the goal is to start a relationship between them and your work, not between them and a slide deck.
  4. Include your why. Sharing why your work is important does not distract from your pitch; it makes it more powerful. Your why is integral to creating that emotional connection with your audience. What would you rather learn about? A solution created by someone who is tracking the rising temperature of the planet or by someone who witnessed her family’s village ruined by drought?
  5. Emote. Along the same lines, share the positive emotions that the work inspires in you. Why does this work get you out of bed in the morning? What about it brings you the most optimism? What brings you joy? Enthusiasm is contagious. Take off that emotional mask and exhale!

Remember, when you pitch your work, you are starting a relationship with your audience. Once the relationship is established, you can dive deeper into the data. Think about your pitch as coaxing a squirrel to take a nut from your hand. Before they will take the nut, they need to trust the hand that’s offering it.

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