How to build a pitch the wrong way

Aug 05 2013

Building a pitch is hard. How do we even begin to cram everything we’ve learned over these past 12 weeks into ten minutes? More importantly, how are we supposed to get our audience to care as much as we do?

For Capitol Hound, we struggled all the way through building our pitch. The first question we tried to answer was how to get across to our audience what we’ve learned. We began by throwing all of our takeaways into one giant Google Doc. Each member of our group dug back through all of his or her research and threw favorite nuggets into the pot to be pieced together into a pitch later on.

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was wildly inefficient. What were we supposed to be looking for if we didn’t have the slightest clue of how we were going to say it? We then looked back to a meeting we had with Professor Laura Ruel, who teaches at the journalism school, at the beginning of the semester when she gave us the most basic outline of a successful pitch: Evidence, action and benefit. With this outline we set to work filling in the pieces. What was the evidence for our product, meaning what is the problem we are trying to solve? How did we take action in solving the problem, namely our product, Capitol Hound? Finally, who would benefit from our service and how?

After filling these blanks, we each chose a part and set to work writing our own, individual scripts for our parts. When it came time to present our first draft of our pitch, it was awful. Everyone was off. No one knew what anyone else was saying, and no one had any of the same answers to the questions we were peppered with.

Confused by the failure of our pitch and with bruised egos, we got back to work. Ultimately, we decided that the best way to fix our pitch was to have one person rewrite the whole thing. The main problem with our first draft was the fact that there was no single voice, but instead four single voices competing to get our points across. We assigned one group member to rewrite the entire pitch and see what she could do about combining our parts into a cohesive unit. It wasn’t perfect, and we were still reading, but we made sense together and we were able to work as a team to start shaping how our final pitch was going to sound.

After a few days of practicing with a script, we realized that visuals were going to be a key element to our presentation. Up until then we had downplayed the value of visuals, but between the complexity of our product and the length of our pitch we found that visuals were going to be important in keeping our audience engaged.

This forced us to change the way we looked at our pitch. For days we had focused on how we sounded and what we were saying, but now we had to incorporate another aspect in what people were looking at and illustrating the points we had worked so hard to make. But how do you illustrate  a lobbyist unsure of what’s happening at the North Carolina General Assembly? It came down to how to reconcile the visuals and our scripts into an engaging and informative presentation.

After countless iterations of the script and our PowerPoint, we’ve shrunk our presentation down considerably, and I have to admit, it looks and sounds pretty great.

Throughout the making of our pitch, it felt as though we had done everything wrong. The whole point of presenting is to make it seem natural, and what is more unnatural than memorizing a script? Why would we focus on the written aspect of our presentation before the visuals when the visuals are what we’re actually presenting? But really, these things needed to happen the way they did. We would have never reached the level of confidence we have now had we not gathered all of our ideas, translated them onto paper ourselves, translated it to paper again in a single voice, created visuals, and finally matched what we were actually saying to our visuals. It’s been a ride, but we’ve come out swinging. What you’ll see on Tuesday at the Reese News Lab Pitch Day has certainly been the result of a process, and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we have.

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