December 4, 2014

Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas

December 4, 2014

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SoftLayer’s Catalyst team hears startup pitches constantly.

We support more than 50 accelerator programs in the Global Accelerator Network, the TechStars programs, five hundred startups, and more. We hold office hours, offer pitch practice, and attend demo days—in short, we hear a lot of pitches.

Condensing the essence of how you’re changing the world into a five minute sales pitch, while still including other key elements like the business model, traction, early wins, team, and “the ask” is incredibly difficult. There’s a lot of ground to cover and very little time to do it, especially when you consider that likely half of your audience is focused on their phones.

A pitch must be concise, informative, and attention grabbing. The worst thing you can do is pitch like George Lucas’ dialogue in the Star Wars  prequel trilogy movies—clumsy and over-explaining.

  • Yoda: Always two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice.
  • Mace Windu: But which was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?

This particular quote is the epitome of terrible dialogue because it communicates the same thing multiple times; the second line is superfluous. I don’t need Mace Windu to re-explain to me exactly what Yoda just said. I have ears. I’m paying attention. Imagine how much more powerful that scene would be with just the first statement.

Most of us have a natural tendency to over-explain a point, but by doing this, we insult the intelligence of our audience. Plus, over-explaining eats up precious time and causes the crowd to disengage. I can’t think of a worse combination.

If you find yourself saying any of these phrases, cut them immediately:

Let me show you . . .
I’d like to tell you . . .
I’m going to . . .
I think . . .
For example . . .
As I said before . . .

Simply put, don’t tell me you’re going to tell me something. Just tell me.

George Lucas did write some great lines of dialogue. Watch the Dagobah scenes in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda’s lines are pure brilliance. The message is simple and powerful, which makes it one of the most memorable lines in cinema.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

During a pitch, you’re not writing a screenplay, so you don’t want to leave your audience guessing, but you still need to explain the problem, the solution, and why you’re the best at solving it. Don’t leave your audience confused from a lack of information, but don’t insult their intelligence by telling them you’re going to tell them something. Just tell it. Or better yet, show it.

You want your pitch to be like a Lightsaber: an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

-Rich

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