I recently spoke at LeWeb, a large technology conference in Paris that's filled with entrepreneurs pitching to venture capital investors who are looking for the next big thing. In such situations where many people are vying for attention, the entrepreneurs who stand out are the ones who deliver their pitch in less than a minute, but still make their points quite persuasively.
Unfortunately, many small-business owners don't think enough about their company's story and how it comes across. I can say that with confidence because I've witnessed many ineffective pitches at conferences and chamber of commerce mixers. At the last chamber mixer I attended, I asked one person what he did. His response started with, "That's a good question..." Five minutes later, he was still trying to describe his new company, and I was trying to find a polite way out of the conversation.
As a communications coach, I've developed a four-step exercise that will work for any company or product. You must simply answer each of the following four questions in no more than two sentences:
1. What do you do?
2. What problem do you solve?
3. How is your product or service different?
4. Why should I care?
By keeping each answer brief, you will develop a succinct story that should take no more than 60 seconds.
Let's use the example of an entrepreneur who is starting a housekeeping franchise. Based on those four questions, the company's story might sound something like this:
"We own Five Star Cleaning, an eco-friendly housekeeping service that pampers you and your home [what your business does]. Typical cleaning services make you prep your home ahead of time, supervise to prevent theft and hang around for hours while the cleaners do their work. Because we require no prep, this saves time right off the top, and we are bonded so our service is worry-free, allowing you to go about your day [what problem does it solve]. And, we always send a minimum team of three to get the job done quickly [how it's different]. Imagine coming home from a long day and your laundry is all done, your bed has been turned down and there are fresh flowers awaiting you. That's the extra pampering we offer that sets us apart from all the rest [why you should care].
Your first sentence should be a "Twitter-friendly headline." You should be able to describe your product or service in 140 characters or less, short enough for a tweet. In the example, Five Star Cleaning bills itself as an "eco-friendly housekeeping service that pampers you and your home." But many small-business owners don't create product descriptions that are short, catchy, distinctive and memorable. The Twitter exercise will help. If you can't describe your product in a sentence, go back to the drawing board.
If you can tell your story in well under 60 seconds and have some extra time, be ready to relate an example or story that makes your product or service more tangible. You'll notice that in the cleaning service pitch, we offered examples of pampering, such as turning down bed sheets.
Don't let your idea die because you've lost the attention of your audience. Grab your listeners in the first 60 seconds and they'll want to hear more.