How to Pitch Your Brilliant Idea Without Making the People You Need Feel Stupid

When you need your boss or an investor to back your cutting-edge innovation, explain how it is useful in language they will understand.

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By John Boitnott • Oct 10, 2014 Originally published Oct 10, 2014

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The most innovative employees and entrepreneurs often need to cross a knowledge chasm separating them from the people they need to impress with their cutting-edge ideas. You can't afford even a hint of condescension, but explaining big ideas or complex technology to someone with a totally different background is difficult.

Just to make this harder, let's imagine you will need need to squeeze this educating, informative moment into the equivalent of an elevator pitch. How can you do it? By following this step-by-step guide. Feel free to customize as you see fit (after all, you're the one with the big idea to share!).

1. Trim the fat

When you're first presenting an idea, you need to pique their interest. It doesn't matter how you came up with the idea, who else thinks it's awesome or how many hours you've spent working on it. If they care, they'll ask. Stick to what it'll do for them (Make money? Improve the company's efficiency?), how, and statistics to back it up. Steer clear of fluff and buzz words.

Related: Coax the Right Tech Nerd to Partner With at Your Startup

2. Use laymen's terms

"If we utilize LSEO and run an analysis to check for black hat tricks while abiding by the latest Penguin algorithm updates, that can boost our search rankings." If your higher up doesn't have a clue what SEO means, let alone LSEO, they've already tuned you out. Use laymen's terms, which are determined on the knowledge base of your target. That brings us to number three:

3. Research your target

You can find out all sorts of things about your CEO or potential investor online. Determine where their expertise is and play to that if possible. For example, an investor who clearly has a penchant for apparel companies and an Finance MBA from Harvard will be more open to finance-based benefits or ways your product may tie in to their existing partnerships.

4. Practice on a different Luddite

Find someone to practice your pitch on who preferably has a similar lack of knowledge or appreciation about the technology you're presenting. Make sure they're open to providing honest feedback. They'll ask you the questions your target might be too embarrassed to ask, make you dig deeper, and they'll let you know if it sounds like you're talking down to them.

Related: Say What?

5. Balance the big picture with tangible results

"This is going to revolutionize home automation!" sounds like an infomercial pitch. CEOs and investors are interested in the how, why, when and where. Stick with figures, statistics and tangible results both short and long-term. The average consumer can see right through pitches, which means successful business professionals are even more sensitive to it.

6. Appeal to all types of learners

People learn and absorb information in a number of ways. Some people need to see visuals, some need to read directions, and others need to physically do it to best retain it. If possible, appeal to every type of learner—if you're pitching a new toy, give one to the higher up. Provide graphs and images that are easy to dissect. Practice giving your speech.

7. Tell them exactly how it will benefit them

It's great that your idea is going to benefit the public, your peers, current customers, etc., but what's it doing for the CEO or investor? Of course, a CEO will consider a benefit to the company a benefit to her, too. But for investors, you really need to highlight their likelihood for profitable return or how it complements one of their existing interests.

8. Use examples people can relate to

If you don't know how well versed your target is on the subject at hand, use common examples. When describing your new SEO strategy to people who don't know what that means, say something like, "Search engine optimization is a set of best practices to get websites to the top of Google rankings. This strategy can potentially increase our website visitors by XYZ percent. When someone Googles "calligraphy pens', we need to be in the top 10 results."

That is something any business leader can understand.

Most importantly, showcase confidence. Enough practice and preparation will allow you to present a calm, easy-going yet self-assured demeanor, even against the most intimidating investor, CEO or boss. It's time to brush off your showmanship skills and deliver, you might only have one shot.

Related: How Tech-Shy Sectors Are Shedding Their Luddite Ways

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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