The Perfect Pitch

This Monday, classmates in the Special Topics in Non-Profit Management class gathered to decide which of the 27 local organizations we would select as our service learning partners for the semester. To help us choose, each organization took five minutes to introduce themselves, pitch their project and win us over.

27 organizations. Eight students… Tune in Tuesday at 9 for the new hit reality show from the makers of Survivor.

Well – maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but the stakes were high. The organizations we selected would have our no-strings-attached assistance for 4 months. As graduate students, we offer fresh insight into strategic planning, fundraising, a marketing overhaul – whatever the pitched project might be.

I have to admit – it felt pretty good to be on the other side of the presentation for a change. Not just because the pressure was off, but because we had the chance to observe the best techniques for delivering a persuasive presentation. Some tips I’ll keep with me next time I’m the one holding the laser pointer:

Tell A Story

Many competent presenters introduced themselves, their organization, and the proposed student project, and these presentations were perfectly fine. But the best presentations this week – the pitches that still stick with me – told compelling stories.

One presenter shared the story of the organization, starting with “In the heart of Buffalo, there is a little, red house…”

Another group performed a “Day in the Life” skit the both explained the organization’s purpose and demonstrated the need for a student’s support.

Yet another presenter told a story I won’t soon forget about an unthinkable trauma that inspired the organization’s founder.

Storytelling is a powerful thing. You can certainly be successful explaining or describing your mission, but nothing is more impactful than demonstrating.

Have A Plan

It doesn’t matter how many presentations you’ve given or how comfortable you are behind a lectern: the audience can always tell who has prepared. With only five minutes to present, the strongest presentations shared the main points, didn’t ramble and left room for questions.

Some of the groups went overtime – took 10 or even 20 minutes to present. But here’s the thing: though they shared four times as much information, they also demonstrated that concise, clear communication was not among their strengths.

Keep It Simple

My guess is that all the organizations in our classroom on Monday night had a handful of projects that could have used our help. Some of the organizations offered three or four different opportunities, so our heads spun in a jumbled fundraising-event-planning-strategic-insights-social-media-marketing knot.

The intent may be to offer flexibility or show you’ve thought of many different options, but nothing beats a clear, focused idea. If you’ve spent some time planning and crafting a compelling story, your simple idea will stick with your listeners. Ah, the art of the pitch.

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