The Art of Pitching

The Art of Pitching

We have all – at one point or another – had to endure a dreadful presentation that almost put us to sleep: the presenter talked in a slow, monotonous voice; the presentation was read word-for-word; a laser pointer was shaken back and forth across each slide like a nasty red insect in a frenzy; the text in the slides was too small and too dense; the images were dark and didn’t clarify the point that the presenter was trying to make; to name but a few atrocities visited upon the unwitting audience. Hopefully, we are not also guilty of some of those common errors.

The recent Market on the Edge event at the Innovation Summit in Cape Town provided a forum for people to exchange ideas, to showcase their innovations and products, to meet with business leaders to discuss marketing, and to present their ideas to a general audience. The latter was managed as a “pitching den”, a competition which judged the innovators and the potential of their ideas, with cash prizes to help further develop the ideas into products.

Unfortunately, the “pitching den” was located downstairs and thus wasn’t in a focal spot. Therefore, the audience was smaller than it could have been. However, there was a good turnout of participants pitching their ideas. The judges were very positive and encouraging of all of the talks.

What was surprising was how poorly so many of the ideas were presented. The ideas themselves were mostly great, showing lots of innovation and hard work by the inventors. But this didn’t carry over in the pitches. Many of the presenters had almost no stage presence, didn’t sound all that enthusiastic about their work, or merely rushed through a set of slides in the allotted time. When asked what they required to take their ideas to the next stage, many could not even say whether they required more funding for developing the idea, whether they required marketing and advertising, or whether they needed money to make a prototype. One presenter even admitted that his brother had dared him to sign up the night before, so he had done so merely to take on the challenge.

Several years ago a reality TV programme called The Dragon’s Den was aired on television. Contestants who were usually product designers pitched their business ideas to wealthy entrepreneurial businesspeople (the dragons). The aim was for a contestant to obtain funding from the dragons successfully in order to develop their ideas into commercial products or services. Because the dragons were going to invest their own money in this venture, they were extremely tough on the contestants, asking all the relevant questions and many uncomfortable ones, too. If a contestant had come across like some of those at Market on the Edge, they would not have survived five minutes of the interview. The truth is, pitching an idea successfully, and attracting funding for that idea, is an art.

The point is that South Africans are very creative and innovative, and come up with great ideas. However, what is often lacking is the ability to convince others of the potential of those ideas. What is perhaps really required to further innovation in South Africa is some form of coaching in the art of pitching, a course teaching people how to communicate ideas effectively, and then a “pitching den” where they can have a dry run and receive advice and more guidance. This would go a long way towards ensuring that great ideas don’t die a silent death before they have even seen the light of day.


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