By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker
You have probably dreamed about and worked toward launching and growing your company for years. You know it inside and out, and it is as much a product of you as a child. Friends and family probably helped you figure out what distinctive competence you have, and you harnessed it. Professional connections from your industry gave you their votes of confidence in the form of pre-orders, and now you have a source of revenue. But how do you reach new people, outside your existing circle?
You need to talk to everyone, everywhere about your business. You never know what opportunities your communication will unlock. Learning to talk about your company to strangers is a valuable skill, and it’s best if you learn to do it without boring the pants off everyone. In other words, you should learn to get to the point quickly.
We’ve all been there: cornered at a social gathering – or by the water cooler – by a zealous parent who is eager to regale you with every detail of his child’s (or cat’s) life and accomplishments, complete with visual aids.
We’ve also been on the other end of the spectrum, where trying to get a conversational flow going about someone’s life outside the office is like pulling teeth. Neither is a communicative success, and both are laborious in their own ways.
We can fall into the same traps when talking about our companies. There are, however, several steps you can take to save yourself and your audience.
Be Flexible About Time
Have pitches available for every time constraint. That sounds more daunting than it really is. You need a 30-second version (a 10-second version for bonus points!), a five-minute version, a 15-minute version, and a half-hour-long version to have most bases covered.
The longest is probably the easiest. Your company is your baby, and you want to talk about it just as much as new parents do. (If you’re on Facebook, you know that’s a lot.) The key is to figure out what people don’t need to hear about to understand the value of your company.
Then comes the editing to the shorter stories. You are, after all, telling the story of your business vision. That winnowing down from the longest version can be tough, but it’s worth taking the time so that you can tell a great prospect exactly where your company’s greatness lies before the elevator doors open. (Hence, the name “elevator pitch.”)
The best of all possible worlds is to feel so comfortable with the various levels of detail that you can move seamlessly from the 15-minute version to the tail of the 30-second version when your conversational partner suddenly has to dash, or expand from the five-minute to the half-hour-long story when you’ve piqued interest.
Be Flexible About Expertise
What I mean is that you need to be able to talk to someone in your field and someone from outside it. You never know who has a friend in need of your product who is in a relevant field. It’s worth being able to talk to everyone to find a potential customer (or investor). What you absolutely don’t want is to talk down to your listener with phrases like, “Oh, you probably wouldn’t understand,” or any variant thereof.
B2B companies run into this challenge more often because the behind-the-scenes nature of what they do can make it unlikely that a layperson would know the industry terms. Make sure you have versions of your company pitches that use general terms as much as possible, as well as versions you can use with people from your industry.
After many years in your own area, you may not even realize you’re using jargon. If you think you’ve taken out all the specialized words from your spiel, test it on a friend from another field.
Don’t Be Rote
As much as I think you should practice your pitch in advance, take care not to sound like Ben Stein in his famous role as Ferris Bueller’s teacher. Rather, practice channeling your passion for your company into a useful and enthusiastic conversation that can open up new business doors. Think of honing your pitches as refining them into pure gold.
Let your love for what you do shine through when you talk about your company.
Clear understanding of what you do and how you do it, coupled with the abiding impression that you are devoted to your work, is a winning combination. Give that gift to yourself when you talk to new people by refining your message, pitching it appropriately to your audience’s understanding, and letting your listener see how much you believe in your business.
Now, go out there and make some new friends!
Do you have a good tip for refining your company’s message? Let us know in the comments!
Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.
Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.