Elevating Your Elevator Pitch

If you’re in business, you already know an elevator pitch is essential to your success. Being able to communicate what you have to offer (your unique selling proposition) is one of the first things organizations from start-ups to established global entities know is essential to success.

That doesn’t mean delivering an effective pitch is easy. Knowing what to leave out, of all the things you could tout about your organization, is always the difficult part. Furthermore, the work doesn’t stop there. Not only do you need to develop that pitch, you’ll need to periodically review it as your organization grows and changes to make sure it’s still working for you.

And what about the all-important delivery? It’s not enough to get the content right. You’ll also have to make sure everyone who potentially deals with your target audience, and certainly the senior executives and representatives of your organization, communicate your pitch effectively.

Keep these essential points in mind:

  • IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO’S CATCHING (“THEM”):  A common mistake in elevator pitches is to tout what your organization does best. That approach asks too much of your audience. It assumes your audience not only stays interested (often through org charts and client lists), but will then do the work needed to figure out the synergy between what you do and what they need. Instead, do the work for them. Due diligence is all about figuring out what the need is for any particular client and then crafting your pitch exactly where it’s likely to be the most effective; how your expertise can help them meet their goals, solve problems and stay out front of their competitors.
  • VARY YOUR PITCH: If you understand that “It’s All About Them,” then you know you can’t use the exact same pitch with every potential client. Yes, it’s easier to have top executives work out a pitch that everyone will then work off of in speaking to potential clients and other audiences. The problem is pitches are never effective if they’re only crafted top down. You’re going to have to allow your people, who are likely after all to be closest to those potential clients and their concerns, some latitude. Yes, you want your teams on the same page and familiar with key messaging for your organization, but remember to allow them to find their individual best pitch for individual clients. Don’t ask your executives to memorize a script. Ask them to internalize and absorb a set of values and messages about what sets your organization apart. Remember, this isn’t acting. You want your executives to be able to speak with passion and authority about what they truly believe.
  • PITCH PERFECT TAKES PRACTICE: Whether you choose a professional coach or tackle honing your performance on your own, there is simply no substitute for practice. Countless organizations complain there is no time to hone the pitch. If you don’t, it means you’re practicing that pitch in front of the client and no organization should be doing that. Practice also doesn’t mean simply emailing written materials around to the team either. It means being in the same room and hearing the pitch the way your target audience will, orally. No matter how tight the deadline, how busy the team, oral practice simply has to be part of your preparation routine.
  • DEVELOP SOME BENCH STRENGTH: Every organization wants to rely on its best come game day. However, this is a skill that takes some cultivating. Begin cultivating your next tier of talent by giving them some role in these oral pitches. They’ll need ongoing practice and ongoing feedback to bring their skills up to where they need to be.  Executives shouldn’t be waiting until they have “the title” before learning how to speak for the company with both internal and external target audiences.
  • IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER: One of the recognized great political orators of our modern day, Bill Clinton, famously had coaching before every major political speech throughout both terms in office. Recognized industry presentation greats like the late Steve Jobs famously practiced presentations as full productions, complete with story-boarding and onstage rehearsals. No one gets good and stays good at these oral skills without ongoing, frank and pointed feedback.

It’s hard to think of another skill that has as much potential to impact success as oral presentation skills. Devote the time you need to honing and developing them for yourself and for your organization.




Best Briefings: How To Deliver A Briefing Your Boss Will Thank You For

Briefing, noun brief·ing \ˈbrē-fiŋ\: an act or instance of giving precise instructions or essential information.

As usual, Webster’s definition is a useful starting point for helping us focus on the goal here. A briefing should communicate only the essence of what your target audience needs to know. As the briefer, you presumably know quite a bit more. To understand where your knowledge and your audience’s need to know intersect, begin by asking yourself about your purpose. Why does your audience need this information? How will they use it? What do they already know or assume about what they’re going to hear? Briefings are a no-frills form of communication that seems deceptively simple, but one that even senior executives can struggle with. Follow some basic rules to deliver the kind of briefing your boss will thank you for:

If your audience is to believe you know what you’re talking about, regardless of your title or position, you’re going to have to persuade them of that in your briefing. Your audience will have to hear and see through your presentation that you’ve selected the right information for them to consider. In other words, the recitation of raw data, no matter how profound or complex or enlightening, isn’t going to make your case for you. Numbers actually don’t speak for themselves (and neither do ideas). You’re there to provide perspective on the information. Even when presenting raw numbers, you’ll need to help your audience make sense of their meaning (are they more than expected, less? What are they comparable to?) Help your audience understand your information, not just hear it.

Remember your audience, any audience, does not want to know all you know and could possibly say on the subject. That’s true for any executive presentation. Briefings particularly however are a mode of communication that carry the assumption of being short and succinct. Let your audience guide you in the q and a portion (if there is one) into any further detail they require. (Even there, the answers need to be direct and brief, with an option for more explanation in a different venue if need be.)

If you’re preparing for a team briefing, first decide every member’s distinct role in delivering the information. You want the information to highlight both individual contributions and knowledge, as well as display your team strategy and a sense of cohesion. You can accomplish this by looking for places to back each other up with references to what’s come before and what the audience is about to hear presented from others, at the same time avoiding repetition. Make sure your briefing team participates in oral rehearsals and doesn’t just share written information. You want to experience the briefing the way your audience will, orally, so you can make adjustments to benefit them.

If you’re presenting your briefing using PowerPoint or handouts, remember those are visual AIDS, not the whole of the briefing itself. Make sure whatever materials you have are visually powerful and not mere words for your audience to read. Whatever aids you use shouldn’t take center stage or overpower you–the job of the briefer is all important here. Remember too that oral communication demands you be understood the first time. As FDR famously said, “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.

Pincus Group VP, Timothy Kenny Releases New Book

New Nonfiction Book By Timothy Kenny, Vice President of International Training for The Pincus Group

For Immediate Release:

In Far Country, Stories from Abroad and Other Places,  veteran USA Today journalist Timothy Kenny takes readers to places where there are “Dark Nights and Feral Dogs,” where Serb snipers shoot at reporters along a road called Sniper Alley and where a “Month in a Far Country” in the Caucasus is a teacher’s delight.

Kenny’s collection of creative nonfiction stories brings alive the places he has lived and the people he has known as a foreign news editor, Fulbright scholar and University of Connecticut journalism professor.

Far Country “is memoir,” Kenny notes in the book’s introduction, “an account of events that I witnessed and remembered. My intention was a simple one: to tell readers something about the ways in which unusual places are indeed, different, and why that is so.”

Trish Harris, editor of the Pea River Journal, says that in Far Country “the connecting thread is not the obvious adventure but human relationships. Each essay is a story we fall into, story after story connected through relationship and observation, from darkness to the next darkness. Kenny’s essays are not just reports from the front but a fascinating set of hard-won observations on any front, any complex of situations that any of us might encounter.”

The author, who was born and raised in Detroit, also writes stories “closer to home,” as he notes in the collection. In “The Fall of Detroit,” Kenny describes a city that has slipped from grace, and recounts his stunned and unbelieving reaction after years away. In “On Turning Sixty-Six and Six in Umbria,” he writes about the joys of raising a daughter who is sixty years younger than he is.

A reporter since 1972, Kenny began traveling abroad in November 1989, when the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the world’s political order and opened the door to a life spent observing other cultures and other lives in forty-five countries, as well as his own. He is currently of Vice President of International Training for The Pincus Group, which specializes in media and presentation skills training for executives.

Far Country is 152 pages long and includes photos. It is published by the independent Midwest publisher Bottom Dog Press, as part of its Harmony Memoir Series. Far Country is available at bookstores and online. The author will hold a series of talks and book signings at libraries and bookstores this summer and fall.

Review copies are available upon request. For interviews, contact Timothy Kenny at: Timothy.Kenny2011@gmail.com. Bottom Dog Press editor Larry Smith may be reached at Lsmithdog@aol.com.

Books by The Pincus Group Trainers:


Media 101 for political novices: Leave the Witchcraft Out of It

One would think in the 21st century, there might not be the need for a candidate for the US Senate to take to the airwaves to declare “I am not a witch.” One would be wrong.

Delaware candidate Christine O’Donnell already known for her widely-circulated past statements on masturbation (against it) and evolution (“just a theory”), felt it necessary to assure Delaware voters in her first general election campaign ad that, “I’m nothing you’ve heard.”

O’Donnell is attempting to counter a widely circulated ten-year old clip from her appearance on the late-night “Politically Incorrect” show, in which she talks about “dabbling in witchcraft.” Speaking directly into the camera, in conservative dress and pearls, to reach voters who might be concerned with those clips, O’Donnell promises to go to Washington if elected and “do what you’d do. I am you,” she assures.

Predictably the “witch ad” has “gone viral”, with spoofs of the unusual denial (including a MTV style version set to music), reaching far outside the confines of voters in the First State.

The denial of witchcraft has to be a first for a modern-day political candidate, but the lessons learned from O’Donnell’s big gamble are well-worn. They are:

  1. Don’t try to prove a negative.

    Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” declaration stayed in our collective memory long after our consciousness about the details of the Watergate crimes he was talking about. By declaring, “I am not a witch,” O’Donnell begs us to consider whether she is one, giving the accusation further credibility. The personal need to answer her critics is understandable but reaction is likely to be the exact opposite of what she intended.

  2. Grow some thicker skin.

    Politicians and would-be politicians will be scrutinized closely and made to endure no end of outrageous insult. To those who claim this is a new phenomenon, recall the 1952 Senate campaign when Claude Pepper’s opponent warned voters “His daughter is a self-admitted, practicing thespian!” While there are indeed times accusations must be answered, the ad puts O’Donnel even further into the bizarre camp. It’s important not to overreact, especially considering her own words were what started the controversy.

  3. They’re listening. Now what?

    Surely, there are some national issues O’Donnell would rather be talking about than masturbation and witchcraft. What she’s done is ensure just weeks before the election that she won’t be talking about them. She has failed, despite her notoriety, to deal with the perception that she’s not ready for prime time. Working to deliver a coherent message about her vision for her constituents would have worked far better to turn the negative attention into something positive. Unfortunately, being unable to articulate that vision makes it even more likely the attention will stay on the bizarre or unusual statements she’s uttered.

  4. Play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

    Ms. O’Donnell, I suspect, might admit live interviews and appearances are not her strong suit. This is what practice and preparation are for. In appearance after appearance, by even the friendliest of interviewers, and even on the most basic of issues, Ms. O’Donnell appears painfully flustered and unprepared. She may have benefited from more local media interactions before she was forced to face the much harsher national spotlight. Surely she would have benefited from some media training to work on how to communicate what she actually stands for.

  5. Try some humor.

    People vote for people they like. People like those who are comfortable in their own skin. Defensiveness and counter accusations wear thin. Some self-deprecating humor, coupled with some genuine and positive messages about her vision of change surely would have worked better for Ms. O’Donnell. Until and unless she can overcome her communication failures, Christine O’Donnell will continue to be defined by them.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive coaching firm offering training in presentation, speech, media and crisis communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Presentation Skills and the CEO: What Steve Jobs has that we could all use more of

When it comes to understanding the “show” in “show and tell” presenting, Steve Jobs was in a class by himself. The Apple CEO was known as one of the best presenters of his time and his powerful communication style set the bar for the impact best-in-class communications can have. True, the Apple Brand is unique, but there are best practices other senior executives and CEO can learn from in his widely-hailed product announcement performances. These include:

  1. Be a storyteller.

    Six of the most powerful words assembled in the English language are “Let me tell you a story.” Here we are, gathered to hear what we assume will be another boring presentation on company balance sheets with little connection to our own bottom line and suddenly, we’re riveted. A story, you say? Right or left brain, we’re drawn in. Make that story about where we’ve been as a company or group or organization, and about where we’re going, and we’ll stay riveted. Make it inspirational about what we’re poised to achieve if we put our minds to it, and it will be repeated and used over and again to convince others.

  2. Take it up a level.

    Don’t confuse presentations with meetings. When you present, do it “above the clouds”, not from down into the weeds. Stay away from small detail and the minutiae of decision making. This is not the time for an in-depth delineation of options rejected along the way, ledgers and balance sheets, numbers and charts that require detailed analysis and time for consideration. This is a medium for broad strokes and the background against which your audience will then consider the detail. Any time you’re tempted to say, “let me show you some detail on what that means”, ask yourself if your audience really needs to go there with you.

  3. Know your strengths.

    Steve Jobs doesn’t have to feign enthusiasm for I-tunes or I-phone applications. To watch him is to understand and be infected by his passion for his products. Too many executives stand in front of others presenting ideas they themselves aren’t moved by because “someone had to”. The problem is your audience notices the disconnect between the product, service or finding you’re touting and your own involvement in it. The lesson here is to understand, follow and demonstrate your strengths to others. Play toward your own passions and you won’t have to feign enthusiasm for your audience either.

  4. Show your professionalism.

    The kind of presentation performance that sways minds and lifts spirits doesn’t happen by accident. Devote the time you need for practice and polish. It doesn’t have to be perfect (Jobs has had his share of mishaps and technical errors). It does have to look like you know what you’re talking about and have put real thought into how to communicate these ideas to others. That means never “winging it” when people are investing their time into listening and watching you present.

  5. Show yourself.

    Don’t hide behind data or visual aids. Keep it simple and take center stage in your presentations. The real reason people give of their time and attention to watch you present in person, is to get something they couldn’t get on paper. Give them a glimpse “behind the curtain”, by allowing your personality to show. Yes, you will be judged, but that’s the point. Your audience has no other way of evaluating their leaders and determining whether what they see with their own eyes matches your reputation. By displaying confidence, mastery and your own personality, you can cement that hard-earned reputation right before their eyes.

Acknowledge the importance your speeches and presentations have in your executive portfolio. Embrace the communication challenge, and become a best-in-class communicator in your own right.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com