Better Pitches

Having read a few thousand grant applications I can tell you that most suck.
John Bailey, a former grant maker and current policy advocate, said something similar noting that most policy proposals were also weak and wandering. In contrast, he noted, the venture pitches at accelerators like Y Combinator and ImagineK12 are uniformly good–and often great.
We reached out to Geoff Ralston, ImagineK12 co-founder and former Yahoo exec, and asked him what kind of coaching they provide. Turns out Ralston wrote a great pitch manual which states that the best pitches have 4 core qualities:

  1. Clarity – the pitch is clearly and simply stated.
  2. Excitement – the opportunity makes one sit up and listen.
  3. Informative – it teaches listeners something they did not know.
  4. Memorable – investors remember who you are and what you do.

Ralston suggests a few questions to ask yourselves including: What are we building and for whom? Why hasn’t this been done before? Why is it hard to do what you are doing? Why is this an opportunity not to be missed?
Key to a good pitch is to capture the audience–draw them in and bring them along. Ralson says the best pitches “are captivating, informative, funny, and fun.”
The most important advice for a live pitch is practice, practice, practice. Only one speaker–chose the one that speaks clearly with confidence.
Ralston said, “It’s definitely worth looking at what Paul Graham from Y Combinator had to say about great pitches.” He said, “Explain what you’re going,” and “Don’t try to seem more than you are.”
Some good basic advice from Graham includes, “Don’t put too many words on slides,” and “Specific numbers are good.” Ralston notes that a slide should have one main point and adds, “Use pictures rather than words whenever possible, and make them relevant and additive to your point.”
Graham suggests telling stories about users and concludes by saying, “Make a soundbite stick in their heads.”
Ralston reiterated the need for practice, “these manuals, while helpful, are not sufficient. At both YC and Imagine K12, presentations are worked over ad nauseum until they are as close to right as we can get them.”
Grantseeker. With more grant competitions (like NGLC) requiring decks and videos, Ralston’s advice is relevant for grant seekers.
More broadly, policy advocates should take note of this advice to clarify and practice their pitch. As Ralston suggests, “tell them as directly as possible what to remember.”
“Applicants who are able to describe their need and solutions succinctly tend to resonate more with reviewers,” said John Bailey, “There is a reason why we call them “elevator speeches” – because it forces one to strip out what is unnecessary in order to simplify and focus the message.”

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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