If you're making a 10-minute presentation and worry that's not enough time to get your ideas across, forget about it. Presentation coach Sam Horn says you actually only have 60 seconds to intrigue the decision maker and gain attention for your ideas. So don't cram everything into a tedious 10-minute, breathlessly delivered talk. Follow her approach to cut the ideas to a 60-second pitch. You might also want to acknowledge the person you're pitching is busy and announce you'll only take seven minutes of their time. Relieved and intrigued, they will pay attention.
The Washington, D.C.-based Ms. Horn, author of recently published Got Your Attention?, calls herself the intrigue expert. She was involved for many years with the Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii, which gave writers of books and screenplays the chance to meet with the industry top echelon and pitch their ideas. But mostly, they flopped. "I saw people who worked months and years not getting approval as they couldn't make a compelling message," she said in an interview.
They had packed in far too much material. They had rehearsed that stuff to death. And as she watched the decision makers' eyebrows, she could plot the chances of success in the first 60 seconds – that tell-tale body part would usually signal lack of interest or confusion, rather than intrigue. If the presenters didn't surprise the decision maker with something intriguing in that critical opening minute, the deal would be lost.
So learn from Kathleen Callender, founder of PharmaJet, a needle free injection technology, who moaned that she had only 10 minutes to pitch a roomful of investors. "Kathleen, you don't have 10 minutes," Ms. Horn retorted. "Those investors will have heard 16 other pitches. You have 60 seconds to break through the afternoon blahs and earn their attention."
Here's what they crafted:
"Did you know there are 1.8 billion vaccinations given every year? Did you know up to half of those vaccinations are given using reused needles? Did you know we are spreading and perpetuating the very diseases we're trying to prevent?
"Imagine if there was a painless, one-use needle for a fraction of the current cost?
"You don't have to imagine it, we've created it. It's called PharmaJet and as this article shows…"
Intrigue was created by three elements that you can apply when pitching your boss, colleagues or clients:
1. Open with three startlingly relevant "did you know questions?" Introduce three things the decision maker doesn't know but would like to. It might include the scope of the problem you're addressing or its urgency, a trend, or an unmet need you're fulfilling. "You'll get eyebrows up," she says.
2. Use the word imagine linked with three attributes of your proposed solution that everyone would want: The word imagine pulls people out of their preoccupations and alerts them something important is happening. You don't have to be wordy here. Take Ms. Callender: "A painless, one-use needle for a fraction of the current cost." Punchy and intriguing.
3. Transition by saying, "you don't have to imagine it; we've created it. In fact…." Here you're winding up the guts of the 60-second pitch, and want to include some third-party testimonials that endorse your efforts.
Too many pitches, Ms. Horn feels, suffer from infobesity. "It's because we're taught math and science and reading in school but nobody teaches us to be intriguing," she says.
The elephant in the room in business communications, she believes, is that everyone is worried about how much time the discussion will take. If you don't address that issue, the recipient of your pitch will be anxious. But if you bring it up and indicate how little time you will need, you neutralize the issue. The decision maker breathes easier, relaxes and can listen.
To create a memorable rallying cry, she recommends a five step approach:
· Distill: Condense your message to eight words or less, telling people what they need to remember, feel, start or stop. Use a verb that encourages action. All top marketing slogans, she notes, are eight words or less. "If they can't repeat it, they don't get it. If they can't repeat it, they don't tweet it," she says.
· Rhythm: Find a beat to your words that encourages repetition. She points to the slogan, "what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas." It's word music.
· Alliteration: Use words that start with the same sound. Entrepreneur Jay Sorensen was surrounded by competitors selling "cardboard insulating sleeves" for coffee. He named his product Java Jackets. Here's three companies that also use alliteration in their name: Bed, Bath & Beyond; Dunkin' Donuts; and Best Buy.
· Rhyme: Try for some rhyme to catch attention and help people remember the message. "Rhyme is subline. If you want to be remembered over time, use rhyme," she says. The U.S. government caught on when its yawner Buckle Up For Safety campaign was changed to Click it or Ticket.
· Pause and punch: Pause for second or two before and after the most important part of your message, for emphasis.
All of this adds up to one word: Intrigue. Without it, nobody's listening.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter