How to... Pitch ideas like a stand-up comedian

Want someone to invest time and money in your business idea? Here are seven ways to ensure the joke's not on you.

A business owner? It's likely you've had to pitch to win time and money in your idea. And i'ts even more likely that you've experienced the feeling of when it's bombing. But securing investment and having people who believe in you is important, so how can you up your game? 

Here are a few tips that will help you pitch your ideas like a stand up comedian…

1. Get funny

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about laying the LOLZ on thick. Believe it or not, the art of pitching shares a lot of parallels with the art of stand up comedy. Whether you’re pitching an idea, a product, or a service, you need to grab attention and hold it, getting them nodding along and relating, before going in for the kill. Papa CJ, an executive and entrepreneur coach, who is also a world renowned stand up comic, says:

‘You also need to understand that sealing the deal isn’t necessarily about how good you are at what you do, but about how well you tell your story’

2. What’s your narrative?

Creating a narrative for yourself can help you both when you’re developing your pitch, and when you’re performing it - because even if your pitch style is informal, it’s still a performance that reflects your values and personality. 

Comedian Michael McIntyre plays the bumbling, middle-class family man, so when he delivers his lines we’re already aware of the tone. And because of the persona he’s adopted, it likely impacts what he writes about. So, who are you in your scenario? Are you a visionary? A saviour? Defining this can help you add value to a pitch situation, and give depth to when you’re selling. 

3. Make it clear

In comedy, if your audience doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, you’ve lost them. Cue heckling. Steer clear of jargon and abbreviations, unless they’re fundamental. If they’re unavoidable, it’s best to say them longform, once, the first time they’re mentioned, and then abbreviated thereafter. 

It’s a good idea to do a ‘local sense check’ too. Is anything in your pitch offensive or off colour? Different sayings have different meanings in different places. 

4. Practice

In front of a mirror, in front of your family, or recorded by yourself and played back. Check your timing, look at what you’re doing with your hands, and identify weak points in your delivery. There’s an urban myth that Beyoncé watches every one of her performances back after the event, and if she sees a movement or facial expression that she doesn’t like, then she never does it again. Total pro. It also helps that you know your pitch material inside and out, so that you can deliver confidently without notes. That being said…

5. Don’t be afraid to adapt

In comedy, it’s hecklers. In your pitch, it might be a potential client or stockist who jumps in with an awkward question, or who keeps looking at their phone. In these cases, don’t ‘stick to the script’. If they question something that you know you’ll be covering in a few minutes, just acknowledge it and provide topline information without giving everything away. If you notice peoples’ attention drifting, ask them a question to engage them directly. Using their name when you address them is a good idea too, as they can’t ignore it. 

6. Get to the punchline as soon as possible

From watching dozens of comedians over the years, Papa CJ noted that those who ramble upfront lose the audience quicker than those who deliver a punchline within the first 15 seconds. He recommends starting your pitch with something that adds immediate value:

“Our pilot has been proven by a $2,000,000 revenue in the last 3 months.” With that, you’ve instantly established credibility. Now they are excited to be there and interested to listen to the rest of your pitch.”

It’s a teaser, a hook. Avoid waffling about how excited you are to be there right at the beginning, particularly if they’re a new potential and you’ve not got much time. Speaking of which…

7. Keep it short

We live in a world of increasingly short attention spans, and people’s time is precious. Putting a time limit on yourself sends a signal that you value it. You don’t want to get booed off stage before you’ve got going. Plus, it focuses your intentions. If you’ve only got five minutes, what are the most important, persuasive things you need to cover? 

Look at how you can reduce the amount of slides you have in a presentation. Can any be replaced with an easy-to-digest diagram or infographic? Or maybe you can replace what’s on screen with an interactive link to supporting information they can go through at their own pace. 

Make sure you’re landing your key points well. Recording yourself will help you judge whether you’re getting this right, and the effect you might have. 

Find out how Sook can help you with your big idea (no pitch required). Contact miles@sook.space and check out our Spaces here.

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