When you are a project owner, manager or a sponsor you are often asked what the project is about. It is important because bosses, employees, customers, and partners all need to ‘buy-in’ and become excited about your idea. They will form an initial impression in three minutes or less. This first impression is the lens through which everything else is viewed.
If you are not able to clearly communicate what the project is about and why you are doing it, then the chances of getting the necessary funding or support for the project will rapidly diminish. Busy executives are bombarded with ideas and proposals many times every day. If they don’t understand it quickly the opportunity is lost — even when you have a great idea.
A well-articulated message or an ‘elevator pitch’, while no guarantee of success, is an important part of selling an idea. The problem is that many people don’t have a prepared pitch or story that they can tell and so the opportunity to sell an idea walks out of the door.
What is an ‘elevator pitch’?
An elevator pitch is a crisp message that communicates key features of the project in a succinct way so that others can easily understand it. Imagine if you get asked about the project in the lift going up to your office. Can you communicate what the project is about before the elevator gets from the ground to the tenth floor?
A good elevator pitch covers the problem you are trying to solve, who will benefit, how you are going to solve it (the solution approach), what efforts and investments are required (time, resources and money) and the next steps (what support you need). An elevator pitch is intended to provide just enough information to interest others in your proposition without overwhelming them with a flood of information.
An elevator pitch is a tool to help you communicate your proposition or your idea to others who have a stake in its success. To start, you need to have done your homework and have a clear idea about the ‘project’. It is worth spending some time with your team to prepare answers to the following basic questions.
Step 1: Describe the problem or the opportunity
- What motivated you to launch the idea? What is the key problem or need? A real life story or scenario about the problem helps the audience understand the issues in personal terms and agree that it is an interesting idea.
- Who else is doing something similar? What problems or success have they encountered?
- How long would it take?
Step 2: Define your solution
- What is your approach to solving the problem? Where do you start? When do the first results appear?
- Is what you are delivering different from what others are delivering? In what way? What are the alternatives?
- Who would be the users or customers? Would it be easy or difficult for them to use or adopt?
- How would the solution benefit the customers, save time, save costs, increase quality or generate more revenue? Are the benefits easy to see?
- When would these benefits be delivered? How much would it cost?
Step 3: Describe the implementation plan and risks
- What are the key activities in the implementation?
- What are the key decisions that need to be made?
- Who will do the work (internal staff or suppliers, for example)? Do we have the skills or expertise to do the project?
- Who will oversee the implementation? Who is involved in making the key decisions?
- What are the major deliverables or milestones? When will they occur?
- What are the key risks and how you are addressing them?
Step 4: What is required and is funding available?
- Do you have enough funding to do the project?
- Where is the funding coming from?
- Do you have full funding or are there progressive rounds of funding? What are the milestones (or success measures) for additional funding?
Step 5: Describe the support needed to ensure success
- Who is supporting this initiative? Why are they supporting it?
- What type of support are they providing?
- How do you plan to communicate and sell the project internally? What opposition do you see?
Step 6: Consolidate, practise and deliver
There are several questions to consider in preparing the pitch. Based on your situation only a few will end up as part of the pitch. But having considered the questions, you will have fully analysed the opportunity and be ready to face questions that may arise.
The pitch is a tool to educate and communicate, so be clear; don’t use jargon. Create a tag line that captures the essence of the idea, for example ‘loans approved in five minutes’ or ‘eliminating errors by data entry using smartphones’. Focus on the opportunity problem you’ve encountered and why your solution is the best for providing value and benefit to the customer. Make the argument compelling.
A typical closing statement may be: “We are solving an important problem, with a solution that works. We understand the risks and challenges ahead. We have a team that can execute. We need X dollars to reach Y milestone. We need your support to help us achieve this success.”
Keep the pitch concise and conversational. Don’t come across as if you are lecturing or giving a long monologue; it needs to be credible. Avoid the temptation to overpromise or underestimate the cost or efforts. Use hard numbers wherever possible to demonstrate that you have done your homework. Be specific about the benefits and the support or resources needed for success. Tailor your pitch to the needs and interests of your audience while keeping the basic message consistent.
Finally, practice delivering your pitch on your team and colleagues. Time it to keep it short but relevant. Show passion and confidence. Ask them to join the crusade.
If, as a result of your pitch, they want to know more and invite you for a meeting you have succeeded in your task!
Hemant Kogekar is the principle of Kogekar Consulting. He has previously held CIO/IT director positions with Suncorp, Citigroup and Franklins. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles by Hemant Kogekar:
- Managing the talent pool
- Jump start your CIO role
- Tips for strategic planning success
- How IT leaders can improve communications
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