Pitch Perfect: Women Entrepreneurs Getting to Yes With The Right Ask

Anyone who has spent time watching “Shark Tank” on ABC-TV can tell the difference between a spectacular pitch and a major flop.Whether or not the idea volley is picked up by one of the more desirable sharks—and of course by that we mean Barbara Corcoran or Lori Greiner—knowing how each entrepreneur got to yes can help any woman entrepreneur and leader in her pitching.And that can be a pitch for funding, inclusion at a conference, keynote invitation, networking group, media submission or a collaboration. The first thing that has to go – and this is tough for many women entrepreneurs— is the humble apology and stalling in getting to the point.I have read so many emails that start with, “I am sorry to bother you, and I hope I can ask you if it is OK if I inquire…” No.Stop apologizing. Take a stand and get to it. But make sure your pitch is polished.[bctt tweet=“Stop apologizing. Take a stand & get to your pitch. #WomenEntrepreneurs” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Practice, practice, practice. Every word matters, so get comfortable knowing that you won’t nail your pitch the very first time you do it in front of the mirror or your friends,” advises Karina Diehl, director of community affairs for MillerCoors,Diehl listens to pitches from entrepreneurs for the Miller Lite Tap the Future, competition “which is celebrating its fifth year and is currently searching for innovators with an unwavering commitment to making their dream a reality,” according to RollingOut.“As you practice and write out your thoughts, you’ll find better language to communicate your idea,” Diehl tells Yvette Caslin of Rolling Out. “Trust the process and give yourself plenty of time to develop an outline, write your pitch and practice before the big day.”Just how important your wording and your tone are as a female entrepreneur—or anyone asking for money in a pitch or proposal—is spelled out in a new study published in the Harvard Business Review from professors at Sweden’s Lulea University of Technology and Halmstad University.“We observed closed-room, face-to-face discussions leading final funding decisions for 125 venture applications. Of these, 79 percent were from male entrepreneurs and 21 percent.  were from female entrepreneurs. The group of government venture capitalists observed included seven individuals: two women and five men,” according to HBR.The findings exposed a gender gap in credibility in the pitching.“Aside from a few exceptions, the financiers rhetorically produce stereotypical images of women as having qualities opposite to those considered important to being an entrepreneur, with VCs questioning their credibility, trustworthiness, experience, and knowledge,” the researchers write.“Conversely, when assessing male entrepreneurs, financiers leaned on stereotypical beliefs about men that reinforced their entrepreneurial potential. Male entrepreneurs were commonly described as being assertive, innovative, competent, experienced, knowledgeable, and having established networks.”Knowing that as a female leader with a great idea, you are already facing stereotypes and gender bias, that may serve as impetus to make your pitch all the more polished and effective.I have been working as a senior leader with The OpEd Project, a non-profit with Public Voices Fellowships at universities and foundations across the world as well as core seminars and public programs all over the globe with the mission that the” best ideas no matter where they come from deserve to be heard.”The process involves pitching not just for commentary, but for other expressions of thought leadership and ideas across all platforms. “No one owes you their attention” is a mantra with The OpEd Project, with advice on their site on just how to catch and hold a decision maker’s attention with your idea.According to The OpEd Project, you need to address these concerns: “How do you get someone to listen to you in the first place? How do you establish credibility, capture interest, and convey the immediate relevance of your point of view – quickly and decisively? Pitching can happen in lots of ways, but very often it is done by email.”As someone who pitches her own ideas and those of others perhaps a dozen times a week or more, here are tips on how to offer the perfect pitch.

  1. No gimmicks. You will not get the greenlight because you followed the CEO on Instagram and discovered she likes licorice so you bring her a bag. Gimmicks like costumes or gifts can be creepy in person. References or attachments in emails can seem awkward and odd. Be professional in every aspect of your pitch whether it is in the flesh, digital or by Skype or Zoom. [bctt tweet=“No gimmicks. Be professional in every aspect of your pitch. #EntrepreneurSkills” username=“takeleadwomen”]

  2. No apologies. Do not say how busy you are and did not have enough time to make the pitch better or say you know it can be improved and blah blah blah. Just start. Do not clear your throat, jump right in.

  3. Who cares? Identify the problem, the need, the gap your idea/service/talent fills and talk in measurable and finite language. Do not say, “Many people have this problem.” Do the research, say how many millions, where they are and attribute the source of your facts. Give dollar amounts, exact numbers, definite years. Deliver the big idea concept of what the impact will be and why it is important.

  4. Why is now the time? Explain the urgency and timeliness for your project or idea. This is the ideal time to speak about your idea, act on your idea or get your idea funded. How does the timeliness relate to the larger cultural context? Is there a deadline? Do people need to know about your idea in the next six months or five years or something will happen that is detrimental? You need to establish relevance now in the time and space where you are. It is not enough to say people are talking about it, you need to show and demonstrate that people need a solution. Make sure you establish that what you are offering is hot and necessary now.

  5. Who are you? Say who you are, what your expertise is and how you are the perfect human being to choose for whatever it is you are proposing. Be specific. Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead explains in her 9 Leadership Power Tools, the first tool is simply to “Know your history.” When offering your credentials, give hard facts, as in how many years you have spent researching this, how many years of experience doing this and all the awards and recognition you have received. Explain your affiliations and your successes in measurable outcomes. For instance, if you are proposing a talk on social media reach at an industry conference, explain how many followers you have on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

  6. How is your idea different than anything else available? If your topic or idea is indeed very popular and so many others are in on this, what exactly sets you apart? Explain precisely what you add that no one else offers. Do the research and compare yourself and your idea to what is out there. Explain why your idea is better and the problem that it addresses or solves, the niche that it fills.

  7. Why are you pitching to this person/company/audience? Customize the pitch for the audience. This is different than gimmick avoidance; do the research and personalize the pitch, knowing why this person or organization is a good match for your idea. “Know your audience. Change your pitch per audience. Crunch into the guts based on who’s watching,” Scott Kitun, CEO of Technori tells Salesforce. “Too many people create one pitch deck and pitch the exact same thing to every audience. Instead, do your research. Customize your deck per audience. It’s not a huge time commitment, and the results could pay dividends.”

  8. Do it fast. You do not want to bore anyone, and you do want to provide the perfect balance of information and answers. If it is a written request or pitch, make sure it is about 100 words or so. Include supplemental links, references or further information. If it is in person, no more than 10-15 minutes for a pitch presentation. Save some of the information for the Q & A.

And because it is baseball season, we are going to use a corny metaphor. Remember that you may have to pitch a lot of foul balls before you deliver the perfect pitch. Be rehearsed and smooth and keep it simple.[bctt tweet=“You may have to pitch a lot of foul balls before you make the perfect pitch #WomenEntrepreneurs” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Simplicity is vital for a good pitch session,” Dan McCarthy writes in Young Upstarts. “Keep the pitch as simple as possible, focusing on the product (or idea) and what it can do. Avoid jargon and technical talk.”Lob your idea into the world and see where it lands.