Building bridges towards others: How to convince your audience with your pitch?

by Christoph Räthke

Few people are naturals when it comes to public speaking and presentation. At the same time, presenting ideas and business concepts convincingly becomes ever more important. Not only startups but also established corporations depend less on “order-and-obey”, and more on the power of storytelling to win over colleagues, managers, or business partners. But how to gain and use this power in the most efficient way?

The best-known storytelling format used in the startup industry is the “pitch”, sometimes better known as the “elevator pitch”. Imagine that you find yourself in an elevator with someone important to your success, a potential investor for instance. What would you need to convince this person about your idea and proposal? Yes, you would need to present what you have in such a short and poignant version that it should do the work before elevator reaches its destination, and this important person should invite you saying: “Tell me more about it!”

To achieve that, I have developed a format called “Pitch Bridge” and taught it to countless startups. My portfolio companies use it and we work with it both at the quarterly Chemovator Bootcamps and in the incubator itself.

The Pitch Bridge brings three concepts together:

1. There are four content segments you need to cover: problem, solution, market, and team.

Each segment contains three to four pieces of info, not more! To describe the problem, for example, you need to specify the target group (for whom exactly is this a problem?), the quality (how badly does it hurt?) and the quantity of the problem (how often does it occur?). When presenting the solution, you need to describe its innovativeness, core features, and above all, its ability to precisely solve the problem you described initially. The best way to start putting together your argument is by tearing out four pages from a notepad, headlining them “problem”, “solution”, “market” and “team” and writing down the three main points under each one of them.

2. No matter what you pitch, you always start with a BLUF and end with a CTA.

BLUF stands for “bottom line up front” and means that before starting your story, you deliver a precise, one-sentence statement about what you aim to do and why. In corporate presentations, people tend to assemble and present a huge pile of information that only at the very end concludes with something like “…and that is why we have developed an x to help y achieve z.” BLUF demands that you put that statement first, not last.

CTA signifies “call to action”, and it is all about telling your audience how exactly it can help turn your proposal into reality. Every pitch, be it in front of colleagues, line managers, investors, or a group of peers, is an opportunity to recruit support that shouldn't be missed. You are likely to find that most listeners will react very positively to your call. People love to join meaningful causes.

Again, for preparing it, I recommend tearing two more pages from your notepad, calling them BLUF and CTA, and writing down one statement for each.

3. Start the sequence of your pitch with your most powerful statements.

By now, you have six sheets of paper with ball-pen bullet points on them. BLUF, the Pitch Bridge´s entry pillar, comes first whereas CTA, the outro pillar, comes last. What you want to do now is to determine which of the four content segments sends the strongest message about the promise of your proposal and your chances to be successful in it.

This means different things for different proposals. Most people will start with describing the urgency of the problem they are tackling. But in some cases, the biggest kick lies in having found a very lucrative market niche. Think of Zalando: When they pitch their business, they don´t even pretend that there is a problem they are solving. Instead, they describe a massive, untapped market opportunity – selling designer boots in India, say – and follow up with presenting the right team to realize that opportunity. So, in the Pitch Bridge format, their first stepping stone after BLUF would be the “market” sheet in this case.

In other cases, it is the composition of your team that sends the strongest message. Particularly at the very start, when you haven´t found out all details about your problem or built a solution yet, it is the team of peers you have assembled, their dedication and unique expertise, that is your strongest, most tangible asset – and that you should put down as your first stepping stone across the Pitch Bridge.

Whatever you choose, the goal is that your audience gets excited about your proposal during the first 30 seconds of your pitch. In contrast, what you should definitely avoid is to show your strongest points in the middle or at the end of your pitch. By that time, many of your listeners will have stopped paying attention.

Keeping that in mind, lay out the four notepad sheets in the sequence that you think will get listeners hooked as early as possible, and start presenting to yourself or your peers along the bullet points you made. Get feedback, maybe realign the sheets and start again. And again…

Watch yourself as you become ever more confident. Experience the moment after a successful Pitch Bridge, when your audience embraces your proposal, offers their support and compliments you on your excellent presentation skills!

Do you want to test and improve your presentation skills first? Join Chemovator Startup Bootcamp where you will get more insight into the Pitch Bridge method!


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Christoph's Background

Founder of Berlin Startup Academy Recognized coach, author and mentor in entrepreneurship and company building.

Christoph joined Chemovator as an Entrepreneur in Residence in 2018 and brought 20 years of experience as a founder, investor, and author in the startup scene. Pondering how to persuade BASF-employees to step forward with their ideas and their interest in entrepreneurial ways of working, he became an integral part of the Chemovator Startup Bootcamp, which we developed to make the atmosphere and methods of Chemovator tangible for everyone in BASF. Whether our participants decided to apply to Chemovator or opted for continuing their work in their company roles, the goal was providing tools that would help to innovate in any case.