6 Reasons Your Pitch Stinks and How to Fix it

September 18, 2012

9:00 am

The average entrepreneur will spend as much as 30 percent of their work time pitching for new business. The above-average entrepreneur will spend 40 percent because they understand that work is a hustle. The exceptional entrepreneur will spend 20 percent of their work time promoting because their pitches get results. Here are 6 reasons your startup pitch might stink, and how you can fix them, save yourself time, and get what you want.

1. You ramble

You are excellent at making your point, and you do it over and over and over again using various examples and analogies. Give your audience the benefit of the doubt; they are smart enough to get it the first time and appreciate you respecting their time and minds. I’m guilty of this myself: I once belabored what a revolution is to the point that it was the only word people remembered from my keynote at Gnomedex, which brings me to my next point.

2. You literally repeat filler words over and over and over, literally

We all saw Vice President Biden use the word “literally” incorrectly several times in his speech at the Democratic National Convention. In fact, he used it nine times, and it’s the only thing most people can remember about his speech. “Literally,” “actually,” “very,” “really,” “heretofore,” “inconceivable,” and such filler words are not doing anything for you except taking up space. They’re just as useless as saying “um” and “ahh” to fill the space between sentences. Use any word too much (and incorrectly) in your pitch and it’s natural for your audience to zero in on your repetitive pattern. Humans are programmed to recognize patterns; make the pattern they recognize in your pitch be one that matters.

3. You’re conceited

All you talk about is you. Although practicing your pitch in front of a mirror is a good idea, once you have an audience it’s no longer about seeing you. Your job is to be the audience’s mirror. How can you pitch your idea through their eyes and experiences? Talking for and about yourself doesn’t even go over well when you are invited to tell your life story. Good presenters know that the audience is always the subject of their presentation.

4. You don’t know your audience

You wouldn’t send out pitches to daddy bloggers about how hard motherhood is, or pitch investors the same way you pitch college kids, would you? What works for some doesn’t work for all. Take the time to find out who your audience is and customize your pitch – if you’re pitching to investors, find out at what stage they usually invest and in what verticals. If you’re delivering a keynote from a stage, find out what kind of people are attending. If it’s a reporter you’re pitching, how does what you do relate to the beat they cover? If you don’t take the time to get to know your audience, your audience will make sure everyone knows what an idiot you are. Case in point: C.C. Chapman’s Pinterest board entitled “Idiots Who Pitch Me.”

5. You don’t ask for what you want

This goes along with rambling – giving a pitch or presentation without a clear ask is as good as not giving the pitch at all. Be honest with your audience – what do you want them to know, and what do you want them to do with that information? Do you want them to give you money, write a story about you, or share your excellent product with their friends and family? If they are important enough to pitch to, they are smart enough to know you aren’t just there to shoot the breeze. Ask for what you want. Your audience will thank you.

6. You run and gun

I get it, you are a busy person, and all the people you admire most look like they just shoot from the hip when they present – so you’ve decided to run and gun it. Guess what: unless you are the .001 percent of the population that is naturally gifted at this stuff (and trust me, if you are reading this, it’s not you), then running and gunning is the worst idea ever. Practice: practice alone and in front of colleagues, practice with flashcards and without, but by all means practice.


There are three stages of practicing to be aware of; don’t stop until you have experienced all three. The first stage is the one where you suck: you say everything out of order, trip over your words, and are defeated with every “actually” you mutter to put yourself back on track.

The second stage is the one where you sound like a robot. This is where most people give up on practicing. They realize they sound like a robot or a 5th grader at a science fair, and they assume this whole practicing thing makes them seem less authentic and human than they were when they started.

The third stage is the most fun: the rocking stage. This is when you have your pitch down so well that you add dance moves and obscene hand gestures to illustrate your points. (If your audience likes that kind of stuff, keep it in. If not, chuck it; true rockstars, like Mick Jagger, know the moves that have audiences begging for more.)

Guest author Melissa Pierce is the founder of Pitch Refinery, an online community of peer- and expert-reviewed presentations. Pitch Refinery’s first live conference is taking place next weekend in Chicago, where you can learn about and practice pitching, presentation, and media relationship skills. You can purchase tickets here.

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