How to make the perfect pitch... from the woman who just landed John Lewis
“You always have a fear of the worst thing that could happen when you’re pitching. Maybe you freeze, or you forget everything you know about your business, maybe you embarrass yourself in front of important people, people who could change your life, or maybe your notes fly out of the window. I did all of those things. All in the same night. It was horrible, but it also changed everything”. Since February this year, Rachael Dunseath (@myrooskincare) has undergone a radical pitching transformation. From being unable to pitch without a handful of notes (until they very literally flew out of a window) she can now tell you everything you need to know about her allergen free skincare range in under 60 seconds and leave you wanting to know how you can be part of her incredible success. In the last few months alone she’s been picked to be part of a small collection of Yorkshire businesses to be stocked in Leeds’ new John Lewis store, won over £11,000 in competitions, secured for Angel investment, successfully pitched for an exclusive one on one lunch with the Head of Entrepreneuring at NatWest and landed a spot in the Great British Exchange showroom in Harrogate. She is a pitching prodigy. So, when Rachael offers to share her pitching tips, you sit up, pay attention and pick up a notebook:
“I’ve had really big journey with pitching. Entrepreneurial Spark [Ed note: Rachael successfully applied to be on growth accelerator programme, E-Spark] put a lot of emphasis on it. You have to pitch to get in, you pitch to stay and you can pitch for prize money too. I think pitching is so hard, especially when you’re pitching about your own business, because you’re so passionate about it, you’re so invested. I used to pitch with notes but the whole point of a pitch is for it to be over in 60 seconds so if you’re constantly looking at the paper in your hands then you can’t answer people’s question in soundbites, you don’t know it.
When I first started at E-Spark, even though I didn’t like pitching, I thought “I have to throw myself into this”. I had to try and improve. So I entered one of the first Leeds E-Sparks Hatchery competitions. The top 3 pitchers had an opportunity to pitch in front of a room full of influencers at the E-Spark Leeds launch event later that month. So I went for it. We talk a lot about visualisation on the E-Sparks programme and, of course, as I’m driving to the event I start to visualise things going wrong. And that’s exactly what happened. I froze up, got really flustered and I had to go off and take a break. I popped my notes down and took a sip of water. But when I look down all I see was my notes flying off the windowsill and out into the dark. Gone. So I didn’t have a choice really, I had to do it without my notes. It still didn’t go brilliantly and I certainly didn’t win but I don’t know that I would ever have done a pitch without notes if that hadn’t happened. So I went from there really. After that I took every opportunity to pitch.
It’s amazing how much of a crucial business skill it is. Aside from the investment and John Lewis and the Great British Exchange, I met both of my mentors after pitching at a breakfast. It makes you credible and interesting. Now I know that no matter what anyone asks me, I’ve got that information memorised. Now, when I go to networking events, it’s amazing how much I notice other people that can’t tell you what they do, how they’re still talking two minutes later. When I won the Opportunity Knocks competition, I thank E-Sparks for their emphasis on pitching. There was no way I could have done that a year ago. The structure of a good pitch is really useful in a lot of aspects of business life; a press release, a blog post, a tweet: What’s the big headline? What’s the problem? How do we address it? And there are so many pitching opportunities too, they don’t just happen on a stage. It’s when you’re asked to introduce yourself at a meeting or when you’re networking. Take every opportunity and go for it.
Practice – it’s all in the preparation
Pitching really does get easier with practice. Start by working on your one minute pitch, everyone should be able to do a one minute pitch without notes. Now I have a one minute pitch, a two minute pitch, a five minute and a 10 minute one. Once you get those soundbites in your head you can start to think “who am I speaking to tomorrow? Ok, so I don’t need this and this isn’t relevant”. You can start to take out bits here and there depending on your audience.
Keep it short
If you can’t succinctly get your business and your ask across in 60 seconds, go back to the drawing board. It doesn’t mean you haven’t got a business or a viable proposition, it just means you haven’t nailed your pitch yet.
It’s not a trick
It’s ok to be nervous but if you’ve been asked to pitch, it’s not a trick. No one wants you to actually fail.
Remember that no one else knows what you’re going to say
If you miss a bit out or you stumble, don’t worry about it. If it’s a really big point, it will probably get picked up in the Q&A. But chances are no one will notice because no one knows how your pitch except for you.
Always have an ask
Whenever you’re given a chance to stand up in front of a room of people, even if you don’t think it’s a traditional pitch, you should have an ask. Why are you there? Who do you want to meet? What do you want to get out of a meeting or networking event? That way people know what you're after. Having an ask has opened a lot of doors for me.
Recognise your achievement
When you’re finished, give yourself a pat on the back. Pitching is hard – anyone who says otherwise is a fibber.
Review your work
Go through what could have gone better and learn from it. But, if things don’t go right, take the learnings and move on. Don’t beat yourself up.
Once you crack it, it’s such an amazing skill. Embrace it!”
- as told to the LEP
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