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At The Southern C Summit (a creative business owners confab) I got to watch some amazingly creative and smart small business owners pitch to leading magazines. By “pitch” I mean that terrifying experience where you both introduce yourself and explain what you do or propose. It’s the dreaded job interview equivalent of “So, tell me about yourself.”
The purpose of this pitch was for leading home magazines (including Better Homes & Gardens, Domino and Traditional Home) to choose some of these Southern brands to feature for their national audiences. The pressure was HUGE!
In 3 minutes you can say 450 words if you speak really fast. But speaking at that speed sounds a lot like the disclaimer at the end of an Adderall ad.
Even if you’re not pitching your story to Time magazine, getting your point of view down to 3 minutes is a killer skill that lands you in some highly interesting places (like funding, green lights and promotions.)
Beware Cognitive Load
People, even the brightest, can only take in so much at a time. John Swell’s Cognitive Load Theory encourages the presenter/storyteller to connect the dots for the audience, to curate the information so that the listener is better able to understand and receive the message. People are terrible at at reading and listening at the same time, so leverage relevant visuals.
To make it worse, you probably hate talking about yourself and perhaps the most terrifying question when meeting someone who can help you (aka an Influencer) is:
“So, what’s your story/plan/project?”
First off, from the listener’s point of view, the things that immediately turn me off or tune out include.
- Things I know are not true (any premise I disagree with)
- Things I don’t understand
- Things that make me think
- Typos, errors, lack of preparation (aka “winging it”)
You: I’m a senior application analyst in charge of application integration.
Person who can help you: Excuse me please, *yawn* I have to use the bathroom.
You: I’m in charge of user adoption experience. I have this idea to develop a project to strategically align executive roadmaps for our users to adopt strategically and then optimize their experience.
Other person: I have no idea what this person is saying but I don’t want to look stupid or prolong this conversation by asking for clarification.
How are you different?
A brand-you story tells what you do and how you are different from other people who do the same thing. You can use this brand-you story to invite investors, sponsors or new clients into your world. Some people call this an “elevator pitch” but I call it a “story” because… that’s what it is.
Brand-You Template: I work in the _____ industry. I specialize in _____ because _______. I’m currently working on/with _____.
Example: I work in the leadership development industry. I specialize in helping quiet leaders and business owners express their ideas with less stress and more impact, for any audience. I work with people who dislike talking about themselves, especially in front of a group. I help them to feel more at ease in their pubic personas so that they are heard.
I just finished an audience engagement workshop at a pharmaceutical company in North Carolina with a group of scientists and IT folks which was super fun! I think Mixonian is the only training experience that starts the day with confetti.
What motivates you?
Make sure your “because” or “so that” part includes WHY you do what your do or WHY your project is needed. That why also needs to spell out the benefit(s) of adopting your project or point of view.
Keep your brand-you story brief, conversational, and inviting. That means explaining your point of view in a way that makes sense to the person you’re talking to. You don’t have to explain every single aspect of your job or project. You don’t have to “sell” anything. You just have to tell what problem you solve or what pain point you mitigate.
Now you can add specific details by phrasing “What makes this/me different is_____________________________.”
Write out your brand-you story. Then practice saying it a few times, as if you’re having a conversation.
Does it sound like you? Can you get it out?
If it feels too long and winding, it’s time to edit. Say less. A lot less. It’s OK—remember, you don’t have to explain everything about your job (every product line, every service, every type of project, every subtle nuance) in this short brand you story. Give a little taste of how you’re solving a problem, not a onslaught of words.
Now, test your introduction on a few people—ideally existing clients or colleagues, perhaps a mentor. Do they ask follow-up questions (“Ooh, tell me more!”) or do they look confused?
It can take a bit of refining before you wind up with a compelling brand you story that feels right. Practice and you’ll get there.