Practicing the pitch: The fine art of persuasion

While many students were just waking up one Saturday morning in October, a hearty group of 40 students gathered at University of Akron to learn the fine art of the elevator pitch.

Dr. Scott Shane from Case Western Reserve University coached these eager innovators at Pitch U, a program designed to coach students on the pitch elements that most effectively attract the attention of potential investors.

A team of judges recognized the most persuasive pitches of the day with prize money.  The primary goal of the elevator pitch — so named for the short duration of an elevator ride — is to earn an invitation to pitch in more detail.

Given the 90-second constraint of the typical elevator pitch, these short bursts of information usually tackle a single message. Shane encourages students to focus on using powerful words, conveying confidence and maintaining eye contact, all aimed at earning the respect and interest of potential investors.

Shane believes that the “overall concept of the elevator pitch is universal. The best pitches are succinct and to the point — otherwise people will tune you out. The message has to be compelling demonstrating cohesive content and appealing style.

The key goal of the elevator pitch is to persuade without overwhelming.” The pitch is a critical skill for the entrepreneur to be practiced, refined and mastered. Shane has developed pedagogical materials to instruct aspiring entrepreneurs in the key elements of delivering a compelling pitch (available online at www.bdmorganfdn.org).

Honing the pitch
Across Northeast Ohio, students of all ages are practicing their pitch skills. While impressing investors is certainly a valid reason to perfect the pitch, this skill has applicability to other aspects of life — confidence building, clarity of message and logical thinking for children.

Young Entrepreneur Institute (YEI) developed the Selling Bee competition in 2016, recognizing six winning pitches in the K-4 grades and six in the 5-8 grades for sharing their venture ideas, with charity t-shirts, pet cage cleaning and the LED jacket among the standouts.

Similarly, YEI organized Teen Pitch Tank for high schoolers with promising business ideas. Five lucky winners were selected from a pool of 300 entries representing ideas such as a safety tracking bracelet, specialty socks and a finger-activated locker combination.

At the collegiate level, students at Kent State University (KSU) are learning the true meaning of the elevator pitch as they deliver their pitches during an elevator ride to the top of the KSU library – a ride that ascends 12 floors.

Julie Messing, KSU Director for Entrepreneurship Initiatives, shared her vision for the competition: “We started the Elevator Pitch Competition as a way to get more students engaged. Students can compete with an idea pitch or a personal pitch.

We feel it is equally important for students to pitch themselves — this skill has potential to translate to many different environments. It is intended to be an easy-to-enter, confidence-building event aimed at preparing students for the next level.”

Whatever the reason, honed pitch skills will be a powerful competency to add to your toolkit, no matter where you travel on your professional journey.

Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO at The Burton D. Morgan Foundation