Friday, April 07, 2006

showmanship: how to pitch

Every few months an article appears with advice on how to give presentations like Steve Jobs. There's one from yesterday's Business Week Online edition making the Digg rounds right now (current count: 657 923 1236) that is a bit more lucid than other such how-to guides. I even sat through a pitch by Guy-san in which he described his great 10/20/30 presentation rule: 10 slides in 20 minutes using a 30-point font.

But there is only one Steve, only one Guy-san. You can't be them, and you have to give a pitch.

Coming off a panel discussion I moderated at Software 2006 earlier in the week in Santa Clara, I have decided to make this topic simple for you. If you want to give a good pitch, give the sort of pitch that you'd like to see. When phrased in those terms, some global realities become self-evident:

No one likes eye-chart slides. They demonstrate a laziness on the part of the presenter, and guarantee that few if any of the facts will be remembered. Blaise Pascal once apologized to a reader for having written a long letter, arguing that he didn't have the time to write a short one. Guy-san's 30-point font maxim forces you to be brief. It's good advice.

No one likes dishonest enthusiasm. Only a few people on the planet can run around a stage bellowing "developers" over and over again and get away with it. You're not one of them. If you feel good about the topic, let it show. If you don't. . .don't over-sell enthusiasm you don't feel, and keep your personal feelings far away from the pitch.

No one likes to be surprised. Off-topic mystery content doesn't help you any. This includes anecdotes, metrics, and off-topic lines of discussion spawned by off-topic Q&A.

No one likes to be confused. If you have to make a point that is built on previous points, make sure the logic works.

Laughter is universal, but humor is personal. If you insist on opening up with a joke, move to the Catskills. The sort of humor that works best is the humor of the obvious, and even better, humor about yourself. The best laughs Bill Gates has gotten lately were when he did a search on himself as part of apitch and found (perhaps on purpose) some not-so-flattering references to himself in a Celebrity Deathmatch.

Everyone likes a clean summary. When you wrap up, wrap it up in a bow. Then stop. And say thank you.

Above all, and I mean above all, you have to love to pitch. Really love it. Anything you truly love to do you treat with respect, and that includes preparing ahead of time, relaxing before you go on, and smiling into the lights. If you're not having fun, that shows faster than an open fly or 5-o'clock shadow.

So have fun and pitch.

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