How to pitch a brilliant idea

The conclusion: it doesn’t matter how good the idea, it matters what the “buyer” thinks of you as a person in the first few seconds of your pitch.

I have just read “How to Pitch a Brilliant idea” by Kimberly Elsbach in the Harvard Business Review.  In 150 miliseconds a “buyer” will have categorized you in one of seven stereotypes – only three of which will allow you to have a chance of selling them on your brilliant idea.

Kimberly has looked at the film industry, venture capital and entrepreneurs and within the corporate world.  In these environments only 1-3% of ideas make it beyond the initial pitch. What does it take for somebody with a brilliant idea to get it noticed, financed and implemented?

“When a person we don’t know pitches an idea to us, we search for visual and verbal matches with those implicit models, remembering only the characteristics that identify the pitcher as one type or another.  We subconciously award points to people we can easily identify as having creative traits; we subtract points from those who are hard to assess or who fit negative stereotypes.” Kimberly Elsbach.

The seven stereotypes that Kimberly developed that are relevant in the pitch of an idea to a “buyer” who has not met us before are:

  • The three positive stereotypes
    • Showrunner: Looks the part, comes with a successful track record, delivers the idea with a great interactive performance that engages the “buyer” in the idea.
    • Artist: Displays single minded passion but not as polished as the showrunner, tend to be shy or socially awkward (a sense that they are living in their own internal world)
    • Neophyte: The opposite of showrunners – they know they need help and present themselves as eager learners (never looking desperate).
  • The four negative stereotypes
    • Pushover: Look like they are trying to “unload” an idea rather than own it and run with it.
    • Robot: Presents sticking to a formulaic script as if it had been memorized from a how-to book.
    • Used-car salesman: Argumentative and slightly obnoxious (standard issue from the consulting world or large corporate sales department). Fails to treat the “buyer” as a partner, to turn the sale into a collaborative process. Arrogant.
    • Charity case: Needy. As soon as he senses rejection begins pleading with the “buyer” that he really needs just one small sale. In reality is not selling an idea but looking for a job.

The only stereotypes which have a chance of the “buyer” engaging are showrunner, artist and neophyte.  If you manage to present the visual, audible, dress clues that lead a potential buyer to categorize you outside of these three categories, you will not sell your idea.

One key to the three successful stereotypes is a positive, proactive engagement of the buyer in the development of the idea during the pitch process. 

What stereotype do you get categorized into by people on the first impression?  It is unlikely to be showrunner (there are really very few of these types out there).  So are you a pushover?  Are you a used-car salesman?  The only thing that you cannot be is nothing…  You will be categorized.

    Author: Conor Neill

    Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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