“I’ve never seen an engineer dismissed for incompetence, but I’ve seen many careers ruined because an engineer could not speak and write well,” Harry T. Roman likes to say.
In his valuable new e-book, Pitching Your Ideas … and Yourself, the veteran engineering educator turns his attention to the art of pitching. He describes pitching as “stripping down your idea to its barest essentials, and then selling it with conviction, passion and commitment.”
The e-book–which the author has broadly aimed at project managers, entrepreneurs, consultants, and others in the tech business world–considers pitching to be a special type of public speaking. In fact, Roman says pitching is “a superb trial by fire; one to get engineers to recognize the incredible value of public speaking to both themselves and the company they represent.” He adds that good corporate pitchers “ascend the ladder to senior management, becoming tomorrow’s leaders.”
Roman points out that no matter whether we are aware of it, each of us is always pitching new ideas. After all, we are constantly striving to convince others with information that supports our thoughts–whether the subject is related to business, or is about anything else.
However, the “pitch” that concerns Roman in this new e-book is the brief, but more formal, presentation–one designed to make something significant happen. In a business environment, it means persuasively presenting the facts and essential details about an idea, a product, or a process that you want the recipient–whether one person or a roomful of people–to buy into.
The author then presents and discusses the basic points that comprise an effective pitch. Such points include planning–optimal length, what to include in the pitch, and presenting the pitch itself.
How long should the pitch be?
According to Roman, it can be anywhere from five to 15 minutes, but the length also depends on various factors. These factors can include the subject matter, the topic complexity, the quantity of materials, and the audience who will hear the pitch. For example, more time will be needed for a complex pitch that involves significant investment funds and senior-level consideration. At the same time, a concise presentation is usually the most valuable–because it encourages questions from the audience. Moreover, the audience Q&A is often when interesting discussion details may come up.
The basic elements that should be addressed in any pitch are: the idea itself; why it’s important; what situation generated the idea for a solution; and the economic, social and/or environmental value of the idea.
Other aspects to prepare to discuss include the business model, who the competitors are, and why the audience should support the idea. Roman lists a myriad of other details one should know—to address in the actual pitch, or during the question-and-answer period that follows.
While presenting the pitch, the author notes that having a prototype or sample representation to show is important. He says everyone loves to hold and examine a real invention–and potential investors are no different.
Have a story to tell about how your product or idea can affect people, markets, or even the world. As Roman puts it, “Tales around the campfire are very powerful venues to convince people. Even the most ardent number crunchers love a good story.”
Importantly, he reminds readers to talk about their team–the people you have assembled to carry out your idea’s implementation. “Show the audience your leadership skills in picking these people,” he writes, “and how their past actions will bring unique talent to managing the investments that will be placed in your hands.”
As the title of this e-book indicates–after all, it is Pitching Your Ideas … and Yourself – the same pitching tactics that sell an idea can also help you to sell yourself in an employment interview. The author believes that at its core, an interview is about relating what you previously accomplished, and convincing the interviewers you have special talents to offer their company. Roman encourages keeping meticulous records of one’s company accomplishments–and then mining this important personal resource. In the book, he details how to go about setting up this recording technique.
Throughout this helpful volume, IEEE Life Senior Member Harry Roman discusses how he used well-executed pitching throughout his 36-year career with PSE&G-New Jersey’s largest utility company. In one instance, he successfully saved his job after executives downsized his R&D department by 50 percent–and he had to re-bid his employment to completely new management.
“In my old company,” he concludes, “all young engineers were required to pitch their designs and plans, no exceptions, starting with the first year of their employment … Hands down, it was the greatest lesson I learned in the world of business.”
This new e-book can be purchased through the IEEE-USA shop. The price for members is $2.99; non-members pay $4.99.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.