How does a leader inspire action
from their tribe of supporters?

One of the most difficult skills leaders face is crafting powerful messaging that inspires their listener to action.  It’s a given the messaging need to be compelling and come across quickly so as not to lose the attention and interest of the listener.

If I had more time I would have written

Blaise Pascal said it best. He knew that crafting a message that is clear, concise and powerfully moving takes time and practice.

No one knows this fact better than the 22 Calgary-based nonprofit organizations that participated in the 3rd Annual Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch, where finalists presented on April 16th.

The evening was the culmination of two months of pitch coaching that helped participants condense their key messages into just 3 minutes.

Participants were tasked with the challenge of creating a pitch about an innovative project positively impacting Calgary, while convincing an imaginary investor to part with $50,000 (with real cash prizes also at stake).

260 people gathered to hear the 12 finalists compete in this “Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank” style pitch competition to win over the hearts of judges and audience alike.

The results were no less than impressive.  Between judges, emcees, coaches and the audience, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

You could feel the crowd’s palpable pride for the incredible gifts our local nonprofits give to our community.

Screenshot 2015-04-20 11.02.51

So what exactly are the ingredients
of a powerful pitch?

Map Our Your Message:

Take your listener on a logical journey.  In the beginning, a high level summary can provide your listener with an anchor to keep them grounded and following along.

Before you speak, they have no idea if you’re sailing around metaphorical South America or cruising in the Mediterranean. Drop the anchor by starting with your simple and brief key message.

Simple is the key word here.

If you lose the listener in the first sentence you’ll have a heck of a time reeling them back on board.  The beauty of starting simple and high level is then your listener has context.  From there, they know that you’re sailing the Mediterranean and can keep an eye (or ear) out for familiar territory as they listen and reflect on your message.

To get started, here is one formula you can use to articulate the unique value you provide:

[Social Enterprise/Organization Name] is the only [provider in this product category or industry] that [delivers these unique results] by [providing this specific service] for [this ideal customer].

Now that you have established context, expand on your key idea with specifics that support this big picture.

For more tips on mapping out your message, watch this quick video.

Get To The Point Quickly:

Be sure to clearly answer these questions early on in your pitch:

  • How do you create value for others?
  • How are you different from what else is out there?

Again, it’s all about providing the listener with context and clarity so they can follow you and stay engaged.

Avoid Industry Jargon:

Aside from an unclear message, the next fastest way to lose your listener is to use words and terms they have no idea about.

Do this:

Test your pitch on several people from various backgrounds.  Ask them which parts, if any, were confusing or unclear.  When they point these areas out, explain the point you were meaning to get across and see if they have input or ideas on how they might word it in a way that makes the most sense to them.

Compile feedback and integrate what feels right for you. Remember there is a fine balance between integrating useful and informative feedback and staying true to your vision and how you want to present yourself and your message. 

You’ll never please everyone so don’t fold to every single suggestion!

Make Your Value Tangible:

When you are describing the value you provide as an impact organization, sometimes concreteness is clouded by theories, strategies, plans and other ‘intangible’ elements of what it takes to create change.

As the champion of your message, you need to put yourself in your listener’s shoes (or ears in this case).  What is their point of view?  How does their experience, or lack of experience, shape the level of knowledge and understanding they have on your topic?  How familiar are they with your work? 

All of these questions need to be answered to craft an effective pitch that meets the listener where they are at.

For example,  I was recently coaching a client on their 1 minute pitch. The value his social business will create is ‘Deliver Social Justice’.  Formidable goal, but the problem is: in what way specifically does the business deliver social justice?  As you can imagine, without the right context and supporting tangible information, this statement could be interpreted in so many different ways.

Side note:

Especially with initiatives working on status-quo breaking social and environmental change, it’s likely the social enterprise will deliver value in several intersecting and complementary ways, sometimes across a variety of industries.  There are two ways to tackle this complexity in a short pitch.

First – Weight

Pick the single most impactful way your organization delivers value. You can think of this as the one thing that has the most priority or ‘weight’ in your work.  What goal do you put first when making tough decisions?

Second – Relevancy

Tailor your pitch to the type of audience you are speaking to by elaborating on the slice of value that is most relevant to them.

Elaborate With A Story:

Human beings are emotional creatures.  We are hardwired to connect and one of the most effective ways to do that is through personal stories.

Especially when the work of nonprofit or social enterprise significantly improves and changes the lives of the individuals they serve, weaving a story into your pitch can have a powerful effect.  It paints a picture for your listener and it’s another way to share the impact of your work in a very tangible and relatable way.

Note that it’s important to balance the stories and emotional pull of your pitch with facts and figures that support it.  The best mix of stories to facts will vary depending on your audience. Ask yourself what type of information is more likely to motivate and drive them to take action.

Make the ASK!

I won’t accept any whining about how much you don’t like ‘selling’ yourself or your services, EVERY excellent pitch needs to have a clear ask, or call to action.  It could be as small as, “please sign up for our newsletter so we can stay in touch” or it could be as big as, “we are asking for $50,000 so we can do x, y, z, this year”.

Remember that the larger the ask, the more detail or specifics you need to share to back it up.

The Fast Pitch finalists used all of these methods to craft moving, informative pitches that were both inspiring and motivating to the audience. 

I can tell you with absolute certainty, no one in the crowd envied the job of the judges to pick a winner that evening.  After a tough deliberation they chose Calgary Can, and Runner Up, Give A Mile.

Watch the winning pitch from Calgary Can and learn more about the participants and winners of Fast Pitch 2015.


And, yes it’s cliche, but so true – every single one of the 22 participants were winners.  Because now they can confidently pitch how they deliver value and exactly how they change peoples lives in 3 minutes.

Fast Pitch is run by Social Venture Partners Calgary, an innovative organization that brings local philanthropists together to strengthen nonprofits with donations of both money and expertise.