Every so often I read something that hits me so hard that it leads to immediate action. Last July, my LinkedIn news feed presented an article in Forbes called, “How to Pitch Anything in 15 Seconds” using a tool/technique called a Message Map. From the article,
A message map is the visual display of your idea on one page. It is a powerful tool that should be a part of your communication arsenal. Building a message map can help you pitch anything (a product, service, company, or idea) in as little as 15 seconds.
If you’ve read Blink, worked in advertising, or been put off by a bad first impression or snore-inducing opening pitch (fans of Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank know what I’m talking about), you’ll appreciate the importance of securing the audience’s attention and communicating a value proposition in a very short period of time.
After reading the article and watching the associated video, I came away inspired and determined to act. Within minutes, I’d fired off an email to my team:
Read this, and watch the video…and think about it.
This is very similar to the cue card idea, and one I think we should apply, minimally, at the company and product/platform/technology areas of our marketing message.
As the email suggests, our team was in the midst of creating “cue cards” that sought to simplify our marketing messages, so the timing was perfect. Note that these cards weren’t intended to be externally-facing, but to be valuable tools to refine our message within strict boundaries and help when training up new folks in the organization. We hadn’t yet decided precisely what to include on a cue card, though, and this article provided direction. We held a team meeting and determined the exact cue card format, and also decided that:
- As part of the market launch process, all new “things” would have a cue card created – this cue card would help focus the marketing messages and also serve as a point of reference throughout the development process
- To ensure quality and consistency, we would apply the cue card exercise to our existing library of sales tools
Executing the first bullet was easy (and ongoing), but the second bullet was the most fun because we had to objectively “start from scratch” with each subject. For each subject we asked ourselves, “Ignoring all the existing positioning, how would I pitch this in 30 seconds?” Once the cue card was created, we then reviewed the existing presentations and promotional documents to see if the message was consistent. In some cases only small tweaks were required, but in many cases a full-on rewrite was necessary. In my opinion, this extra work was well worth the investment, because the outcome in all cases was a clearer, more concise message.
Like many things, the applications of this exercise are wide and varied. When I started going through the intensely competitive co-op program at UW, I became profoundly aware of my own personal brand or product characterization. I’ll often open an interview by asking job candidate, “Can you give me the elevator pitch for you?”, and this article got me thinking about the need for a refresh of my own opening pitch.
A few days after reading the Forbes article, I stood in front of a whiteboard and scrawled out some ideas which I then put into a cue card format:
Shortly thereafter, I scrapped my résumé (whenever possible, I always prefer starting from scratch on something rather than editing an existing version) and rewrote it in a drastically different format. Here’s the first thing people see:
I sent the new version around to a few friends for comments/opinions, and the response was quite polarized (some loved it, some thought it was far too nebulous); however, all agreed that it was distinct and communicated a personal brand. Personally, I’d rather have a memorable presentation and message that some people love and some hate than a bland representation that gets lost in the pile. I’m a very visual person, so this also gives me a helpful cue if someone asks me to pitch myself – I just picture this in my mind and waltz through it.
Take a moment to think of some applications of this technique within your own professional or personal spheres; many opportunities in life hinge on quick, clear communication, so perfecting your opening pitch is a valuable skill and well worth the effort (the irony of course being that it takes a long time to perfect a 15 second pitch).
[obligatory joke: practicing also applies if you happen to be throwing the ceremonial opening pitch at a baseball game…for illustration, look no further than Carly Rae Jepson’s opening pitch at a recent Rays game (although it would’ve been fine if she was facing Rajai Davis)]