6 Simple Strategies To Pitch Your Ideas. And To Make Them Irresistible.

One thing that causes a lot of consternation, at least in my life, is the need to present ideas in a short, catchy way–in what’s called an “elevator pitch,” because you’re supposed to be able to explain your entire big idea to someone while the two of you are in an elevator.

How hard can it be, right? Well, it turns out to be very, very challenging.

In my friend Dan Pink’s terrific new book, To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth about Moving Others, he has a great list of tips for making a pitch. As he points out, the ability quickly to intrigue others with ideas is a task that more and more people face. “Selling” is something that many of us do.

Here are Dan’s six strategies for making a great pitch:

1. The one-word pitch. That’s right. Distill your ideas down to just one short word. Think “Priceless” or “Search.” (I’m a big fan of the one-word approach; I use it to choose a theme for the year.)

2. The question pitch. By asking a question, you invite others to come up with their own reasons for agreeing. (Note: this strategy only works if underlying arguments are strong.) Think “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

3. The rhyming pitch. Who knew? People embrace ideas more easily when they’re expressed in rhyme. Think “Happy wife, happy life” or “Wit beyond measure is a man’s greatest treasure.” (My examples, not Dan’s.)

4. The subject-line pitch. We all want to have our emails read! Utility, curiosity, and specificity are keys to making subject lines more effective. “3 simple but proven ways to get your e-mail opened” or “Some weird things I just learned about e-mail.”

5. Twitter pitch. Say it in 140 characters or less.

6. The Pixar pitch. Express your idea in the Pixar story sequence: “Once upon a time _____. Every day, _____. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

Reading these, I’m reminded of Lytton Strachey’s observation, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” To be able to summarize your ideas in these six ways, you have to have a very clear understanding of what you’re trying to express. And this is surprisingly difficult–at least for me. I spend most of my time trying to grasp the obvious and then to write it down clearly. It takes all my strength.

If you want to watch the trailer for Dan’s excellent book, To Sell Is Human, watch here.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Susan Marble

    “It takes all my strength.” Me too! I wonder if it’s a lawyer thing? There’s always some other facet that I can’t STAND to leave out. . . . but when you put all the facets in, it is no longer a summary, it’s a tome. I’m right there with you.

    To overcome the facet overload, I enjoy shifting my focus to look very closely at one, small thing. Think Georgia O’Keefe and her singular flower. . . .

  • sarahhp

    I recruit to employment policy roles and I always get candidates summarise a bit of employment law in half a side of a4 for a regulat person (wirh no legal knowledge) I’ve been told this is a really tough test but it really helps me to get a great hire

  • peninith1

    I’m revisiting your ‘one word theme for the year’–In 2011 I chose DETAILS, which turned out to be an outstanding theme. Last year I picked HEALTHY–seems like that turned out to be a vague one and didn’t resonate in so many ways, perhaps it was a failure-ridden cliche?

    This year I’m choosing RENOVATE.

    I’m having interior work done on my house, moving my Mom to live with me, engaging in the eternal New Year’s quest to get in shape, I have my first grandchild on the way, though there’s a perilous passage ahead for the birth (my precious daughter-in-law has serious health issues) and trying to look at my whole life as freshly as possible, from living space to finances to how I spend my time, rather than seeing these transitions as fearsome or burdensome.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE this theme.

  • My one word pitch for MailGapp in 20!3 is PRESENT. Noun, verb, and adjective.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great word.

  • Lori

    Just wanted to say you were great on Today this morning! Happy 2013 to you and your family…it’s off to a good start!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks! So much fun to do it.

  • Deborah Avila

    Appreciate your blog Gretchen ~ I’ve thought hard upon my years-word, and the one thing that usually serves my soul to regain a steady foothold is PERSPECTIVE ~ Thank you for the beauty you’ve cultivated in yourself and emanate to us. Sincerely Deborah

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for your kind words!

      What a great choice for the word theme.

  • s_ifat

    Number 3 made me smile. Reading Lytton observation I’m reminded of Albert Einsein’s :

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

    • Sarah

      Thank you for sharing this quote…it really resonates with me…and compels me to sharpen my clarity.

  • Charlene

    There is also the cocktail napkin pitch. If you can’t draw your idea on the napkin it is not distilled enough. Good for visual projects. An architect friend uses this one.

  • Steve

    If I see one more ‘weird little thing’ about something there is going to be trouble.

  • Doorie

    This is real tough. Once I with my CEO was in the same elevator, this all happens so suddenly that i was thinking of saying/asking something but ended up saying nothing. I learnt a lesson from this that for elevator pitch one thing is necessary and that is CONFIDENCE !!

  • I’m finding this so useful in helping me to get clear about how to explain my blog to people as I head to Alt Summit. Thanks for this!

  • I love No. 6, and it’s also a great exercise in improv workshops I’ve attended.

  • Marilyn Messenger

    Great article; this is one of the most difficult things to do. I would love to find a one word pitch.

  • Thanks for the post. It has some good points in it that I plan to try out in my own freelance project pitches.

  • Molly

    Inspired by Gretchen’s advice to choose a theme for the year, I have chosen the theme MORE. I write this a bit sheepishly because it isn’t as spiritual or profound as other themes I am reading here. However, I must admit that at my middle age, I still haven’t felt full or abundant in the way that I thought I would have felt at this time in my life. I know that feeling abundant is a state of mind, but I am not confining myself to the state of mind variety of abundance. I think that as Americans we have this paradoxical attitude of wanting material abundance (we always want more more more), and yet, feeling guilty about wanting more and/or denying that we wish we had more or denying our envy of those who have more. I was so happy to read in the post above this one the author admits that setting and accomplishing goals, especially if there is something tangible in the accomplishment (a book, etc.) gives her an enormous sense of satisfaction. I agree! Nothing makes me feel better than being in hot pursuit of a goal and getting closer, closer, then getting it. There is a difference between having a healthy sense of drive and, yes, even competitiveness, and just being a greedy materialist. While the latter may leave us feeling empty, the former, kept in check (maybe we need an Aristotelian mean here), can make us feel fuller. So, while my theme of MORE isn’t confined to getting more stuff, it does include striving to achieve goals and attain material items that will make me feel MORE abundant. I was so happy when I first read in Gretchen’s book that she doesn’t deny the importance of spending money in the pursuit of happiness (chiropractic treatments, e.g., to alleviate back pain) Of course some things boost our happiness levels. (I and many other parents are a testament to the fact that your greatest joy in life may be a result of spending money, e.g., adoption proceedings and/or in vitro.) So, my theme of MORE includes…MORE life (my first month includes my yearly physical and other tests I am going to try and include). Other themes: MORE space (as I declutter), MORE optimism (a month of focusing on how I can improve my ability to stay positive, and especially, to stop lamenting the past — a sure happiness killer, I have read), and yes, MORE stuff (focusing on stocking up on things that will make me feel abundant–underbuyer like Gretchen–as well as MORE room (looking for a new bigger house). Others: MORE discipline, MORE accomplishments, and MORE time (esp. quality time with family and friends). Finally, MORE money–buy saving more and not spending on what I don’t need as well as making more so I can get what will make me feel abundant.

    A side note about MORE stuff. I’ve noticed that I will overbuy in an area, but tend to neglect certain necessary items that will actually make me feel more abundant. For example, I will overbuy tops and (sometimes) shoes. However, what I have really needed is a good pair of warm snow-wearing winter boots. (Problem: they aren’t as enticing as slick knee high boots;)). I have neglected to buy decent ones for several years, and finally purchased a pair. Having the item I NEED for winter has already made me feel more abundant, even though it meant foregoing cute new boots! I have also become more conscious to choose experiences over impulse spending or unnecessary bigger expenses (e.g. taking a vacation rather than buying a new couch since our couch is fine, though not as desirable as it was 5 or so years ago). I feel abundant when I consciously spend my money!

    • gretchenrubin

      Very thought-provoking.

    • chicagovegheather

      I can identify with that. I also overbuy cute tops, neglecting bottoms, probably because bottoms have sizes in numbers, and I hate facing the fact that I need to go up a size. I also overbuy “fun stuff” (pretty glass vases, scrapbooking stuff) and then later realize that there are things I need more. Something to work on this year!

  • This quote has been attributed to many but is true no matter who says it:

    I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead.Potent summarization is the most challenging task and a great show of mental firepower.

  • Here’s my one-word pitch: “ENGAGE”. Great article – thank you for sharing!!

  • iK way

    Nice article. Just wondering if this can be applied in a corporate set up – daily interactions scenario of supervisor, reports relationships.


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  • Brenda_Lee_Nelson

    I chose grace as my overall theme this year. I am engaged in my own little happiness project so I have a subtitle theme for each month as well. My subtitle in January was renewal. One of the things I choose to do in the month of January was to donate, toss, or recycle at least 3 things per day. This month my theme is mindfullness. I have lots of work to do in this area but it includes not leaving a trail behind me (my husband always knows where I have been and what I have been up to because I tend to leave a little something behind – i.e., my coffee cup or my shoes, etc). Also, I am going to try very hard to only do one thing at a time (not switch-task) and to really listen, to not rush and so forth.

    • gretchenrubin

      These are great.

  • Liz

    Gretchen the part of this post that was most inspiring was the end…. were you note “To be able to summarize your ideas in these six ways, you have to have a very clear understanding
    of what you’re trying to express. And this is surprisingly difficult–at
    least for me. I spend most of my time trying to grasp the obvious and
    then to write it down clearly. It takes all my strength.”
    I am in the final stages of writing my thesis and being both dyslexic and ADHD has made the process hard and slow. But knowing that even you, with your facility for writing, find this hard, gives me great hope.
    Thank you