Insights + tips

The best business pitch ever

" This pitch has everything - a hook, humour, a hero's journey "

It’s hard, now, to remember quite how revolutionary the iPhone was when it launched, and what an uphill struggle it could have been to get the world to embrace ‘yet another mobile phone’. Yet Apple not only conquered the market, but permanently changed the way we think about phones and connection and – for better or worse – almost every aspect of our lives has been affected by this seemingly small piece of technology.

It was crucial that the initial ‘pitch’ for the phone worked – the ideas were new, and the competition was (probably) desperate for the product to fail.

As we now all know – Steve Jobs made it work, and by the end of his pitch, it felt like the entire world was desperate to get their hands on this little bit of tech.

Here’s the pitch – remind yourself of it, and then keep reading as I break down some of the elements which stand out to me as making it so successful, along with reminders for what you can ‘borrow’.

He knows his audience

The first thing to notice is that Jobs understands his audience – his tone, dress and manner are exactly right for this crowd of tech-savvy younger people desperate for something new.

If he’d worn a suit, or used lots of technical or ‘investor-friendly’ jargon, his message wouldn’t be nearly as successful.

  • Do you take the time to understand your audience enough before you start pitching?

He provides credibility and context.

Jobs sets the stage by referencing the ’84 Apple Macintosh, and the 2001 iPod. He’s doing several clever things all at the same time here. He’s building his and Apple’s credibilty – he’s reminding you that his visions become realities and what’s about to come will not be an idle boast.

He’s giving some context to what you’re about to see – both of these devices were ahead of their time, and chaged industries. The Mac changed computing, and the iPod changed music. He’s leading you down a narrative path – you know that what’s he’s about to announce will change another industry.

  • Is there enough ‘scene-setting’ in your pitch? Are you taking the time to let the audience know why they should listen before you talk about your product or service?

He uses a hook

In fact he uses several. If you’ve read my book on presenting (you have read it, haven’t you?) you’ll know that I always recommend having a hook – an idea, phrase or image at the start of your pitch or presentation which will grab the audience’s attention.

His first phrase is a hook: “This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years”. It has excitment, it builds suspense.

He then follows this with another hook, further building the suspense: “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along which changes everything”

We now know that he really, really wasn’t exaggerating!

  • Do you have a ‘hook’ in your pitches and presentations? Have you got a phrase, quotation, question, bit of humlour, or provocative idea – anything – to grab the audience’s attention?

He creates drama

Jobs cleverly uses the ‘smartphone’ to create confrontation and drama. In classic storytelling technique, there has to be a hero and an anti-hero (if you want to be all classical about it, the protagonist and antagonist). Notice how he takes something which everyone had – until then – taken for granted and turns it quickly into an ‘anti-hero’.

  • Where’s the drama in your pitch? Do you have some confrontation with the status quo? Some reason for people to keep listening?

He leverages ‘The Power of 3’

‘3’ is a magic number in human communciation and all great presenters use it – lists of 3s, phrases in 3s, 3 big ideas and so on. Here, Jobs uses 3s to defy expectations (the audience is expecting a single product launch) he says ‘Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products’.

As it happens, he’s also teasing because he hasn’t go to his punchline – but we don’t know that yet! He then builds on the power of 3 to make it humorous.

  • Use ‘3s’ throughout your pitch – break your pitch up into its 3 main ideas: ‘Today, we’re going to cover A, B, and C‘. Try not to put more than three bits of information on any slide, and make important phrases memorable, compelling and relevant by using the rhythm of 3.

Notice I’ve done exactly that in the previous paragragh – 3 ideas, and the last one uses a 3-word phrase ‘memorable, compelling and relevant’.

He uses humour

Jobs wasn’t a ‘stand-up comedian’ style presenter. He didn’t have people rolling in the aisles with jokes, but he did use humour. At this moment of the pitch, the humour is delicious, and he lets The Power of 3 do all the work – repeating the words ‘An iPod, a phone, an internet communicator‘. The next bit of humour is masterful – he undercuts the evangelical tone of ‘Apple is going to reinvent the iPhone‘ with his phrase ‘And here it is…‘.

  • Humour is a powerful weapon. It helps to relax an audience, brings them with you, and helps them to like you more. Humour is not the same as making jokes, and is often gentle and self-deprecating. Try to have a few moments of humour in your pitch.

Peaks and troughs

Going from a moment where the audience is whooping and cheering to a moment where the audience is chuckling at a self-deprecating joke as above is a classic example of using ‘peaks and troughs‘ in pitching. It’s impossible for an audience to sustain the same amount of attention throughout an entire pitch, so you need to have moments which are intense and precise, and others which are relaxed.

  • Do you have peaks and troughs in your pitch, or is the whole thing monotone? If you are presenting as a team, think of breaking up the voices regualrly rather than just doing a ‘chunk’ each. Make sure there are some moments which are pacy and exciting, and others which are calmer and considered. Use pauses, visual aids, handouts, props, and even Q&A to add variety to your pitch.

He uses suspense

This is a killer tehcnique when done well. The beginning of this pitch is built almost entirely on suspense – there’s a constant feeling that ‘something is just around the corner‘. This is exciting for an audience and keeps them interested and engaged. When Jobs casually takes the phone out of his pocket and says ‘Actually here it is, but we’re gonna leave it there for now‘ he’s deliberately creating suspense – he’s dangling a carrot right in front of your eyes. He’s not nearly as casual as he might appear!

  • Bring suspense into your pitch, don’t just lay out a string of facts. For example, have you got a handout? If so, hold it up near the beginning and say ‘There’s much more detailed info in this handout, which I’ll give you all to take away‘ and then put it down near you. You’ll see the audience almost lean forward to try and get it. Or, if you have lots of information hint at things which are coming, with phrases like ‘And I’ll expalin more why this works so well for your customers later‘ and deliberately leave the audience waiting for it. Jobs has a fearless approach to making his audience wait for the ‘big reveal’ – do the same in your pitches.

He uses irony

As well as making smartphones the ‘anti-hero’ he changes how we think about smartphones by repeating the word ‘smart’ several times (as well as displaying the word on a giant slide) and then demonstrating that they’re anything but smart. It’s a technique used again and again by great speakers. Shakespeare knew a thing or two about using irony to make a point – have a look at Marc Antony’s speechfrom Julis Caesar and notice how Shakepseare uses the word ‘honourable’ to make an ironic point.

  • You can use irony to help your propect or client think in a certain way – especially if you need them to move away from the status quo, switch from an incumbent supplier, or understand the urgent need for change.

He uses slides and images to help the audience, not the presenter

Notice how sparse the images and information on his slides are – often just a single word or image, almost never anything more than an entire sentence.

When Jobs introduces his ‘Smart/Easy’ axis it’s both humorous and clear – it’s the best way to make his point. Notice also that he’s never using the sldies as his script. The purpose of the slides is to help the audience understand, not to help the presenter remember.

  • Never start your pitch preparation by opening PowerPoint (or Keynote, if you’re an Apple fan). Begin by understanding the audience, structuring your argument using many of the techniques here and the structure outlined in my book. Only once you’ve done all this prep should you start thinking about whether the audience needs to see some slides to help their understanding.

He presents problems before solutions

This is another hallmark of great pitches. As well as making smartphones the ‘anti-hero’ he presents and agitates a problem that the audience probably didn’t realise they had – that the keyboards on smartphones are unchangeable.

Very quickly he takes us from ‘We didn’t know we had this problem‘ to ‘that’s obviously a problem, what’s the solution?‘ He then hints at a solution ‘We solved this problem 20 years ago‘ and then (more suspense) digs deeper into the problem by showing us a stylus.

When Jobs does get to the solutions, we’re really, really ready for them. And, of course, he adds another delightful touch of humour ‘Boy, have we patented it!

  • In your pitches, have the courage to focus on, and agitate the problems. The more you can do this, the more suspense and interest you’ll build in the audience, and the more collaborative your pitch will be.

He demonstrates the benefits of the tech, not just the tech

One of the biggest mistakes suppliers make in pitches is to talk too much about themselves and their service or product. There’s no doubt that Jobs does talk about the product here, but almost all of it is focused on simple, clear illustrations of what the tech can do for you. It’s a masterclass in customer-focused pitching.

  • Are your pitches full of obvious, customer-focused benefits, or are they full of descriptions of how amazing your product or service is?

He has rehearsed – a lot.

Despite the casual tone, this pitch has been rehearsed to within an inch of its life. Jobs knows the argument he’s about to present inside out; the slides, graphics, animations and the tech itself are all prepared as much as possible, and nothing is left to chance.

Look carefully at the moment when he goes to a table to demonstrate the iPhone, and you’ll see that he has some laminated, large-print notes on what to do and when. Nothing is left to chance.

Even the calls with his colleagues are well-rehearsed. The two men are well-spaced out in the room, and know exactly what to say. Nothing is left to chance.

Rehearsal here really means ‘proper rehearsal’, by the way. This pitch is not the result of a few people mumbling ‘Oh, I think I’ll do a few slides about the new product and then take questions’. Every aspect of it has been rehearsed by actually doing it a lot in advance. Nothing is left to chance

  • When you pitch, you only have two options – you either rehearse in advance, or you rehearse in front of your audience. Make sure you’re rehearsed. Don’t leave it to chance.

It would be possible to find other techniques across this pitch, as well many other examples of the ones I’ve already mentioned. It’s well worth your time studying and learning from it.

The good news is that while Jobs was a master of these pitching techniques, there isn’t a single one which is original to him – many of them go back at least as far as Ancient Greece (it would have been fun to see Aristotle pitching an iPhone to Alexander the Great!). This means that you can borrow them freely.

When I run workshops for sales teams on pitching, I always try and cover as many of these techniques as posssible because they’re predictably and reliably effective. Give one or two a go in your next pitch, and let me know how you get on.

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