pitching ideas to the c-suite

What I learned from pitching ideas to the C-suite

By: Jack Selman

You are invited into the room. Senior, skilled, serious people sit around the boardroom table, looking up at you expectantly. Your heart rate continues to rise, you lose focus, and your palms become clammy. You begin to panic. Breath comes shorter and shorter. You begin to question why you ever agreed to come in the first place. All the weeks of preparation now seem redundant, silly, and even inferior in the face of such wise minds. Sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably spent some time pitching ideas to the C-suite.

Whilst it does get easier over time, there’s no doubt that putting yourself in an actual spotlight is tough. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to have your ambitions and dreams scrutinized by strangers is unusual, and can be daunting.

Read on for tips on how you can make pitching to the C-suite a success, so you can leave that boardroom with a smile on your face, the wind in your back, and senior approval to keep your awesome ideas moving forward.

Preparation for Pitching Ideas to the C-suite

First: a change in mindset may be needed. If you’re pitching internally, a new perspective is essential. If you’re part of an organization and you’re working on an internal proposal, treat this with the same respect and care as if you asked those people to invest their actual money in you. The team of experts in front of you is now your potential customers.

Your audience has already recognized your effort and input by inviting you along. So return the favor by practicing. Practice with your friends, your family, and even your cat. Don’t have a cat? Try recording yourself delivering your pitch, then watch it back. It will be uncomfortable, and you will feel awkward (just like I did in my pajamas with my half-eaten dinner on the table) – but it’s better to become familiar with these sensations before you head to the boardroom. You may never fully get over presentation jitters, but practicing allows you to turn this fear into a known and familiar entity, making it far easier to manage and mitigate.

Empathy

A key element of any proposal is knowing your audience. You’ll need to think about how your customers think, feel, talk, and behave. What are their pain points? What do they gain from their work?

Consider these three key elements when framing your pitch to the C-suite:

  • What work do they do?
    • Tasks they need to complete
    • Challenges they are looking to overcome
    • Needs or requirements that must be satisfied for their customers
  • What pains do they experience?
    • What annoys these people through the process of completing their work?
    • Is there anything preventing them from completing their work?
    • What risks do they encounter when doing their work?
  • What gains do they experience?
    • What outcomes are they striving towards?
    • Are any of these outcomes required or expected by their customers?
    • Are these gains social, emotional, functional, or financial?

Bravery

Think about it: to get to this point, your idea has had to fend off some pretty stiff competition. Trust yourself, put trust in your ideas, your capabilities, and your knowledge.

So be calm. Take a deep breath. Don’t rush to the end: you’re an expert in your field, invited to share your knowledge with senior leaders. Ultimately, your audience wants the same thing as you; to do better. Your presence in the room should encourage you and give you comfort knowing that your audience is there to help you realize your vision of impact, not to trip you up or criticize your idea.

Key tip: feel yourself getting hot and flustered when pitching ideas to the C-suite? Don’t chase the tiger. It is tempting to want to bring this experience to a close as quickly as possible. Try not to fall into this trap, and if you feel yourself getting lost, a deep inhalation and exhalation can work wonders. What may feel like an eternity for you, where you can spend time gathering your thoughts, is the passing of a mere for moments for your audience.

Essentials only – balance the risks with the opportunity

Your value proposition statement is essential. You’ll need to step into the mindset of those you’re pitching to, in order to truly succeed here – to empathize with your audience.

So how to distill your pitch? Try boiling it down into a simple statement packet full of value, comprised of:

  • Jazz hands: Only the essentials – what benefit are you going to derive here? A single sentence works best and should grab the attention of your audience.
  • Land and expand: Now you have their attention, flesh out the proposal. What is it about? Who will it benefit? Why is it valuable? Why now?
  • The carrot: Up to 3 key points that list key benefits or components of your idea
  • Illustrate: Help convey your intent with an image, again, grabbing attention whilst proving valuable information.
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