The Art and Craft of Pitching an Idea

I couldn’t pitch a baseball squarely through a strike zone to save my life.  But when it comes to pitching things like ideas, projects, strategies, and new directions, I’d have to say that my aim is pretty darn true.

While things like personality and social skills may play into the ability to compellingly communicate your ideas, the real key to making good pitches is practice.  Serving as Drama Director in the worship ministry at Southeast Christian Church, every idea I had required multiple levels of buy-in before it could even begin development – a situation with which I’m sure all creatives serving in the local church can identify. And even now in my position as Artistic Director at City on a Hill Productions, I never get a blank check.  Every concept has to be pitched to my team, my board, our production partners, and our donors.

While there’s no shortcut to getting better at vision casting your concepts, I have discovered a few elements that I think can give your pitches the best shot at being persuasive:

1.  Nothing persuades like PASSION

This tip is so powerful that it should really be #1, #2, and #3 on the list!  Passion is contagious and intoxicating, it sucks people in, and it makes them want to believe in your vision.  But here’s the thing about passion…it can’t be faked.  You have to actually be passionate, and that makes you vulnerable.  For example, if you’re serving in a church where your pastor shoots down 75% of your ideas, you may have decided that it’s too painful to be passionate.  But know, as soon as you emotionally detach and fall into the habit of neutrally presenting a list of options, you’re finished.  Not only are you no longer persuasive, but I would argue that you are no longer fully alive.

2.  Give them a stake in the idea

It’s a lot easier for someone to embrace a new idea if they feel like they played a role in creating it.  So don’t hog the idea!  Dig into it to see where other people deserve the credit.  To your team:   “When you guys blew me away with the last project…I realized we could knock this idea out of the park.”  Or to your pastor:  “The way you use stories so well in your sermons gave me the idea of telling this new story through drama next weekend.”  When you can actually tie other people to the inception of your idea, they often become more deeply invested in seeing it come to life.

3.  Don’t work it out in front of them

The only thing more agonizing than making a bumbling pitch is having to sit through a bumbling pitch.  If you care about your idea, then buckle down and do your work.  Wrestle with that foggy blob of a concept until you have shaped it into something that is clear to you, and then keep wrestling with it until you can share it clearly with others.  Write it down.  Pitch the idea to yourself – out loud!  No, you don’t have to have everything tied up in a neat bow.  But even the things you don’t know yet have to be presented clearly, in a way that invites people to contribute meaningfully to your idea.

4.  “Why” trumps “what” every time

Most people who repeatedly get their cool ideas shot down fail to realize that no one cares about cool ideas.  If you work in an effective organization, people care about achieving results.  This means that WHAT your idea is means a whole lot less than WHY it needs to be done.  Why does that sermon illustration need to be turned into a short film?  Why does your organization need a team to focus on social media strategy?  Why do you need a monthly retreat day for the production team?  The center of every good pitch is a compelling picture of meaningful results.

5.  Hold on loosely

On the one hand, you need to be the idea’s champion who keeps the vision clear and true.  But on the other hand, you must also be humble enough to let others take hold of your idea, add to it, refine it, and maybe even change its whole direction.  Yes, I know the danger.  I’ve been in situations where too many cooks have stirred my ideas to death.  But infinitely more often, I’ve worked with sharp teams who take my ideas and collectively hone them into instruments of power and precision.  And ultimately, that’s when you know you’ve successfully pitched an idea – when it becomes THEIR idea.

I know this short list just scratches the surface.  So tell me, what have I left out?  How have you gotten buy-in for your ideas? 

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Shane Sooter
Shane Sooter is the Artistic Director of City on a Hill Productions, a media ministry focused on equipping the church and reaching out to the world through the power of visual story. His thoughts on church production, media ministry, and creativity can be found at http://shanesooter.com

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