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Mentorship and Modelling In Action
Pitching Your Idea When the Stakes are High: How to be a Successful Millennial Entrepreneur -
Albert Einstein famously said, "You can't solve today's problems with the same thinking
that created them." Truer words have never been spoken. That’s why I’m so proud of the work
I saw at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University, which brought more than 1,200 college students from around the world to the campus of UC Berkeley
to address major global challenges through “Commitments to Action.”
While my expectation was that the majority of the projects would be focused on technology-based philanthropy, there instead was a vast range of creative solutions presented
to help solve urgent, critical challenges for communities around the globe.
One student group had plans to organize coding workshops for refugees,
while another was on a mission to create a self-sustaining herb cooperative.
It was then that I was reminded of the Thomas Edison quote:
"Vision without execution is just hallucination."
CGI’s Commitment to Action model, combined with the networking opportunities at their meetings, unleashes a lot of human potential because participants are hungry to execute,
not just to talk.
As a member of CGI LEAD—a mentorship program that pairs industry leaders
with entrepreneurial college students-- I was able to participate in a session at CGI U
that challenged mentees to pitch their ideas to mentors in one minute or less.
Just imagine you’re on Shark Tank, except instead of standing in front of the ‘sharks,’
picture yourself sitting around a table of global leaders and entrepreneurs.
It’s a different scene to be sure, but don’t underestimate the surprise and challenge
of having to explain your mission in under a minute! It was quite an experience sitting around
the table with our awesome mentees. And even though each mentee presented his/her
own unique and brilliant ideas, we saw some very common patterns that came from making presentations in a high-stress, high-stakes environment.
We can all learn a few things from the lessons that emerged:
Economize words, speak slowly, and breathe
Like everyone, I'm guilty of speaking too quickly, providing too much detail, and sometimes
even forgetting to breathe! It’s only natural. Stress, anxiety, and passion tend to overtake
calmness and make it more difficult for your audience to follow and absorb.
There’s a delicate balance between "rehearsed spontaneity" and authenticity,
but to clearly articulate a problem statement and vision in under a minute
requires a lot of practice of Less is More.
Perhaps that’s why Mark Twain famously signed off his letters by apologizing
"Sorry this letter is so long, if I had a bit more time, I would have made it shorter."
Why You & Why Now?
In an effort to clearly articulate the solution, many of the students neglected to explain
why they started their mission, why their personal journeys equipped them with the right context, why now was the right time, and so on...
Polish your elevator pitch
It’s called an elevator pitch because sometimes you only have two floors to ‘sell’ your idea.
So it’s critical that you sequence your points in a manner that
(1) first engages the audience,
(2) sizes the problem,
(3) specifically explains your unique abilities or novel approach, and then
(4) scopes your initial focus in a credible manner to ensure people
lean into the balance of the pitch.
Start with Proof & Positivity
Invariably, at every table, some mentees would begin by sharing an audacious vision
without first establishing their beliefs and/or accomplishments.
The most effective pitches however, began by highlighting progress and continued momentum.
The key is to highlight some supporting data, such as a trend, stat, or distinction about how you think about the problem or even build on partnerships that will help you achieve your goals.
It was illuminating to hear the difference in impact of an individual beginning positively,
sharing a metaphor for where they are on the journey,
and then sharing the obstacles that remain.
I was impressed by the approach taken by University of Toronto student Ariel Sim, who has a CGI U commitment to use Google Maps to improve community development opportunities
for underserved populations in Senegal. Ariel started her presentation with a provocative question that engaged the audience by asking for a show of hands. Full transparency:
Ariel is my mentee but in no way had we discussed her idea or the pitch process in advance.
She naturally started by getting people's attention and launched into an immersive storytelling experience. It was only when she broke from the story to attempt a demo
that it proved more challenging to keep people’s attention.
People don't want to see your app, they want to know you and to understand your motivation.
Whether you’re a student or an experienced professional,
keep these tips in mind for your next pitch.
Your delivery could be the difference between executing and hallucinating that big idea.
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To quote the Dr Seuss himself, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn; the more places you'll go.”