You may recall that we teamed up with Beth Kanter to do something called the #FixMyPitch contest. Out of a bevvy of entries, we ended up with two Grand Prize Winners—Seacoast Science Center and Pacific Education Institute–and three runners-up–MKE123, WoodGreen, and United Way of King County’s Free Tax Campaign. Congrats to our winners and to all the brave souls who submitted their pitches for fixing!
The Grand Prize Winners each did a coaching session with me. We’re going to do a series of ‘before and after’ posts that show how we fixed their pitches in the hopes that you’ll get the inspiration and information you need to fix yours. (If you’re looking for more free resources on how to spruce up your pitch, you can download our Messaging Toolkit.)
In the posts, we’ll focus on the ‘know’ pitch, since everything else falls into place once that’s nailed down. Although the pitches are specific to each organization, the advice is applicable to lots and lots of organizations. So, if you read one and think, “Hmmmm…we do that,” see if you can apply the fix to your pitch.
SEACOAST SCIENCE CENTER
Before: “The Seacoast Science Center is a non-profit marine science education organization located on the New Hampshire coast. Ocean education is what we do. We use programs and exhibits to inform people, from toddlers to grandparents, about why a healthy ocean is important. We educate and motivate. We want everyone to recognize and understand that the things that people do every day have an impact on the health of the ocean and that the health of the ocean has impact on their daily lives. Invest in us and you are building a community of ocean stewards that care about the future of the seas. A healthy ocean drives the quality of life for future generations.”
After: We teach kids why the ocean matters to them.
Seacoast Science Center faced three big issues with their pitch. These issues befuddle even the best and brightest of organizations. Here’s what they were and how you can fix them:
Issue #1: Answering questions, rather than inviting them
Seacoast Science Center’s pitch is really three pitches masquerading as one. In reality, it includes a ‘know’ pitch, an ‘understand’ pitch, and an ‘engage’ pitch. This happens a lot. It happens because we’re worried that someone will have a question that we didn’t cover. Oh no!!! Better cover off on every conceivable thing. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.
You want people to ask you questions! In the world of pitches, that’s success. It means you were clear and compelling enough for someone to want to know more. Hooray!
Instead of trying to answer every single question out of the gate, brainstorm the types of questions you’d like to be asked. Then think about how you might structure your pitches to invite those questions.
Issue #2: The curse of the boring verb!
Verbs are the action heroes of every sentence—they represent the change you want to create in the world! For better or worse, in English we focus way more on our nouns (people, places and things) than we do on our verbs. We spend so much time on our nouns, in fact, that by the time we get around to thinking about our verbs, we’re exhausted. This exhaustion leads us to using boring verbs like provide and help and is and are.
Let’s pause on ‘is’ and ‘are’ for a moment as they play a starring role in many a pitch. When you intro your organization with “We are…” or “Seacoast Science Center is…”, you focus on the organization itself (the subject) rather than what you do (the verb) or for whom you do it (the object). Although you are undoubtedly wonderful and fascinating, most people care less about you and your organization and much more about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. So you want to do what you can to avoid ‘is’ and ‘are’. (Here’s more on why ‘provide’ should also be avoided. At. All. Cost.)
You don’t want flashy verbs, per se. (People don’t generally use flashy words when they speak.) You want verbs that have purpose.
When I asked Rob and Nicole from Seacoast Science Center what change they wanted to create in the world, they said, “We want to educate kids about the importance of the ocean. We want to connect them to the natural world.”
See how educate and connect are much more specific than ‘is’? This was progress in the right direction. But we weren’t quite there yet because ‘educate’ has its own set of challenges, namely that it implies an inherent power dynamic. Wanting a verb that put kids on more of an equal footing, Seacoast Science Center landed on ‘teach’ as their verb.
Issue #3: Ignoring your ‘why’
Having found their verb (yippee!), it was time to turn our attention to why Seacoast Science Center teaches kids about the ocean. At this point in our conversation, I channeled my inner 3 year old (as I frequently do with clients…) and started asking ‘why’. Why do they want kids to better understand how they impact the ocean? Why do people need to connect with the natural world? Why does ocean education matter in this day and age?
Here’s the thing: when you’re working on an issue day in and day out, it’s easy to forget why what you’re doing matters. Can’t everyone see that this work is super, duper important?! No, actually we can’t. You have to remind us, your dear listeners, why your work matters. Why should we care about a “non-profit marine science education organization located on the New Hampshire coast”? In this case, it turns out we should care not just because they ocean matters—in general—but because it matters to us, as people, as humans, as inhabitants of planet Earth. There is a symbiotic relationship—be nice to the ocean and the ocean will be nice back. Or, conversely, if you mess with the ocean, the ocean will mess with you. (And the ocean is way bigger than you, so best to play nice.)
When kids come to Seacoast Science Center, they learn about everything from gihugic sea mammals to palm-size sea anemones. In all instances, the key point is: the ocean is its very own great, big, wide world filled with amazing animals and creatures. They may seem a world apart, but they impact your life in ways you might not think about. And you impact them in ways you may not think about. But should.
When we shifted away from where the teaching was taking place and focused on why it was taking place, it infused their pitch with meaning and teed up a question they very much want to answer—why does the ocean matter to us?
If you struggle with any of the issues outlined above, try one of the fixes and see what happens. Remember, small tweaks can yield big returns. Experiment. Fail. And have fun!