#FixMyPitch—Children’s Hunger Alliance

Children's Hunger AllianceChildren’s Hunger Alliance submitted their pitch via Twitter as part of the #FixMyPitch contest we did with Beth Kanter. They weren’t a winner because their pitch didn’t need enough fixing. However, it’s a perfect example of how small tweaks can make a huge impact on your pitch.

Bear in mind that, unlike Seacoast Science Center and Pacific Education Institute, where I did a coaching session with them, I haven’t chatted with the fine folks at Children’s Hunger Alliance. What follows is the type of thinking and pondering I’d do if I were them and wanted to improve my pitch by making a series of minor adjustments.

The Pitch: Children’s Hunger Alliance ensures all children are fed regular and nutritious meals and develop lifelong healthy eating habits.

You want your pitch to be a triple threat: concise, compelling and repeatable.  Weighing in at a mere 16 words, this pitch is fairly concise. But, because of word choice, it’s neither compelling nor repeatable. (Insert sad trombone.)

Here are some thoughts on making this pitch more compelling and repeatable, while keeping it concise.

  1.  ‘Ensure’ is a fine word in writing, but it isn’t a word people say naturally in casual conversation (and, if they do, they sound like a robot, which isn’t very compelling). You up the odds of your pitch being repeated by using the more casual, spoken version. Easy fix for this particular word: switch to ‘make sure’.
  2. ‘…children are fed’ uses passive voice. The work you do isn’t passive, don’t let your voice be! Try something like, “We make sure all children get…”
  3. When we speak, it’s more common to say ‘kids’ than ‘children’. There is no right or wrong on this one. There are legitimate reasons to stick with ‘children’. Many organizations I work with feel that ‘children’ is more respectful. Just know that when others talk about your work, there’s a good chance they’ll say ‘kids’.
  4. Your ‘know’ pitch should speak directly to the one thing you want to be known for. One. In this pitch, it’s hard to tell what’s more important: the regular meals or the lifelong healthy eating habits. I know it’s hard to pick. You want to say it’s both, but you need to prioritize. Do you want to be known for the meals or the eating habits?

Depending on the answer to #4, you could go one of two directions with your ‘know’ pitch:

Option A: We make sure all kids get healthy meals on a regular basis.

Option B: We make sure all kids develop healthy eating habits. (Note: ‘Lifelong healthy eating habits’ is mega-awkward to say. To those not seeped in the work, ‘healthy eating habits’ implies longevity.)

It’s pretty easy to imagine two parents hanging out on the school playground waiting to pick up their kids and one of them saying, “I just learned about Children’s Hunger Alliance. Have you heard of them? They make sure all our kids get healthy meals on a regular basis.” Or “They make sure all our children develop healthy eating habits.” Tougher to convince yourself that a parent would, in casual playground convo, say “They ensure all children are fed regular and nutritious meals and develop lifelong healthy eating habits.” See the difference?

Ideally, your ‘know’ pitch will weigh in at 10 words or less. Option A is 12 words, so a tidge long. Option B is 9. Either way, my hunch is if you make these types of small adjustments to your pitch, you’ll start to get some traction.

Good job, Children’s Hunger Alliance—thanks for all you do to help kids!

Want more help with your messaging? Check out our free Messaging Toolkit.

Before & After with #FixMyPitch Grand Prize Winner Pacific Education Institute

Pacific Education Institute--wicked smart people who needed their pitch fixed

Recently, we did a Before & After with #FixMyPitch Grand Prize Winner, Seacoast Science Center. Today, we showcase our second Grand Prize Winner–the Pacific Education Institute (PEI).

The lovely folks at the Pacific Education Institute are smart. Wicked smaht. They have great, big brains. Generally speaking, that’s a good thing. But when it comes to using language to increase your impact, big brains can get in the way. That’s because smart people tend to use big words. And big words tend to make the rest of us tired. Because we have to think really hard about what the smart person we’re talking to is saying. It’s hard to ask questions and engage in a conversation when you’re not quite sure what the other person is saying. And who wants to say, “I have no idea what you’re saying”? No one, that’s who.

In addition to being brainiacs, the PEI crew suffers from the Curse of Knowledge. This means they know everything there is to know about their subject. They know it inside and out. Frontwards and backwards. Up and down. We all suffer from this curse to some extent. Whether you’re curing cancer, fighting hunger, or using technology to make the world a better place, you know a lot about your thang. This is great in terms of your mission, and terrible in terms of your messaging. You tend to tell people everything there is to know about your work, rather than breaking it down into digestible, bite-size bits. If someone is interested in the essence of what you do, you’ll have the opportunity to tell them your everything. If you start with your everything, they remember nothing. (So sad.)

So, knowing what you now know about Pacific Education Institute and their great, big brains and their Curse of Knowledge, here’s their super-smart pitch before we worked on it:

Before: The future of our planet relies on the ability of today’s children to visualize and manage an environmentally healthy world that sustains life. By connecting students with local environments while engaging them in real-world project based learning, we are working towards a solution. Pacific Education Institute (PEI) is a nonprofit 501(C)3 that creates and delivers frameworks for students to learn more effectively and helps teachers through rigorous academic FieldSTEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) increase the number of students that understand the complex relationship between the environment, economy and human needs. We take K-12 school kids outside, anywhere, and challenge them to drastically improve their thinking skills so that they are able to solve the real-world environmental and economic problems facing our communities

That’s heavy, dude.

I asked PEI what the one thing is that they really wanted people to know about their work. After churning through a few options (many of which included scrabble-worthy words), they landed on their one thing: that students succeed academically when they learn outdoors. Everything else flows from that core concept. They proved years ago that learning outdoors improved student success. Is it more complicated than that? Why yes, yes it is. But, in simple, straight-forward terms, that’s the one thing they want people to know.

With that core concept firmly in hand, we turned our attention to creating a sentence that was easy-to-say and interesting enough to remember. Here’s where they landed:

After: We’re the ones who proved that students succeed academically when they learn outdoors.

Bam! PEI got rid of all the jargon and complicated concepts, and came up with a sentence that is remarkable—meaning someone might remark on it to someone else.

It’s easy to envision a conversation that goes something like this: “Have you heard of Pacific Education Institute? They’re the ones that proved that students succeed academically when they learn outdoors. Pretty cool, eh?”

Figure out which knowledge you’re cursed with and then figure out how to chunk out that knowledge into short, easy to understand statements that will guide someone from knowing you, to understanding you, to engaging with you.

Thanks to the Pacific Education Institute for being willing to use their great, big brains to come up with messaging that’s as compelling as their work.

Looking for more free resources to help you fix your pitch? Check out Claxon’s Messaging Toolkit.

 

Before & After with #FixMyPitch Grand Prize Winner Seacoast Science Center

Seacoast

 

 

 

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!

Pitching Passion & Passionate Pitching

engagement, connection, marketing, fundraising, strategy

Engagement Cycle: know, understand, engage

Most people passionate about what they do have one of two reactions when someone asks about their work.

Reaction #1: In a blur of words and hand gestures, they share every single amazing tidbit of info they have in their brain about their mission, vision, values. The impact they are having. The change they are making. The awesome that they are unleashing in the name of making the world a better place! They pause only long enough to ask themselves: “How could someone not jump at the chance to be a part of something that is so, so, so, so fabulous?!!!!!!!!!”

Reaction #2: They give the most boring account ever of what they do and why they do it. No passion is present. It evaporates into thin air. Poof. Gone.

Both of these reactions happen for the same reasons: these poor people have fallen into the “elevator pitch” trap, which mushes three pitches into one, AND they don’t know how to channel their enthusiasm for their work. So they either over talk or under talk. Either way. It’s ain’t pretty.

If you want donors to donate, volunteers to volunteer, board members to serve, etc etc etc, you have to create a clear engagement path that is supported by a series of pitches. I went into this when introducing the #FixMyPitch contest I’m doing with Beth Kanter, so you can get all the details in that post. The bottom line is you need to divide your pitches into three categories: know, understand and engage. (Note that there is no ‘elevator pitch’ category. Like phones with chords, that category is a thing of the past.)

In the coming weeks, we’ll be revealing the before and after pitches for the contest winners.  In the meantime, ask yourself: “do I have a clear engagement path with supporting pitches?” If you don’t, read the #FixMyPitch post, watch for the before and after examples, and start structuring the passion in your pitches by divvying them up into three tidy categories, rather than mushing them into one extinct category!

The #FixMyPitch Contest

Sarah book-1 (3)

The idea is simple: many worthy organizations and individuals have pitches that need fixing, but aren’t sure how to do it. You enter your pitch (or kindly forward the info along to someone who might have a pitch that could use some fixing) and we pick the three pitches most in need of sprucing up.

  • Three winners will receive a free copy of Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people.
  • One Extra Super Lucky Grand Prize Winner will win a free coaching session with me during which we’ll perform (drum roll please…) an Extreme Pitch Makeover! (Sounds kind of painful, but is actually quite fun.)

Deadline is Friday, October 25, so spread the word and/or enter your pitch in today!