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Spoiler Alert: Your Hook Can Impale You
Start with the end in mind, not the actual end.
Once Upon a Pitch Problem #3
Looking to punch up your quick pitch, you are on the hunt for the hook, a strapline. That something special pithy quote that will convey your why in just a few memorable words. You cycle through hundreds of combinations of buzzy jargon terms, you reject the overused, “We are the Uber of X” and “the Starbucks of Y,” you copy other companies’ straplines, you try out ideas repeatedly on your teammates, and finally, land on your hook: “The only company delivering the best product to solve our industry’s hardest problem.” Confident, you put the language on the slides and pitch. To your shock, you are met with hostility:
“Only company, what about X and Y?”
“Best, you have a Gartner report saying that?”
“Isn’t Z the hardest problem?”
Draw a circle, not a line. When you were a child, you were invited into the Storytelling Circle, a warm and fuzzy space in which the storyteller and the audience gathered in story and conversation together. You were not invited to a Storytelling Line in the Sand, with the storyteller on one side of the line, the audience on the other side, each facing off with each other, ready for battle. Bombastic statements like “only” and “best” draw a line between you and your audience and you are picking a fight. You usurped their decision making as to whether it is the “best” and their thought process is going to punish you. Instead of listening, the audience is spending its time coming up with all the reasons why you are wrong. Draw a circle around your audience and invite them into the conversation. Tell the story step by step so at the end, the audience agrees that “only” and “best” fit.
“And ever since that day . . ..” The moral of the story comes at the end of the story. You can’t cheat and start with the moral of the story. “The tortoise beat the hare,” is not the opening line of that fable. “Disrupting the worldwide hospitality industry with the best-in-class on-demand direct booking platform featuring private homes,” was not the opening hook for Airbnb. It was “book rooms with locals, rather than hotels,” an inviting first step on the story journey. You haven’t even described the business problem and yet, you are already saying the moral of the story is that your solution is the “best.” The storytelling sequence is rigid, and you must take the audience through each step of the journey to ensure your idea will be conveyed. Great storytellers know their why, and they don’t start with it. Weave the moral of the story, the why, into the overall pitch with the hook set towards the end of the story.
Just don’t do it. If you have your why nailed, but you don’t have a catchy hook or strapline to convey it, do not throw one out there. No hook or strapline is much better than a bad one. Absence does not cause storytelling problems; but presence of a bad hook can be fatal. Keep iterating until you are hooked.
What They Said
Many people, and unfortunately many sales books and coaches, have the misconception that the hook is what you open with . . . But today, that’s not really what most people think when they hear that kind of opening, even if that’s what they say out loud to you. What they’re really thinking when they hear that opening is, “I’m not sure I believe you. Prove it.” Or, if your statement is even more grandiose, “Bullshit” is the first thought that runs through their head. Then it becomes your job to convince them otherwise. Does that sound like a winning strategy? This is called the state-and-prove method . . . Don’t state and prove. Inform and lead. – Brant Pinvidic, The 3-Minute Rule: Say Less to Get More from Any Pitch or Presentation, “Don’t Open with the Hook,” pages 110-118.
See You on the Track
Author The First Principles Pitch, startup storyteller, board member, advisor and investor. Upon a Pitch is a weekly newsletter looking at one business pitch problem and offering storytelling solutions to help solve that problem.