Pitch. Presentation. Proposal.

Getting people to say they’re interested in an idea is easy.
Getting people to commit to an idea is hard.

Let’s talk about the difference between a Pitch, a Presentation, and a Proposal.

First, some definitions:

So, let’s say you have the core of an idea. You haven’t really looked at it all that hard yet, but you really want to tell someone about it. You corner them in their cube or the elevator, and you fling the idea at them to see if it sticks. That’s a pitch. You’re effectively throwing the idea at them to get a basic reading on whether it’s worthwhile at all.

Next, suppose you’ve looked harder at your idea, understand a bunch of its shortcomings (and have come up with irresistibly clever answers for all of them), and you have some thoughts about what you’d need to make it a reality. You write up a small document (e.g. slides, a two-pager, etc.) and ask for 15-30 minutes with someone higher up to get a reading on it. That’s a presentation. You are placing an interesting idea out there in the world and showing people how it works, in the hopes of getting things moving.

Time passes and you’re even further into your idea. You’ve committed time to understanding the problem better, and you probably even revised it a few times when you realized you were violating the laws of physics. You write up a detailed document of some kind, have a bunch of backing data available on command, and are able to answer some pretty deep questions around the material, including why other people should care (i.e. give you resources to do something). That’s a proposal. You’ve refined your idea, understand what you’re actually asking for, and are quite literally proposing that they take action and commit resources to your idea.

With that in mind, what makes each of those unique?

The pitch requires the least commitment from you or your audience. You’ll get instant feedback, especially if you’re a decent listener. It’s quick and effective… just make sure you know what it’s effective for.

The presentation is the way you bootstrap yourself into getting the attention of interesting people. It’s where you’ll show you have just enough understanding of the idea to get a further conversation. It’s also where you’ll start to get the hard questions, which may or may not deal a mortal blow to your idea, no matter how well you cared for it.

The proposal is the only time you’re asking someone to take real action that could cost them money, time and/or their reputation, because you’ve shown them that you’ve spent your own time/money/reputation figuring out enough of it that you’re committed to its success. The other two might get interesting nods, but the proposal is where you can get legitimate answers about getting other people involved.

There are times and places for each of pitch/presentation/proposal.
The heartburn comes when you do one, and expect the results of another.
Here are a couple of examples:

Doing a proposal and expecting instant meaningful feedback. You’ve just dumped a ton of information in the lap of someone who’s probably used to seeing great ideas on a regular basis. You’re asking for something big. Getting someone to commit resources takes time; respect that.

Doing a presentation and expecting people to commit anything more than some extra time. You’ve worked on your idea a bit, but it hasn’t hit any really rough waves if you haven’t previously given people the forum to ask the hard questions. Having your friend say “I don’t see anything wrong with it” over a couple of beers is a pretty low bar to clear.

Doing a pitch, hearing a favorable grunt, and assuming that’s a green light. Everyone loves feeling accepted. Having someone approve the idea you thought of in the shower that morning is a great little feeling, but talk is cheap. Anyone can say something is a good idea if it’s not objectively horrible, and they won’t be affected by it. A nod of appreciation is not a commitment.

So, to review:

  • The pitch: Low development, quick turnaround, no commitment.
  • The presentation: Medium development, medium turnaround, nearly no commitment.
  • The proposal: High development, slow turnaround, possible commitment.

A note of caution: If you have good ideas on a regular basis and just keep pitching them without developing them, you’ll get known as having “the idea of the week”, and people will lose interest. If you don’t give your ideas any attention, why should they? A little bit of development goes a long way.

1 Comment

Filed under Tech Life, Working With Grownups

One Response to Pitch. Presentation. Proposal.

  1. Roland Rauch

    This dovetails a lot with some things I was mulling around in my head today about how to answer the ubiquitous interview question “What’s you’re biggest weakness?”. My honest answer? “Overpreparation.” Which is to say, I’ve had to learn to reign myself in when it comes to certain things because I would do all of this research and preparation, only to figure out afterwards that some of it was either based on a false assumption, or was pushing for something that wasn’t really needed, etc.

    Which, to use your 3-tier structure, would be like giving a proposal when what I should have been doing is aiming more for one of the lower two steps, to see if the extra time expenditure was even warranted.

    Or, in $5.00 words, elicitation before execution.

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