I’m a writer. I’ve been writing for a living for more years than I care to remember.

At risk of sounding up myself, I aint too shabby when it comes to putting a few words together.

I can be pretty damn persuasive as well, when I want to be.

There’s one caveat though.

I may be the cat’s meow (at least that’s what I like to think on a good day) when it comes to putting together compelling messages, pitches, stories, articles, ads…pretty much anything really, as long as it’s in the written form.

But when it comes to delivering the same type of content verbally, it quickly goes pear-shaped.

Anyone who knows me, will say I have no problem talking. They’ll probably say I can talk the leg off a chair. I reckon they’ll say I’ll go up and talk to anyone – that I’m the classic extrovert.

There is definitely some truth in that. Once I’m in my comfort zone, I can, and will, chat to anybody, but initially approaching and speaking to a stranger doesn’t come so easily.

I’ll happily speak to the person next to me at the bus stop, the usher at the theatre, other clients at the hairdresser, on one condition – that I’m speaking about things I’m extremely confident about, strongly believe in, or if it’s just classic small talk.

Ask me though to pitch something important to someone verbally, whether it’s a novel or a business idea, I become crippled with verbal diarrhoea, or say nothing at all.

For me, it all comes down to having confidence in what I’m speaking about.

Believing in your writing or idea is one thing – something we’ll talk about another day – but until you can have that confidence, there’s an easy tool that will help you ‘fake it until you make it’, as they say.

Creating A Killer Pitch

I was a mess, the first time I pitched my novel to a publisher.

I’d gone to extreme effort to polish a few paragraphs with an awesome hook, and it sounded pretty darn good…on paper.

I realised too late that the pitch didn’t sound so great when read aloud. It sounded like I was reading from a script, and that’s exactly what I did. I read from the piece of paper because I was comfortable with what I’d written.

It was a brilliant lesson and reminder that I needed to work on my elevator pitch, specifically to be delivered verbally.

But where would I start?

The answer lay in all of the years of media training I had delivered to businesses and executives over the years.

 I didn’t need a ‘pitch’. I needed key messages.

The Power of Key Messages

The problem with writing a pitch and then memorising it word-for-word, is that when you go to say it, it is likely to sound like a script.

In real life we don’t speak the same way that sentences are put together on paper.

And when we do try to do that, we tend to sound unnatural or robotic.

We concentrate so much on delivering the exact words, that we lose all of the intonation and natural expression we normally use when we speak – all of the things that help to engage and keep other people interested.

The way to get around this, and take it a heck of a lot easier on yourself, is to develop key messages that you can use a guide – not a script.

Key messages are the takeaways you want your target audience to hear and remember – whether that audience is an agent, publisher, potential client, or a stranger at the shops.

Key messages – How To

  1. You want to develop three key messages based on the core themes or ideas you want to put across when pitching.
    • Why three? Three is an easy number to remember and will help keep you focused, and on point.
  2. To develop your key messages, ask yourself what are the three most important things you need to get across about the topic, novel or idea you are pitching.
  3. Write down these things and package them up into sentences.
  4. Each key message should consist of 1-2 sentences – the shorter the better – and should capture the things you think will appeal to the audience the most.
  5. Once you have written out your key messages, go through and highlight or underline keywords or phrases that represent the most critical themes or ideas you want to convey.

How To Use Your Key Messages to Pitch

The thing that stands key messages apart from a written pitch, is that they give you the freedom to adapt them as needed, at the time of use.

Key messages don’t need to be used word-for-word or remembered off-by-heart – you just want to focus on remembering the general gist of each message and the keywords or phrases you identified as most important.

Initially commit the key messages to memory, but then practise saying them out loud a few times and you will notice that you may start changing up your words, or tweaking them each time. Keep doing this until you have something that feels natural to say, and then remember it and practise it more.

But it doesn’t end there.

The beauty of key messages is that they can be tweaked depending on your audience, or even how you’re feeling on the day. They may also evolve over time.

You will most likely use slightly different language when speaking to someone at a BBQ than you would speaking to a senior executive.

Key messages enables you to ‘go off script’ without losing track of what you were trying to say and ensures you still convey the most important parts.

You’re also likely to sound more authentic, relaxed and engaging.

Trust me, I’ve done it myself and it really works.

Remember you’re not delivering a speech, your starting a conversation.

Bonus tip!

Once you nail your key messages, here’s your next challenge. Why not try and distil the three messages into one concise statement – you can call it your tagline or slogan if you like – that captures the core essence of what you’re trying to say.

And then, edit it until it is 140 characters or less – now you have an awesome little sound bite that’s made for Twitter!!

So what are you waiting for? Start working on your key messages and you’ll be pitching like a pro before you know it.