Pitching and Networking
Pitching and networking are two skills that are often used in the same settings. These skills contribute to your ability to make a positive, lasting impression of yourself and your project/business. The foundational skills needed to be a good networker and pitcher will help you build confidence through a process of practice, trial, and error.
Networking can take place almost anywhere and often sparks on a note of common interest, leading to a more in-depth discussion of ideas or business opportunities. While networking is commonly used to further your professional development, it can also manifest as a simple discussion. Use this as an opportunity to show what you are passionate about, share perspectives, and listen to what others have to say. Not every conversation will yield a specific opportunity, but these types of encounters are chances to learn and to build relationships that may bring opportunities later on. When the conversation does turn into a potential opportunity, be prepared to talk about how your skills and interests apply.
Pitching is a tool that can be used in formal pitching settings or informally integrated into a conversation. A pitch, often about 60-90 seconds long, is a slightly more structured way of introducing yourself or your project to an individual or audience that quickly communications some very key messaging. Your pitch may vary slightly depending on who you're talking to, so practicing and knowing your information very well will help you be able to adapt it to a particular conversation.
Why It’s Important
Networking is a critical tool in establishing mutually beneficial professional relationships. Building your network allows you to improve your skills, keeps you informed of industry developments and job opportunities, and is a great way to meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients. It’s also a critical step in making others aware of your project and what you’re doing.
A mistake often made at large networking events is rushing to meet as many people as possible. Networking is about making meaningful connections that can offer returns down the road; take the time to make a memorable impression on the people you’re meeting; sometimes less is more.
Don’t forget to ask questions and listen to the other person - they’re networking too! Offer to introduce them to people in your network that you think could benefit them. This encourages them to reciprocate and offer their help to you.
When it comes to professional networking, you must know how to effectively and concisely communicate your ideas. The commonly-referred “elevator pitch” is a great tool to have handy for sharing ideas in a conversation - your pitch should highlight the critical points of your idea, focusing on what makes it unique and innovative, be memorable, engaging, and easy to understand.
Networking in Action
At a networking event:
- Set a goal or intention: Arrive at your meeting or event prepared; do some preliminary research on who’s attending and know who you want to talk to. Have some background knowledge of their experience and arrive with questions in mind.
- Use the buddy system: Networking can be very intimidating, especially for introverts; approaching people with a friend can ease some of the pressure. It can also be easier to talk up someone other than yourself, so network with someone whose story you know well and who also knows your story well.
- Make it a challenge/game: Beyond just having a goal in mind, turn networking into a challenge or game for yourself (e.g. “I’ll connect with 5 people” or “I want to offer 5 people my business card.”) If you’re networking in a pair or know someone else at the event, turn it into a competition! This will push you to go outside your comfort zone and gives you a more defined purpose.
- Everyone’s awkward: Know that networking is awkward for everyone, even high-level corporate representatives - you’re not alone!
- “What can I do for you?”: Remember our unit on reciprocal mentorship relationships? A great way to start those are at networking events, and by asking them a variation of “what can I do for you?” Be prepared to highlight some of your skills, experience, and interests if they present you with an opportunity.
Pitching in Action
When preparing your pitch, keep in mind the basic purpose: to be concise, clear, and memorable. Here are some prompts to help you start crafting your pitch:
- In one sentence, what is my idea?
- What gaps in the industry/market/etc. does my idea fill?
- What makes my idea new and necessary?
- How does this idea apply to the person I’m talking to?
- What do I want people to take away from my pitch?
- What makes you passionate about your idea?
It is also helpful to think of what you need your audience to believe for them to give you more of their time. The following list is a good starting point:
- That you are working on an important and impactful problem
- That you have a unique and feasible solution to this problem
- That you have assembled a team that will be able to execute on building this venture
- That you have a plan to capture and defend the majority of the market
- That you have impressive momentum behind your efforts (it’s easy for people to want to support you if other people they respect already are)
When you have the answers to these questions you will have a better understanding of how to frame your pitch. Your pitch should answer these questions for your audience without blatantly stating them.
- Follow the rule of 3: Our short-term memory capacity is surprisingly limited, but our brains are good at remembering things in groups of 3. When crafting your pitch, try outlining 3 key points that you want your listener to takeaway. This technique also helps you remember what it is you want to say.
- Avoid jargon and don’t rely on statistics: Unless you know otherwise, don’t assume that your listener knows all the technical terms of your field. Use language that anyone could understand and keep it simple.
Also, avoid mentioning too many numbers - it can be overwhelming and distract from the main message. Use your statistics to emphasize the impact of your work rather than define it.
- Talk about your experience: When it comes to making your pitch memorable, connect your idea to a personal experience. Our brains are wired to remember things and information that stand out from the rest, so reflecting on what inspired you and your idea can help make your story more impactful and also engages your listener.
To practice, share your pitch with a friend or colleague and ask them to summarize what you said. This will help you see what points stand out to your audience and whether the message you’re getting across is actually what you want to say. You may want to have audience-specific pitches ready to appeal to, for example, potential partners versus consumers.
Asserting Your Lived Experience
What if you’re the only one in the room that looks like you? That talks like you? What if you’re in a room full of established professionals, and you’re feeling unqualified in comparison?
Asserting your lived experience as a qualification in your pitches and networking conversations is a great way to overcome anxiety and imposter syndrome while setting you apart from the rest. Your lived experience can be seen as a qualification, if you frame it right. It’s great to consider how you’ll do this beforehand:
- Think about what lived experience you’d like to highlight and reflect on how it translates into a qualification.[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]“I’ve encountered racism my whole life, but I was always taught how to encounter those experiences with the intention of love and education. This has informed how I approach conflict, even in the workplace, and has made me successful in considering how to confront positions based on misinformed and sometimes hostile attitudes.”[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]“I’m the first in my family to go to post-secondary school. I’ve had the privilege of getting a great education in digital literacy, however many of my family members struggle with accessing web-based tools. This insight informs how I plan community engagement and communications with an accessibility lens.
- There may be norms that you’ll want to challenge, or to encourage the people in your conversation to think about. Considering this in relation to the lived experience your asserting can contribute to the strength of your statement.
“What is valid knowledge and who decides this?”
“Just like we, as youth, need the guidance of experts who understand the field, I think we have generational knowledge that can enhance the relevance and effectiveness of expert knowledge.”
Asserting your lived experience takes practice, try different approaches and find your comfort with a few rehearsed mini-pitches.
Pitching: To present an idea to people and make an ask of how they can support
Networking: exchanging information with others in a social setting
Jargon: unique words or expressions that are used by a particular group (industry) of people