The Million-Dollar Pitch: How to Get Buy-In for Your Ideas

Meander
6 min readFeb 8, 2023

Anna Buldakova is CEO of Vektor AI and former employee at Meta and Intercom. Here she shares her strategies for crafting a great pitch.

Imagine: you walk into a meeting with your directors.

You’re feeling pretty good because you spent weeks crunching data, assessing options, and your recommendation is solid.

“I don’t think we’ll need the full hour” you say innocently, and before you’ve moved beyond slide one your train of thought is derailed, your proposal misinterpreted, and your directors are a wall of folded arms and clicked pens.

They do not leave the room with the conclusions you wanted to get across.

You’re left with the flicker of the overhead projector taunting your eyes, wondering how it all got away from you.

This has happened to me on more than one occasion.

These numbers are great. They’re fine, right? Oh God, what if they’re not fine?

This would be my internal monologue as I left the room. And for the longest time I didn’t realise it was how I presented, rather than what, that was the problem.

Communicating your vision to people, or getting “buy-in”, can make or break your career.

You’re a creative? That’s great.

You pride yourself on a deep technical understanding? Awesome.

You vacuum spreadsheets like a mathematical Dyson? Two thumbs up.

None of this means anything if you can’t package that creativity or domain expertise.

I’ve known founders with exhaustive pitch decks who get silent nodded out of a room.

I’ve also known founders who rock up with five slides and no numbers and walk away with every cent they asked for.

When I worked at Meta and Intercom, I would see people with this impossible knack for convincing others of their ideas, opening doors for themselves with all the resources they needed.

It took me a while to realise this is not a supernatural gift. You can get to the stage where you package your ideas so well, wrap them in stories so strong, that those same doors can open just for you.

Here’s how I do it.

Tell the Right Story

Let’s face it: some stories excite us and some don’t.

Making a presentation is no different from creating a story: we need an enticing world and kick-ass characters we want to root for.

When you pitch, you’re articulating some alternative reality. It’s got most of the same things in it that we have now: loved ones, 5G, Tom Hanks, the list goes on.

But this world is different because your idea is also in it.

You need to get people excited by the new reality.

I stand by Pixar when I craft my pitches because their storytelling framework is tried and tested. Here’s the structure:

Once upon a time…

Every day….

One day…

Because of that…

Because of that…

Until finally…

Stick these prompts in your pitch and you’ll be compelled to frame your idea as an irresistible story. It’s you against the world. It’s change against tradition. And unlike Pixar, you don’t need $50 million for each idea you have.

Another thing Pixar does well: not using graphs.

Yes numbers matter, but in a pitching context it’s the human element that packs a stronger punch.

Check out this shareholder letter by Airbnb. Jason’s story is the beautiful hook that takes the dry data and spins it into a human triumph. He’s our protagonist. Our narrative hero. Every good story needs one.

The best stories are easy to repeat. If you can recite your pitch to a friend in one minute and have them recite the general idea back to you, you know you’re onto a winner.

Focus on Desired Outcomes

Don’t spend so much time drumming up excitement that you forget the whole point of why you’re in a room with the directors, who are looking at you wondering how your account of the first act of Toy Story 4 is relevant to the customer success platform you’re building.

The story is always a vessel for your desired outcome.

Write your outcome down before you begin the planning process. Repeat the outcome throughout your pitch so it sticks in front of mind. It’s important to only have one or two so you don’t confuse your message or your call to action.

Establish Trust and Credibility

Brains are wired for stranger danger.

When a new person pitches to you, part of you is listening to their ideas, and part of you is wondering whether they’re reliable or whether they’re a threat.

You can’t really avoid this since you’ll likely pitch to people you don’t know at some point.

So how can you get past this?

Firstly: you can make an effort to understand the context of your audience. If you know what matters to your audience, you can tweak your pitch to hit all the right notes.

Try to meet with some of your audience 1:1 before the pitch. Figure out their top of mind. Ask about their pain points.

If this isn’t possible, see what you can find out online or in the brief chat you have before the meeting begins. What are the commonalities? What are they thinking about?

Try to make it so that you’re not pitching to strangers, even if you only have one or two quick observations to go on.

Secondly: before you go into that meeting, before you even have a desired outcome or your original idea, you can work to establish trust through your personal brand.

And I’m not talking about your droves of LinkedIn followers here. Work to make yourself the go-to authority within your team or your company on certain topics. Lead a lunch and learn. Share your knowledge. Your expertise will spread through the grapevine and your individual credibility will rocket.

Investing in your reputation can be a constant effort that pays off whenever you have new ideas.

And finally: appearances do matter. Especially when you’ve had limited touchpoints with those directors. Psychological cues are very important with new audiences, so make sure you’re not throwing your arms out like a wild one, or doing your Lord Voldemort impression when you speak.

Conclusion

Even if you give the same pitch a hundred times, every iteration will be different.

Your audience will change. Your desired goals might change. And so too should your pitch, because it needs to adapt to whatever context you find yourself in.

And so practice is the final tip from this post. Practice every detail you want to include. Practice for when things go wrong.

And they will go wrong.

90% of the pitches I’ve given have involved something going wrong, sometimes in my control and sometimes not.

But if you’ve rehearsed your lines and know your audience, you’ll adapt.

The small failures will only make you stronger.

I’ll leave you with two short clips of me pitching. Consider this my “before” and “after”, my “then” and “now.”

Before

After

Happy pitching!

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