Pitching tips from Richard Branson

I've given a lot of pitches over the years, and it's fair to say I've heard a lot of pitches too, says the entrepreneur. Here are his tips how to stand out from the pack.

by Richard Branson
Last Updated: 02 May 2014

1. What is the one sentence that sums up why your business is the best? You need to be able to deliver it whether you're in an elevator or about to get on a plane.

2. How did you come up with the idea? Everybody loves to hear the story about how you started out.

3. Do you have energy, persistence and self-belief? Give examples. Lots of people have an idea. You need to convince people that you have the determination to see your ideas through. When Virgin Radio tried to recruit popular British radio personality Chris Evans to join its roster in the 1990s, I jumped on his British Airways Concorde flight to New York in an attempt to win him over. We had just taken BA to court and won against its aggressive 'dirty tricks' campaign and so taking its premier plane was a big leap for me.

With Evans’ agent trapped a few rows back and the crew fussing over the two of us, I was able to woo him and he agreed a deal on the back of a Concorde napkin. In the end Evans not only signed to do the breakfast show for us, he ended up buying Virgin Radio off Virgin and its partners.

4. Smile. A lost bet with AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes meant having to dress as a female cabin crew member and serve drinks on one of his flights:

You never know where you'll meet your next investor: besides raising money for a good cause, the flight resulted in me making quite a number of interesting business connections.

Here's what all successful pitches have in common:

  • They explain how the new business will make a difference to customers and provide a compelling alternative to competitors. This means showing a new way of doing things to shake up the market, and explaining it in short, sharp, entertaining fashion.
  • They are grounded in expert knowledge of the industry. If you are going to launch anything - a new social network, a new bank, a new fashion line – you need to demonstrate a solid understanding of the market and how you can disrupt it.
  • They have a realistic plan. While high concepts are fine, pitches need to illustrate how a company could work practically. This means legal, financial and operational plans. It’s tough to include details in a short presentation, but the most engaging pitches manage to combine passion with pragmatism.
  • They are in it for the long haul. Nothing stays the same, and business changes faster than most things. Pitches latching on to the flavour of the month are all well and good, but they need to communicate how the business could grow sustainably and develop in the future.

On the inaugral flight of Virgin Atlantic in 1984

  • They show their strongest hand. Pitching is all about selling your idea and your business as an exciting place to be. Highlight the strengths – especially the talented people who are working on the project – and don’t be afraid to talk up your prospects.

- Branson's 'Pitch to Rich' final will take place on May 13. Check out the finalists here. 

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