Most innovators have their own style when they pitch their ideas. Some styles work better than others. Few, like Nancy Duarte, have systemized the product pitch into a verifiable process that works. Her system works in innovation, product management, and in leadership, particularly when it comes time to scale the company.
In fact, the 2016 Annual Product Management and Marketing Survey identified a “pitch artist” as one of the four skills that are responsible for a significant increase in personal income, averaging 25% over other innovators. A pitch artist is one with “the ability to stand up to peers, managers and executives and sell them your ideas and conclusions.”
When it comes to being a pitch artist — effectively communicating ideas and influencing others — Nancy Duarte of the Duarte design firm in Silicon Valley is the go-to expert. I interviewed Nancy to learn how to be a better pitch artist.
She shared how innovators can effectively communicate ideas and influence others to support their ideas. She takes us on a journey through storytelling, movies, and tribal traditions, sharing what it means to be an “idea Torchbearer” through five stages:
Below is the summary of the essential points of our discussion.
Why do you call innovators “Torchbearers”?
In Illuminate I shared…”Leaders aren’t just the people at the top of the org chart—a leader is anyone who can see a better future and rally people to reach it. Whether you’re an executive, entrepreneur, or individual contributor, you have the potential to motivate people through your words and actions.” In fact, Illuminate is written for innovators and how they can influence others to join their plans. If we called them leaders, it wouldn’t really capture what we were trying to convey. We landed on torchbearers and travelers. We were actually inspired by Frodo [in Lord of the Rings] in the sense that he was the bearer of a ring and it came with a burden. You have to be called to be a leader but then you have to accept it, almost like a mantle, but so many people just pass it by. We really liked the concept of bearing a torch, because in situations where you need a torch, usually it’s dark and damp and scary and not well-lit and unknown. You don’t know where you’re going and you need a torch. A torch basically illuminates enough right in front of you to make the next few steps bearable and understandable. That’s what communication does. It casts just enough light for people to join you and say, “I could go there, that’s not that scary.” That’s why we really like this concept of torchbearer and travelers, because it’s a journey and the leader should be on the journey with the team and understanding how they’re feeling, understanding when they’re too tired to keep going, and understanding when they need their wounds healed.
Dream – the start of the Venture Scape
Torchbearers are successful when they use the Venture Scape. The Venture Scape is a 5-stage structure. It beings with a Dream. The first thing you need to do is have a dream – a dream of an alternate future. As the communicator, that moment needs to be one of inspiration. In the dream phase you need to create a moment of inspiration and to do that, you would use speeches, stories, ceremonies and symbols to inspire people.
Leap – Stage 2 of the Venture Scape
After declaring a dream, you need to create action in others, like William Wallace in Braveheart being on the muddy field. You need to understand the hearts of the people when you declare the dream – their hearts will determine who will hear the dream and jump in or not. If you say it in such a way, people will want to commit. If there’s any resistance, you need to create a moment of decision, a moment where they have to decide. Dream and Leap are the first act of a three-act story.
Flight and Climb
These next two stages go together and make up the second act of the story. They are the messy middle, and that’s Fight and Climb. Just like in storytelling, in a really exciting adventure movie, there’s the challenge that must be overcome, like Frodo getting the arrow in his shoulder, and still having to climb the vast mountain. It’s the most exciting time and you know you’re on the edge of your seat, but it is not fun to be the one going through it. One of the reasons Venture Scape is a visual model is because we really wanted leaders, anyone who’s leading a product or leading change or innovating, to understand how hard this is and how hard it can be on rest of the group. We need to really understand the hearts and minds of the people we’re asking to do this work, and so this fight phase is very important, and this is when you need to create a kind of a rally cry. In myths and movies, what happens is usually at this phase is they have to recommit to what they committed to originally. It’s about reconnecting them to the dream of why we’re doing this in the first place.
This is the third and final act. We don’t call this a moment of victory, but rather a moment of reflection, because in reality you don’t always win. We don’t wake up every day having won. Life’s not like that. We lose a lot. When that happens, we need to be able to let those who followed us know we tried and we lost. We need to reflect on what just happened. If it’s a victory, you reflect on the victory. But even in a victory, there were lessons learned. Capture those and then move on. Organizations that are thriving are constantly innovating, which means no sooner do you arrive than you have to move on to the next product.
Listen to the interview with Nancy Duarte on The Everyday Innovator Podcast.
image credit: depositphotos
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Chad McAllister, PhD is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow @ChadMcAllister