How to Pitch an Idea, According to an Oscar-Winning Actor

After a nearly 30-year career in acting, Matthew McConaughey has learned the art of pitching an idea. His tips will help you sell your next idea or product.

McConaughey recently joined the faculty at Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, Austin. He participated in a video series that covered topics in advertising, marketing and public relations.

McConaughey packs a lot of information in his video titled, “Crafting a story to sell your product.” Here are three points that stood out for me.  

1. Know your audience.

 When McConaughey pitches a movie, he explains it differently to his wife, a studio head or his kids. “Pick your target, study your target and sell your product the best way they will understand it,” he says.

This is a key point that I stress with all the entrepreneurs I’ve coached. A concise elevator pitch should be relatable to a particular audience. Consider age, educational level, and experience in your industry.

Think back to your favorite high school or college class–and the ones you didn’t like. Your favorite teachers didn’t use jargon that went above your head. They made the topic come alive by making it relevant to where you were in your life, using contemporary examples and analogies.

2. Start with why.

McConaughey says a great pitch should start by answering why questions: Why is your product needed?

“What problem are you fixing? How are you making someone’s life better? Is your product more convenient, more sustainable, more enjoyable? Help me understand why I need it as a consumer,” says McConaughey.

I was thinking about the why when I read about America’s fastest-growing privately held companies. OneTrust tops the Inc. 5000. Technically, OneTrust builds a platform to operationalize privacy and security. There’s a lot of jargon in the space. For example, privacy laws are an alphabet soup of compliance regulations: CCPA, GDPR, ISO27001, etc.

Founder Kabir Barday explains why his product is useful for thousands of customers before he dives into the details.

According to Barday, OneTrust builds a suite of digital tools that gives companies a clearer view of all the user data they gather. “This enables them to comply with privacy laws, like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that give consumers greater control of how and whether com­panies use their data.”

Giving your investors and prospects a clear picture of why your product is needed will help them understand how the product works.

3. Tell a story.

“To get to the head you’ve got to go through the heart,” says McConaughey. “You’ve got to make people feel before people think and choose act on something.”

This is where most business pitches fall short. All too often, entrepreneurs assume that investors want to see data, numbers, charts and forecasts. While that’s true, investors are skeptical of numbers–like potential sales numbers– because they know there’s a fair amount of guesswork in creating those numbers.

Stories are more powerful than numbers in early stage companies because they help investors and potential partners understand where the idea or product fits in the world. One customer story speaks volumes.

If you have a product you believe in, build a story around it that’s relevant to your audience. You’ll be far more successful in selling it. 

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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