Pitching your idea or story, and the 20 second rule

In a post I wrote about the gamification of warehouse management, I had made reference to the 20 second rule in terms of the framework for my interview with an industry executive.

Whenever I do an interview I always look to gain an understanding of the subject matter that, as quickly as possible, can be summed up in a simple statement. Perhaps this is a by-product from the dot com boom days and the purported logic behind the proverbial elevator pitch. Specifically, if you cannot clearly demonstrate or explain to me the value of what you have to offer in 20 seconds, you either do not know what you are talking about, or what you have is of no interest to me.

Back then of course, everything was moving at light speed, as anyone and everyone was jumping on the rocket to Internet riches – real and imagined. There was no time for discussion or lengthy debate, just action.

Despite the obvious risks and shortcomings, I still like the 20 second rule – even with today’s somewhat pedestrian pace.

Here are my reasons why the 20 second rule is still important:

  • As previously stated, if explaining your value proposition has to involve a long and winding Somerset Maugham of Human Bondage-type journey, who has the time to listen or willingness to invest the time to hear you out. By the way, this is the reason why the majority of PowerPoint graphics and charts are a waste of time (check out my post onPowerPoint Failures for more details).
  • There is the compounded conversion effect, in which the length of time it takes for me to understand your solution or service value, is multiplied 10 fold in terms of both implementation and cost. In short, if it takes you a long time to explain what you provide, it will take even longer for you to implement it.
  • Then there is the organizational maturity and stability factor. I have seen this with companies such as eProcurement vendors, who are trying to either gain scalable traction beyond an initial one-account success, or in making an attempt to create inroads into new markets. In other words the situation is fluid and as such, the message that is often being delivered is both broad and convoluted, as the presenter desperately searches to find the right “combination” of words and ideas to hit the “yes I will buy” jackpot.
  • Finally, there is what I call respectful expedience – which is a gate that swings both ways. What is respectful expedience? Every day I receive calls, e-mails and social network messages, offering everything from story ideas, to requesting interviews and seeking advice on career paths, and whether or not we should use a particular vendor. I am of course both humbled and grateful that people value my opinion, and therefore I want to demonstrate my respect for them by giving them and their question and/or idea proper consideration “on a timely basis”. However, because I want to give everyone a fair ear, I do not have the cycles to go down a proverbial rabbit hole of unknown length based upon vague concepts and random thoughts of perceived brilliance i.e. cut out the middleman by feeding mayonnaise to tuna fish. What this means is that if I do not gasp what someone is saying, I will be honest and to the point in pretty short order. Conversely, and in the spirit the old adage of “being prepared,” before seeking someone’s advice or input, take the 20 second test . . . can the core of the idea and its value be presented in 20 seconds?

Now that I have provided you with the above points of reference as to why the 20 second rule is important, can you tell a compelling story that delivers your idea or vision in a concise yet effective manner?

beat the clock2

If not, check out these resources from executive coach and branding expert Roz Usheroff. While she is talking about how individuals must come across in highlighting their value relative to landing a job, the same rules apply when it comes to telling your company’s story:

You have 30 seconds . . . WOW ME!

How To Toot Your Horn Without Blowing It

PS just as a side note, Roz is more generous as she will give you 30 seconds to make your point 😉


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