How to Craft the Perfect Pitch: Match the Message with the Novelty of the Idea

Milthon Lujan Monja

Have you ever had a fantastic idea but struggled to explain it to potential sponsors? You’re not alone. The way you present your concept can make all the difference.

In the fast-paced world of startups, a compelling proposal can make the difference between financing your dreams and seeing them fade away. But what separates a captivating pitch from a forgettable one? New research suggests it might come down to a surprising factor: framing.

Entrepreneurs should modify their pitches based on how innovative their idea is, according to researchers from Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), George Washington University, and New York University in a study published in the journal Innovation: Organization & Management.

The Power of Framing: Abstract vs. Concrete

Imagine an entrepreneur pitching a revolutionary new product. Should they focus on the big vision (“why” it matters) or the essential details (“how” it works)?

Recent studies suggest that the key to capturing the audience’s attention lies in framing. But the most effective approach depends on whom you’re addressing:

  • Experts: Investors and innovation managers with relevant knowledge may respond better to a concrete “how” framing. This approach delves into the mechanics and processes behind your idea.
  • Lay Audience: For everyday people (collective funders, students), a more abstract “why” framing resonates better. Focus on the overall goal or the problem your idea solves.

According to the study’s results, the best approach depends on the level of innovation your idea presents. The study explores two framing strategies for presenting ideas:

  • Abstract Framing (Why): This approach emphasizes the overall purpose and the problem your idea solves. It focuses on the “big picture.”
  • Concrete Framing (How): This approach delves into the details of your idea: how it works, its features, and the benefits it offers.
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Novelty Matters: Matching the Frame with the Idea

The study conducted two experiments to test the impact of framing on how a lay audience (think potential investors, crowdfunding backers, or everyday people) evaluates new ideas. Here’s what they found:

  • Radical Ideas: When presenting a truly innovative concept, framing it in concrete terms (“how” it works) generated a more positive reception from the audience. The clear picture of the mechanics behind the idea helped them grasp its potential.
  • Incremental Ideas: For ideas that offer a slight improvement over existing solutions, an abstract (“why”) framing was more effective. Highlighting the problem and the overall value proposition resonated better with the audience.

Professor Simone Ferriani, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London, said: “We wanted to identify the best way for entrepreneurs to present their ideas to capture the attention and investment of the public. Could the way they pitch affect their success? What if they had great ideas but presented them incorrectly? We wanted to explore what presentation styles work best with different types of ideas.”

“Imagine a tech startup pitching a new, innovative virtual reality (VR) gaming platform that revolutionizes the gaming experience. Our findings suggest that in their presentation to potential users, they should emphasize concrete usability details, such as advanced feedback technology, immersive 360-degree visuals, and seamless integration with existing gaming consoles. When ideas have the potential to disrupt the status quo, this explanatory approach is key to offsetting the confusion novel ideas can cause. Conversely, when ideas are less of a leap and more of a step forward, as is the case with incremental innovations, abstract language describing the ‘why’ can be more effective,” Ferriani highlighted.

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Meanwhile, Denise Falchetti, Assistant Professor of Management at the George Washington University School of Business (GWSB), added: “This strategy leverages the audience’s existing knowledge and expectations, connecting the new idea to familiar concepts and emphasizing its place within a broader vision or goal.”

Practical Information for Entrepreneurs

This research offers valuable insights for entrepreneurs seeking to capture the audience’s attention and support:

  • Know Your Audience: Tailor your framing approach to the level of expertise your audience possesses.
  • Embrace the “How” for Radical Ideas: When your idea is truly innovative, explaining the “how” can bridge the gap between a novel concept and the audience’s understanding.
  • Focus on the “Why” for Incremental Improvements: If your idea represents a small but significant advancement, highlight the problem it solves and the overall benefit it offers.

Finally, Gino Cattani, Professor of Management and Organizations at New York University’s Stern School, concluded: “The research recommends a tailored approach: for breakthrough innovations, detail the practical aspects; for incremental improvements, focus on the big picture. As the language of entrepreneurship continues to evolve, this study provides a compass for navigating the intricate dance of persuasion and influence, offering a linguistic toolkit for turning novel concepts into accepted innovations.”

By understanding the power of framing, entrepreneurs can communicate their ideas more effectively and gain the support they need to turn those ideas into reality. So, the next time you pitch your idea, consider whether a shift from “why” to “how,” or vice versa, could be the key to unlocking success.

Simone Ferrianic
Department of Management, University of Bologna, Italy;

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Reference (open access)
Falchetti, D., Cattani, G., & Ferriani, S. (2024). Radically concrete or incrementally abstract? The contingent role of abstract and concrete framing in pitching novel ideas. Innovation, 1–21.