Pitching Versus Presenting


Today, my students and I had a great discussion about presentations in the business environment.  I always love a student with real world presentation experience because he or she is able to offer the other students in the class a more in-depth look at how presentations work outside of the classroom.  All too often, however, the students who have that real world experience are often older… and they often cling to the tired, logos-driven, death-by-PowerPoint because that’s what they’ve seen and done themselves.  They’ve also done more pitching and less presenting out in that real world, so this can be a challenge and a problem when they enroll in my class.  It’s often difficult to differentiate the two, and they are definitely not interchangeable.

A pitch, Guy Kawasaki explains, is “usually used to raise money” (Source).  The Pitching Coach tells us that “the big difference is that when you pitch you are going for the very specific outcome of getting people to pull out their wallet, credit card or check book and pay you for your products or services or give you the funding for a startup business. With more general public speeches or presentation you typically only need to inform, entertain and maybe educate and inspire” (Source).  Kawasaki teaches us how to make a great pitch and differentiates between the “pitch” and the “presentation” here.

Nancy Duarte herself describes presenting to senior executives as less “presentation” and more “pitch.”  In “How To Present to Senior Executives,” she writes, “Having presented to top executives in many fields — from jet engines to search engines — I’ve learned the hard way that if you ramble in front of them, you’ll get a look that says, ‘Are you kidding me? You really think I have the time to care about that?'” (Source).  Instead of delivering a TED Talk, Duarte suggests a pitch-style speech: summarizing up front; getting to the point quickly; asking for questions; and remembering all the while not to waste your audience’s time (Source).  These short summary speeches are a way to get your foot in the door, to earn the respect of your audience, and to gain their support (Source).  After all, as Kawasaki explains, that is the goal of the pitch.

Knowing the enormous difference between “pitching” and “presenting” is essential to the presentation revolution.  Presentations have become essential for thought-leaders starting in the 2000s.  What lead to this shift and change in the presentation medium?  Well, the invention and popularity of PechaKucha and Ignite (2003 and 2006 respectively), the Chris Anderson TED takeover (2005) and the publication of Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds (2008) were contributing factors.  Experts like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Phil Waknell, Chip and Dan Heath, and John Medina, among many others, also had a hand in this presentation revolution.  With the medium shifting and changing in front of our eyes, it was only a matter of time before that standard business presentation also needed shaking up…


Since this attention to creating and delivering better, more engaging, and more human presentations started about 10 years ago, a presentation revolution started rumbling.  But effective presentations are not appropriate for all audiences.  In many cases, a pitch is more useful.  How do you decide whether to present or to pitch?  Why do you think there is so much confusion about the difference between the two?


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