Pitchfalls Winner Announced

Pitchfalls2In our excitement about selling out of our first batch of Pitchfalls: Why Bad Pitches Happen to Good People, we decided to give away the first copy of the second batch for free. You may have seen us tweeting like crazy last week to let you all know about it. To decide the lucky winner, we randomly chose one of our Facebook followers. We’re happy to announce that the winner is…..

Mieko Van Kirk of Seattle, WA!

Mieko is operations manager at Sightline, a Seattle-based nonprofit that researches best public policy practices for the Northwest. Mieko says, “Thanks, Claxon! Looking forward to sharing what I learn from Pitchfalls with my colleagues here at Sightline Institute.”

Congratulations, Mieko!

For those of you that didn’t win, you can purchase a copy of Pitchfalls on Amazon, or in Seattle at The Elliott Bay Bookstore or Third Place Books.

We Want YOU to Win a Very Special Copy of Pitchfalls

All of us at Claxon are so excited that our first batch of Pitchfalls: Why Bad Pitches Happen to Good People has sold out. Thank you to everyone that played a part in this awesome accomplishment. We like to think we’ve contributed to getting rid of boring elevator pitches forever.


The second batch of Pitchfalls just arrived, and we want to show some appreciation. We’ll be giving away the very first copy of the second batch to one of our Facebook followers. If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, check out our Facebook page and press ‘like’. Now is the time – we’ll be choosing and announcing the winner tomorrow May 9th. Thank you again to all of our supporters, and good luck! Remember, visit our Facebook page now and press ‘like’. We can’t wait to give you your copy of Pitchfalls.

#FixMyPitch—Children’s Hunger Alliance

Children's Hunger AllianceChildren’s Hunger Alliance submitted their pitch via Twitter as part of the #FixMyPitch contest we did with Beth Kanter. They weren’t a winner because their pitch didn’t need enough fixing. However, it’s a perfect example of how small tweaks can make a huge impact on your pitch.

Bear in mind that, unlike Seacoast Science Center and Pacific Education Institute, where I did a coaching session with them, I haven’t chatted with the fine folks at Children’s Hunger Alliance. What follows is the type of thinking and pondering I’d do if I were them and wanted to improve my pitch by making a series of minor adjustments.

The Pitch: Children’s Hunger Alliance ensures all children are fed regular and nutritious meals and develop lifelong healthy eating habits.

You want your pitch to be a triple threat: concise, compelling and repeatable.  Weighing in at a mere 16 words, this pitch is fairly concise. But, because of word choice, it’s neither compelling nor repeatable. (Insert sad trombone.)

Here are some thoughts on making this pitch more compelling and repeatable, while keeping it concise.

  1.  ‘Ensure’ is a fine word in writing, but it isn’t a word people say naturally in casual conversation (and, if they do, they sound like a robot, which isn’t very compelling). You up the odds of your pitch being repeated by using the more casual, spoken version. Easy fix for this particular word: switch to ‘make sure’.
  2. ‘…children are fed’ uses passive voice. The work you do isn’t passive, don’t let your voice be! Try something like, “We make sure all children get…”
  3. When we speak, it’s more common to say ‘kids’ than ‘children’. There is no right or wrong on this one. There are legitimate reasons to stick with ‘children’. Many organizations I work with feel that ‘children’ is more respectful. Just know that when others talk about your work, there’s a good chance they’ll say ‘kids’.
  4. Your ‘know’ pitch should speak directly to the one thing you want to be known for. One. In this pitch, it’s hard to tell what’s more important: the regular meals or the lifelong healthy eating habits. I know it’s hard to pick. You want to say it’s both, but you need to prioritize. Do you want to be known for the meals or the eating habits?

Depending on the answer to #4, you could go one of two directions with your ‘know’ pitch:

Option A: We make sure all kids get healthy meals on a regular basis.

Option B: We make sure all kids develop healthy eating habits. (Note: ‘Lifelong healthy eating habits’ is mega-awkward to say. To those not seeped in the work, ‘healthy eating habits’ implies longevity.)

It’s pretty easy to imagine two parents hanging out on the school playground waiting to pick up their kids and one of them saying, “I just learned about Children’s Hunger Alliance. Have you heard of them? They make sure all our kids get healthy meals on a regular basis.” Or “They make sure all our children develop healthy eating habits.” Tougher to convince yourself that a parent would, in casual playground convo, say “They ensure all children are fed regular and nutritious meals and develop lifelong healthy eating habits.” See the difference?

Ideally, your ‘know’ pitch will weigh in at 10 words or less. Option A is 12 words, so a tidge long. Option B is 9. Either way, my hunch is if you make these types of small adjustments to your pitch, you’ll start to get some traction.

Good job, Children’s Hunger Alliance—thanks for all you do to help kids!

Want more help with your messaging? Check out our free Messaging Toolkit.

Before & After with #FixMyPitch Grand Prize Winner Seacoast Science Center





You may recall that we teamed up with Beth Kanter to do something called the #FixMyPitch contest. Out of a bevvy of entries, we ended up with two Grand Prize Winners—Seacoast Science Center and Pacific Education Institute–and three runners-up–MKE123, WoodGreen, and United Way of King County’s Free Tax Campaign. Congrats to our winners and to all the brave souls who submitted their pitches for fixing!

The Grand Prize Winners each did a coaching session with me. We’re going to do a series of ‘before and after’ posts that show how we fixed their pitches in the hopes that you’ll get the inspiration and information you need to fix yours. (If you’re looking for more free resources on how to spruce up your pitch, you can download our Messaging Toolkit.)

In the posts, we’ll  focus on the ‘know’ pitch, since everything else falls into place once that’s nailed down. Although the pitches are specific to each organization, the advice is applicable to lots and lots of organizations. So, if you read one and think, “Hmmmm…we do that,” see if you can apply the fix to your pitch.


Before: “The Seacoast Science Center is a non-profit marine science education organization located on the New Hampshire coast. Ocean education is what we do. We use programs and exhibits to inform people, from toddlers to grandparents, about why a healthy ocean is important. We educate and motivate. We want everyone to recognize and understand that the things that people do every day have an impact on the health of the ocean and that the health of the ocean has impact on their daily lives. Invest in us and you are building a community of ocean stewards that care about the future of the seas. A healthy ocean drives the quality of life for future generations.”

After: We teach kids why the ocean matters to them.

Seacoast Science Center faced three big issues with their pitch. These issues befuddle even the best and brightest of organizations. Here’s what they were and how you can fix them:

Issue #1: Answering questions, rather than inviting them

Seacoast Science Center’s pitch is really three pitches masquerading as one. In reality, it includes a ‘know’ pitch, an ‘understand’ pitch, and an ‘engage’ pitch. This happens a lot. It happens because we’re worried that someone will have a question that we didn’t cover. Oh no!!! Better cover off on every conceivable thing. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

You want people to ask you questions! In the world of pitches, that’s success. It means you were clear and compelling enough for someone to want to know more. Hooray!

Instead of trying to answer every single question out of the gate, brainstorm the types of questions you’d like to be asked. Then think about how you might structure your pitches to invite those questions.

Issue #2: The curse of the boring verb!

Verbs are the action heroes of every sentence—they represent the change you want to create in the world! For better or worse, in English we focus way more on our nouns (people, places and things) than we do on our verbs. We spend so much time on our nouns, in fact, that by the time we get around to thinking about our verbs, we’re exhausted. This exhaustion leads us to using boring verbs like provide and help and is and are.

Let’s pause on ‘is’ and ‘are’ for a moment as they play a starring role in many a pitch. When you intro your organization with “We are…” or “Seacoast Science Center is…”, you focus on the organization itself (the subject) rather than what you do (the verb) or for whom you do it (the object). Although you are undoubtedly wonderful and fascinating, most people care less about you and your organization and much more about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. So you want to do what you can to avoid ‘is’ and ‘are’. (Here’s more on why ‘provide’ should also be avoided. At. All. Cost.)

You don’t want flashy verbs, per se. (People don’t generally use flashy words when they speak.) You want verbs that have purpose.

When I asked Rob and Nicole from Seacoast Science Center what change they wanted to create in the world, they said, “We want to educate kids about the importance of the ocean. We want to connect them to the natural world.”

See how educate and connect are much more specific than ‘is’? This was progress in the right direction. But we weren’t quite there yet because ‘educate’ has its own set of challenges, namely that it implies an inherent power dynamic. Wanting a verb that put kids on more of an equal footing, Seacoast Science Center landed on ‘teach’ as their verb.

Issue #3: Ignoring your ‘why’

Having found their verb (yippee!), it was time to turn our attention to why Seacoast Science Center teaches kids about the ocean. At this point in our conversation, I channeled my inner 3 year old (as I frequently do with clients…) and started asking ‘why’. Why do they want kids to better understand how they impact the ocean? Why do people need to connect with the natural world? Why does ocean education matter in this day and age?

Here’s the thing: when you’re working on an issue day in and day out, it’s easy to forget why what you’re doing matters. Can’t everyone see that this work is super, duper important?! No, actually we can’t. You have to remind us, your dear listeners, why your work matters. Why should we care about a “non-profit marine science education organization located on the New Hampshire coast”?  In this case, it turns out we should care not just because they ocean matters—in general—but because it matters to us, as people, as humans, as inhabitants of planet Earth. There is a symbiotic relationship—be nice to the ocean and the ocean will be nice back. Or, conversely, if you mess with the ocean, the ocean will mess with you. (And the ocean is way bigger than you, so best to play nice.)

When kids come to Seacoast Science Center, they learn about everything from gihugic sea mammals to palm-size sea anemones. In all instances, the key point is: the ocean is its very own great, big, wide world filled with amazing animals and creatures. They may seem a world apart, but they impact your life in ways you might not think about. And you impact them in ways you may not think about. But should.

When we shifted away from where the teaching was taking place and focused on why it was taking place, it infused their pitch with meaning and teed up a question they very much want to answer—why does the ocean matter to us?

If you struggle with any of the issues outlined above, try one of the fixes and see what happens. Remember, small tweaks can yield big returns. Experiment. Fail. And have fun!

The #FixMyPitch Contest

Sarah book-1 (3)

The idea is simple: many worthy organizations and individuals have pitches that need fixing, but aren’t sure how to do it. You enter your pitch (or kindly forward the info along to someone who might have a pitch that could use some fixing) and we pick the three pitches most in need of sprucing up.

  • Three winners will receive a free copy of Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people.
  • One Extra Super Lucky Grand Prize Winner will win a free coaching session with me during which we’ll perform (drum roll please…) an Extreme Pitch Makeover! (Sounds kind of painful, but is actually quite fun.)

Deadline is Friday, October 25, so spread the word and/or enter your pitch in today!

The naughty exclamation point!

In honor of National Punctuation Day, I’d like to offer a few tips on exclamation point usage. Of all the punctuation out there, why the exclamation point, you ask? Because I’m seeing a naughty trend in how y’all are using it. #ShameOnYou

Before we get to the naughtiness, let’s get something clear: Exclamation points are the cheerleaders and rabblerousers of the punctuation world. As such, you should only use one when you have a truly strong emotion–excited, mad, elated, indignant, astonished, etc–about whatever is in the sentence it is capping off (yep, I know that’s a dangling participle).

Now for the naughty: We (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘you’) are all too frequently making the poor exclamation point do the yucky work of masking a sub-awesome reality.

A few examples and suggestions:

    • “The office coffee machine is broken. Good thing there’s a Starbucks just half a mile away!” If you’re used to being able to amble down the hall to get your fix, trudging half a mile is not an adequate substitute. And you know it. Person up and say something like: “The office coffee machine broke. We can either all snip at each other all day or you can take your bad selves down to the Starbucks. The walk will do you good. The machine will be fixed tomorrow. Deal.”
    • “We didn’t meet our fundraising goals this past quarter. But there’s always next quarter!” Are you really feeling pumped about not meeting your fundraising goals? Probably not. No amount of exclamation points is going to fix the fact that you didn’t meet your goals. Having said that, it’s also not the end of the world. But you do need to address what’s going on and have a discussion about how you propose to move forward. That means having a conversion. That means you need a question mark. “We didn’t meet our fundraising goals this past quarter. Why do you think that is and how can we work as a team to hit them next quarter?”

And your donors see through your exclamation points as well. If you overuse them, they lose their impact. Use them sparingly. If you find yourself sticking an exclamation point on everything, it probably means you’re using boring words (like, say, provide). Let your exclamation points take a nap while you forage for some spunkier words.

[Looking for more tips on using language to increase your impact? Check out Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. Sneak peak available right here.]


7 Rules of Thumb (plus some cats and dogs)

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Photo credit: @DressForSuccesPHX

Earlier this week, I gave a keynote for the Alliance of Arizona’s annual membership meeting. I got to talk about one of the my all-time favorite topics >> The Language of Impact: how words can make the world a better place.

We covered 7 rules of thumb when it comes to using language, and therefore words, to increase impact.

  1. Get rigorous.
  2. Focus on your verbs.
  3. Ditch the robo-speak
  4. Stop talking about yourself.
  5. Stop talking so much.
  6. Translate your taglines.
  7. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Some, but not all, of these are covered in some form or fashion in Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people, my pocket-size book about pitches.

I focus a lot on pitches because they force you to really pay attention to every single word you use. It’s a useful exercise to see if you can say what you have to say in 10 words or less. It forces you to find the very best words and to prune out the superfluous ones.

Is this easy? No. Mark Twain said, “I would’ve written you a shorter story, but I didn’t have the time.”

Is it worth it? Yes.

Because the above Rules of Thumb take a little explaining in order to embrace, over the next few weeks, you’ll see a follow-up post on each rule. In the meantime, experiment with saying whatever you have to say in 10 words or less. See what stays and what goes.

(If you know anyone else who might be interested in how to use words to make the world a better place, share/forward this post so they can get in on the action, okay? Thanks!)

A note on cats and dogs: At the beginning of my talk, I asked a series of questions so I could factor the audience’s answers into my remarks. One of the questions was whether they were a cat person or a dog person. Someone asked me later how I used that information. (They were too polite to say it, but I think their real question was: do I really use that information or do I just ask it because it’s kinda funny? Either question is totally legit.)

Here’s the answer: I commonly ask the question at the beginning of a talk and, yes, I totally use what I learn. Acknowledging that this is a GROSS GENERALIZATION (and one with which some will take umbrage), here’s how: I use it as a proxy for how extroverted/introverted a group is. I then use this to inform how much I will/can engage the group.

For this particular group, there were way more dog people than cat people in da house. I engaged the audience a whole lot. I called on people individually. I asked questions throughout, etc. If there had been way more cat people, I might not have engaged quite so much. At least not right away. I would’ve eased into it a bit more. Not because introverts aren’t social–because they can be!–but they generally have a different learning style than extroverts. (See this wonderful graphic for more on introverts and extroverts.) This cat/dog approach is not an exact science and has its flaws, but it works pretty darn well.

So there you have it: 7 Rules of Thumb, plus some cats and dogs.

Disclaimer: The above paragraph should not be taken as judgement for or against introverts or extroverts, cat-lovers or dog-lovers or animal-lovers, in general. The world needs all the above, plus the animals they love.

Pitching women in tech [infographic]

It’s no accident that infographics are all the rage these days. Our brains readily absorb info in tidy visual packages. It forces brevity and therefore helps us avoid Pitchfall #3 (“you talk too much”).

Below is great example of an infographic that blends interesting info (only 8% of venture-backed startups have women leaders…ugh) with a subtle pitch (getting an MBA can help close the gender gap).

Getting more women into tech has been an uphill battle. There are lots of different groups chipping away at it and progress is being made, but it’s tough to get a sense for how much progress. We need a shot of optimism that the gap is shrinking.

Obviously, education plays a huge role in bridging this gap. With this infographic, MBA Online, makes it easy to see how far we’ve come and, by being the creator of the graphic, plants the seed that getting an MBA could be a great move if you’re a woman interested in tech.

Sometimes, letting the words take a backseat to some visuals is a mighty fine way to make your pitch.

The Rise Of Women In Tech

A little love is better than a lot of like

But do the love you?

In the next version of Pitchfalls, I’m going to add the following to the list: “You want to be liked, rather than loved.”

Jessica Valenti put it so eloquently in her post, She who dies with the most likes wins?

“The truth is that we don’t need everyone to like us, we need a few people to love us. Because what’s better than being roundly liked is being fully known—an impossibility both professionally and personally if you’re so busy being likable that you forget to be yourself.”

You can’t be all thing to all people. Better to have a smaller number of donors adore you than a whole bunch who only kinda sorta like you. Ish.

Pitchfalls (a free eBook to help you unleash your awesome)


UPDATE: This little gem was so popular I turned it into a mini-book!  Get your copy today.

The word ‘pitch’ has such a bad rap. It’s sad, really. Because a pitch is your ticket to conversations that lead to more people engaged with you and your awesome work.

There’s a lot of similarity between people’s pitch glitches. They can, in fact, be categorized. I shared three reasons why bad pitches happen to good people a few weeks back. What I didn’t tell you was what to do about all this bad pitching.

In Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people (a FREE sneak peak), I share the top five reasons that people stumble when delivering a pitch. I explain why it happens and, most importantly, how to fix it.

I wrote the eBook knowing it would be read by busy people–people like you who want to making the world a better place, have a great pitch to help you do it, but can’t quite find the time to make it happen. You can dramatically improve your pitch in less than 10 minutes. So can your staff and board. Really, you can. 

For those of you who can’t wait to know what the top five Pitchfalls are, here you go.

  1. You sound like  a robot
  2. You talk about yourself
  3. You talk too much
  4. You use jargon
  5. You sound like a talking tagline
If any of these sound familiar (or intriguing), buy your very own copy of Pitchfalls and get the full scoop!


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?