Expert Advice: How to ‘Pitch your Idea’

October 1, 2007

At an interactive workshop sponsored by Women in Science and Engineering, Joseph Holmes, president and CEO of Acuity Edge and an adjunct professor in the Master of Engineering Management program, offered his expertise to help refine the networking and communications skills of more than 30 graduate students on Sept. 26. Acuity Edge is a management consulting firm that offers strategic services for corporate, university, government and venture capital clients.

The goal was for the participants to learn how to quickly and effectively convey their projects, ideas, and selves to others, be they scientists, journalists, or friends around the dinner table. After a short effective speaking lesson, audience members practiced 2-minute speed networking in rotating pairs.

"Nothing that you will hear today will be rocket science," Holmes said. "But of the hundreds of researchers I've talked to about their inventions, maybe 5 percent of them use good communication skills. As the saying goes 'Common sense is not always common practice.'"

The following represent some of Holmes top pieces of advice for conveying your ideas effectively:

  • Know who your audience is and tailor your language and approach accordingly.
  • Ask yourself what it is you wish to gain from the communications and be willing to ask for it.
  • Practice getting your idea across quickly—develop an "elevator pitch." Realize that you might only have 11 floors to convince someone your idea is worth consideration.
  • Understand what your customers need and how you can meet their demands.
  • Remember that most people, including those you may most want to influence, are not tech savvy.
  • Be enthusiastic. "If you can't get excited about your idea," he said, "who can?"
  • Focus more attention on applications and less on how your technology works. Tell your audience why they should care.
  • Don't get irritated or defensive when someone asks a tough question or doesn't understand.

Holmes is the instructor for EGRMGMT 274 "Commercializing Technology Innovations," a course designed to demystify the journey from idea creation to value extraction, and EGRMGMT 296 "Engineering Management Practicum." Holmes earned his B.S. in electrical engineering and materials engineering and M.S. in materials engineering from North Carolina State University, and an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business.