Want a Better Pitch? Master the “Move.”

Your problem/solution framework falls flat, unless you do this.

Elon Musk is a master of what I call the Move. Steve Jobs achieved dazzling results with the Move. Take a look at any successful sales pitch, investor pitch, or marketing message, and you’ll nearly always find the Move.

In fact, the Move can make your website messaging more engaging, your positioning more powerful, and your product collateral more effective.

Best of all, the Move is super-easy to learn.

The Way Most People Attack Pitches and Marketing Messages: Problem/Solution

Before we get into the mechanics of the Move, consider how most people structure their pitches and marketing messages. The typical approach, recommended by many, is to lay out some problem your customer faces, and then introduce the product or service you’ve built to solve it.

For example, Guy Kawasaki’s “Only 10 Slides” framework advises delving into your product (“underlying magic”) right after presenting your problem and value proposition.

From Guy Kawasaki’s “Only 10 Slides” pitch framework

Similarly, here are the basic pitch elements as described in Sam Altman’s Startup Playbook (emphasis mine):

mission, problem, product/service, business model, team, market and market growth rate, and financials.

The problem with “problem/solution” is that it usually fails to convey why your audience should care. Study any engaging movie, and you’ll see that the screenwriter doesn’t dive deeply into the action before the audience knows what’s at stake. In Star Wars, for example, before Luke sets out to rescue Leia, Obi-Wan shares this information:

Obi Wan hints at a new possible future by referencing the past

Now we understand that Star Wars will be about more than solving some princess’s problem: Her rescue — and Darth Vader’s defeat — will be in service to helping everyone in the galaxy return to happier times.

How to Execute the Move

Likewise, to hook investors, prospects, or any business audience, convey what’s at stake early. Yes, they need to hear about your target customer’s problem, but why does solving the problem matter?

To be sure, the Move doesn’t come naturally to many of us. That’s because we tend to tell stories like this:

  • A happened;
  • then B happened;
  • as a result C happened.

That strict adherence to chronology is particularly strong among engineers and scientists, most of whom (like me, a former coder) were trained to build an iron-clad case before blurting out conclusions.

But to get your audience to buckle in for the ride, you have to talk about the outcome much earlier. That’s why I call it the Move: you’re moving up the outcome — or at least an advertisement for it — higher in your narrative.

To execute the Move:

After stating the problem, but before introducing your solution, present a tantalizing glimpse of the outcome — the Promised Land — that you’ll help your customer reach.

Warning: Often when I ask founding teams to describe their Promised Land, they just describe their product. For example, they’ll say, “In the future, our customers will have a rich, well-designed interface for…” Sorry. Listing your product’s features, even obliquely, does not qualify as the Move.

The Move Done Well

In his universally praised pitch for the Tesla Powerwall, before Elon Musk shows the audience his batteries, he presents this image of a world powered completely by the sun:

Elon Musk’s keynote for the Tesla Powerwall launch

Musk could have simply listed the problems with current batteries, and then showed how the Powerwall is better. But thanks to the Move, even before he reveals the Powerwall — which stores solar energy for nighttime consumption — his audience understands why it’s important. Without the Move, the Powerwall is just a battery; with the Move, it rises to something on the order of the savior of mankind.

Still, you don’t have to be saving humanity for the Move to pay off. You don’t even need fancy graphics. Here we see the Move again, this time performed by Steve Jobs. Before revealing the first iPhone, Jobs presents this chart, which places existing phones on two axes, “smart/not smart” and “easy to use/hard to use”:

Steve Jobs, prior to revealing the first iPhone

As a result, Jobs has us imagining our lives with a smarter, easier-to-use phone before we ever see the new product. When he finally unveils features like the multi-touch display, those themes provide higher-order context for understanding the future they’ll make possible.

In an equally powerful demonstration of the Move, consider Danielle Morrill’s Series A pitch deck for Mattermark, which describes the company as a research aid for businesspeople, a kind of B2B Google. Instead of presenting screenshots, Morrill lists questions that businesspeople will be able to answer in the future more easily, thanks to Mattermark’s product:

From Mattermark’s Series A pitch deck

Always Bust the Move

Many founders, especially technically minded ones, assume it’s obvious why the problem they’re solving is crucial for customers. They’re usually wrong. If you want to maximize the odds that people pay attention, bust the Move.

Another benefit of the Move is that by getting clear on the future you want for your customer, your product roadmap gets clearer too. I’d go as far as to say that if you haven’t defined the Promised Land for your customer, it’s impossible to build a great product.

Finally, the Move lets you convey a compelling vision even if your product isn’t yet fully capable of realizing that vision. Absent the Move, your early-stage product just feels incomplete; with it, your audience can more easily imagine how your product will evolve.

About Andy Raskin:
I help early-stage teams nail strategic messaging — for sales, marketing, fundraising, and recruiting. I also lead business storytelling workshops for teams. More at http://andyraskin.com.