ALL of your words have meaning

The last several events I’ve attended, some of which I’ve led, have each allowed me to encounter smart people using smart words to describe themselves, their startups, their careers, and many other things.  Most of these conversations revolved around pitching a startup or a business to investors, partners, or customers.  The words used in these types of presentations are really, really important, so I make sure that I point out when people use words that have unintended meanings or elicit an effect that is stronger or weaker than intended.  Or sometimes words are simply those Buzzword Bingo words that have been ever so played.  Here are some of the words and phrases that I ask people to reconsider.

  1. Platform – I hear this word all the time. So and so is building a “platform”.  Well, no, you’re not.  Amazon Web Services is a platform. is a platform.  A platform – in software as in real actual physical – is a thing on which you build or stage something else. You build a web app on AWS, for example. Most of the time, people say “platform” because “service” or “system” or “tool” just doesn’t sound sexy enough. Your software does not have to be sexy as long as it solves a big, hairy, industry problem.
  2. Raising money – Many times, people will say, in their pitch, “we’re trying to raise…” or “we’re considering raising…” or something like that.  Using those words, you’ve created doubt.  Instead, try “We’re raising $500k to build our MVP, build our team, and have 18 months of runway.”  Do you see the difference? “Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
  3. If you’re interested – The ask. Probably the toughest words in all of pitch-dom or all of sales.  In a pitch, the ask is your call to action from your audience. What do you want?  You want something from them – business card, a meeting, an introduction, a million dollars, whatever – but you want to make sure you can maintain control over their reaction. Like a litigator, never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. So when you get to “the ask”, say it with gusto, hutspa, vigor! “We’re trying to raise $500k, so if you’re interested, here’s my business card.”  No.  All I have to say is, “I’m not interested.”  Just ask for it: “May I please have your business card so I can call you to arrange a meeting?”
  4. Basically – This one makes me nuts. It’s almost as bad as, “I’m gonna be honest with you.”  Wow, ok, so you’ve been lying all this time?!?  When you say “basically”, you’re just wasting a word, which, in an elevator pitch, is critical time. Remove this word from your pitch vocabulary.
  5. Passion – Here’s a biggy.  If you were at the last HIVE event, Hannah Brencher spoke very clearly about her pain and her passion, but before she did that, she gave us all a lesson.  “Passion” is an overused word in our culture today. The word passion comes from the Latin word for “to suffer”. Passion literally means ‘that which you are willing to suffer for.” What’s your “passion”? What are you willing to suffer for?  That said, when you begin a startup, you really should make sure that it is your passion, because you will suffer for it.

We all use certain phrases that may or may not have their intended meaning or effect.  When we think about the words we use, and say them in the proper context, our meaning becomes clearer and stronger.

All your words have meaning, not just the ones in your pitch.




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