Why you should never say “hope,” “believe” or “think” again

Oct 09 2014

When we first utter the word “pitch” in the Reese News Lab, everyone immediately thinks about Shark Tank, the ABC reality show for aspiring entrepreneurs. The students even use the hashtag #SharkLab when tweeting about initial idea pitches during the first week of the semester.

The first round of pitches are quick shot of reality, a stark preview of what happens at the end of the semester at Pitch Day. Students know their time will come to stand in front of a large group of people to pitch their final idea.

But in the Lab, the concept of a pitch is much more than the end of a 16-week process. We start pitching in earnest during Week Six.

Our first pitch, the “gut check pitch,” isn’t a polished story. In fact, we don’t give teams any instruction on how to pitch at this point.

The three-minute gut check pitch is the best way to determine how much or how little the teams actually know about their products. (And I take great pleasure in hearing the air horn sound from my phone when a team’s time is up.)

It may be counterintuitive, but offering no instruction on how to pitch frees up the teams to tell us what they think is most important. They decide what goes into the three minutes. They pick and choose the data, quotes and prototype testing results to share.

We follow the pitch with 10 minutes of questions and answers, diving into the data the students present. We suggest different tactics and ideas. Most importantly, we ask, “How do you know that?”

During the pitch and Q&A, I’m always listening for words like “hope,” “believe,” and “think.” I don’t care what our teams believe or think. I want to hear what they know and how they know it. Nothing else really matters.

After those 13 minutes, there is visible concern on the faces of most students. While teams are proud of how far they’ve come from the blank wall they start with at the beginning of the semester (as am I), they’ve uncovered numerous questions that must be answered.

That’s why we start pitching at Week Six. We uncover holes early so we can fill them before we craft our final pitches.

We’ll have teams pitch at least once a week for the next several weeks. Sometimes the pitches are planned; oftentimes they are not. When visitors stop by the Lab, we’ll grab a team and make the students pitch their product in 90 seconds.

In the coming weeks, we’ll also change the length and the focus of the pitches. For example, in a couple of weeks, we’ll require the teams to pitch only about what they’ve learned about the viability of their product.

Our goal is to ask as many questions as possible so that on Pitch Day, any question can be answered.


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