The biggest communication problem is not what you think, and it can kill your pitch!

PitchBitch Biggest Communication Problem illustrated with two camels
Say what? photo by Kawtar Cherkaoui via Unsplash

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

What do good communication skills and framing photos have in common?

I was getting some photos framed a few days ago. Framing photos – it is a simple communication task – right? Wrong.

The guy in the shop had chosen one type of frame *square, but I was asking if there are more types in the black color. So he told me there was also a *round type which at first I have rejected because I thought it meant it was round in shape. However, it meant round at the brim of the edges, so we looked at that one too. Then we tried both the square and the round (at the moment, the round was in brown) so I said, let’s go with the round, even though he was sure that the square will do better. And we have agreed again on the color – black. Tomorrow, when I came to pick the frames, they were all black, but all square.

He was convinced it was what we have agreed on.
And he was not trying to sell me the wrong ones, he genuinely did not understand me correctly although I was convinced I was being clear.
So, we did communicate but we did not understand each other.

Sounds quite familiar, right? This is the illusion that Shaw is talking about in the first quote.

How is this related to the startup pitch you are making?

There are 3 main takeouts from this story:

1.Too many things at once

We had too many variables going on – two types of frames and two colors.

2.Personal lens

A personal preference – the square ones he believed will do better.


We did not agree at the very end (again) on the shape, just on the color.

All of these play a very important part in overcoming the biggest problem in communication – the mutual understanding.

Are you sure you are getting your message across?

So you have prepared the presentation, and rehearsed it and it makes perfect sense. Then after the keynote you start getting the questions that indicate that a good number of people understood it differently than you, and you were convinced the pitch meant something else.

Some of the questions may include:

  • What is it that you actually do?
  • Which problem are you solving?
  • What do you need from us?

This can be very frustrating. Specially when you are trying to raise money and appear coherent and confident.

You and Me dissonance

There is a dissonance in the dialogue because I do not have the same experience, knowledge and emotions as you do, I do not see the world same as you do.

The assumption is the sister of misunderstanding. Maybe it is even its mother? This is essential for building good communication skills:

The personal lens we all have must be taken into account, that is why clarity, scarcity of subjects and the summary are the quintessential parts of your pitch or a keynote.

PitchBitch Communication Anais Nin

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you overcome the biggest problem in communication – the real understanding.

The first slides – the catcher

Your first slides and your last slide are the most important.

On the first slides you are making sure to grab the attention and say the most important thing first, while the attention of the audience is still fresh.

If you have to decide what to say first, have a great story about the problem you are solving. Or, if it’s a longer keynote, have the contents right there and refer back to it throughout the presentation.

Problem vs Solution – the why and what

Ideas are mesmerizing indeed, and too often in the pitches, the problem you are solving is left out, it is unclear or it does not exist. Make sure you do not drown the audience in the long talk about the solution / the features, screens, demo, UX, etc…
Have the audience convinced in the importance or the problem then the offering of a great solution will be an eureka moment.  This will also help you avoid the problem of wanting to talk about and show too many things at once.

The one liner – the master of scarcity

It is like uber for boats. It is like instagram for divers. It is like… daycare for dogs.

All of the above mentioned are comparing your solution to something already established. The reason for this is to instantly create understanding. A daycare for dogs will take care of your dog just as daycares take care of the kids during the day.

Put this one liner on your first slide to instantly create a mind picture in your audience’s head about what it is that you are doing.

Your last slide – the summary

This is the message that stays. Use the impact of the last word.

I would advise to do a summary on the last slide or to be sure to ask what you exactly want from the jury or the audience. For more details on improvements of your pitch have a look at my previous text 5 things you can do immediately to have a better startup pitch.

Going back to the story from the beginning, before assuming that we understood each other I should have said shortly, clearly and summing it all up:

OK, just to be sure, we agreed to do the round frames in black?

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