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Pitching Success - CO-STAR

Idaho National Labs has a program right now called “CO-STAR”.  Their researchers do great work, but as with any research group they are constantly advocating for funding, and researchers are constantly advocating among themselves for time.

Everybody spends time advocating for something.  “Pitching” something.  You want your boss to consider a smarter way of working, one that you’ve come up with?  You pitch it to her.  You want someone to use an open-source project you’ve created? You pitch it to them.

Some folks are naturals at this.

Nerds (researchers, open-source software creators, me) are often not good at this. At least this is my experience.

I don’t like to brag about my stuff.  I have a much easier time bragging about someone else’s work.  I think a lot of folks have this specific problem with pitching - but of course there are a number of other sticking points folks experience.

The CO-STAR system is a way to break out of that a bit, because it is a process for performing a pitch that one can simply follow.  Moxie and a persuasive style may help a pitch, and CO-STAR can’t help those, but it does set out the requirements your target will need to evaluate your pitch logically.  It’s a set of steps you can follow in a discussion - and it’s even ordered!  In an actual pitch a more-experienced speaker may choose to skip some of the steps that are already understood by all parties, but one could simply progress through the steps in order and have success. This link is a description of the system in short.

First, you need an idea you want to pitch and a target to pitch to. Perhaps you want your boss to let you adopt a new way of washing the dishes, maybe you want your company’s training division to send you to a conference, maybe you want a separate company to use your widget.

Next, use a couple sentences to describe and answer each of the following.  These are quotes with only small clarification on my part, and these come from that PDF linked above, which is copyright 2017 Enterprise Development Group, Inc.

Your Hook: Begin with a compelling question, fact, or statement that will generate (in the mind of your target) curiosity related to your idea.

Customer: Who is the customer for your idea?  What needs do they have that might be met by your idea?

Opportunity: What is the opportunity for them?

Solution: What is your solution to their problem?

Team: Who needs to be on your team to solve this?

Advantage: What is the competitive advantage your solution provides over other solutions?

Results: What results will you achieve?

The Ask: Conclude with a specific request regarding the next steps your target should take.

Don’t spend too much time on the solution.  Most people get too excited about the solution because, after all, the solution was their big idea!  But your pitch target probably cares more about the other things like opportunity, advantage, and most of all results.

Remember that when considering your advantage one “other solution” is for your target to keep doing whatever they are currently doing.  Even if that’s “nothing”.  Make sure you consider the advantages of your solution over “doing nothing”.

Regarding the ask and next steps maybe you want a meeting with the target where you can discuss a way-forward in more depth, or maybe you just want to ask for the time and money to do your idea (in the event of conference attendance, for example, that’s all you might need).

The CO-STAR system is pretty simple, and anyone who has pitched before has used parts of it.  One benefit is that it lays steps out that, when followed in-order, clearly explain the value proposition you want to make.  It systematizes and simplifies a pitch.

There are a number of non-traditional pitches I’ve made recently… Websites, emails about opportunities, persuasive papers… All benefit from answering the questions in the CO-STAR model.