How to Persuade Someone in 50 Words or Less

I don’t play tennis, but I was captivated by a book about the tennis champion Maria Sharapova. I was sold on it after reading a 50-word pitch in The New York Times.

When a reporter for the newspaper interviews an author, the last question is always the same: Persuade someone to read your book in 50 words or less.

This is not a book about tennis, but about a little girl with a big dream: to become a tennis champion. It’s about what it takes to achieve that. Courage. Discipline. The drive to overcome setbacks. Because there will be plenty of them. You have to believe you’re unstoppable.

I downloaded the book that day on Kindle and loved every page.

I now use the 50-word exercise to help CEOs and entrepreneurs communicate their ideas concisely. It’s hard to do, which is why it’s such a powerful exercise. It forces you to clarify your thinking, which makes the pitch more persuasive. 

Most presenters lose their audience’s attention because they ramble and get lost in the weeds. But if you can be precise and concise, you’ll keep your audience interested, engaged, and excited.

Crafting a 50-word pitch comes in handy for a wide variety of scenarios.

  • In 50 words, an entrepreneur can persuade an investor to look at a pitch deck.
  • In 50 words, a sales professional can persuade a prospect to watch a demo or schedule a meeting.
  • And in 50 words, a movie director can persuade a studio to back the film.

It happened to Steven Spielberg. In the mid-1970s, Spielberg took his idea for a movie and met with studio producers in a pitch meeting.

“What’s the movie about?” the studio chiefs asked. 

A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open.

In 35 words, Spielberg pitched the idea for Jaws. The blockbuster went on to scare movie-goers out of the water for years to come.

In Airbnb’s first pitch deck, founder Brian Chesky said the company is:

A web platform where users can rent out their space to host travelers. Travelers save money, hosts make money, and both can share a local connection to a city.

In one sentence of 29 words, investors saw understood the big picture. The rest of the slides and the demo filled in the details.

And that’s the point of the 50-word exercise. It’s not intended to close a deal. It’s meant to make someone sufficiently intrigued with your idea that they’ll take the next step. Too many words adds to confusion as listeners spend too much brain energy trying to sort out what’s important from what’s not.

Why should you practice the 50-word exercise? I’ll explain in 29 words:

Condensing your big idea into 50 or fewer words will make your pitch stronger, easier to remember, and, ultimately, more likely that your listener will act on the idea.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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