I’ve been in tech for the past 25 years. I’ve learned from the best briefing center consultants at top tech companies. The greatest practitioner I remember developed the technique called the “broken leg” pitch. The object is to convince your potential customers that their legs were broken, and you had the only available solution to fix them. The amount charged was minuscule in comparison with the fact that their legs were broken. They could have arrived by running 26 miles across frozen tundra to the briefing, but at the end of the pitch, everyone was convinced they could no longer walk without our solution.
I don’t use the pitch myself, but I can recognize it when I see it. And I see it in spades in Bill Gates at the TED conference in this video. Here’s a man who has a personal fortune that rivals many countries total GDP. But don’t let that fool you. He is a consummate salesman. As you listen to this presentation, remember the three rules of the broken leg tech pitch:
- Convince your audience that they have a broken leg.
- Show them that you, and only you, have the cure for their broken leg.
- The cost of their solution is minimal, especially since you have a broken leg and can’t even walk out of the briefing if I don’t help you.
Works every time. Gates attempts to convince the rapt audience that the planet is going to be destroyed in a few years due to carbon dioxide emissions. There is no argument, except for some deniers who can’t even keep their stories straight. The world’s leg is broken.
Next, he presents the only solution is his secret special nuclear power alternative. It’s the only way to stop the CO2 emissions that are causing the planet’s broken leg.
Finally, notice how he minimizes the cost of the solution. A few tens of billions of dollars. Pennies, the grand scheme of things. You can afford it, and he has the only research project that will really solve the problem. Back his solution, not the others that are inferior. And notice his subtle reference to the test going on in Russia. Outsourcing the solution to foreigners is a threat to the American government that if they don’t subsidize his grand plan, someone else will.
Think of all the people who fell for this style of pitch in the Redmond briefing rooms when he was at Microsoft. World governments are his next victim. Watch and marvel at an expert at work. And hold onto your wallet, your legs are fine.