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How to Pitch an Idea Like a Pixar Movie

Pitch like a movie

A powerful storytelling technique successful founders use to pitch their ideas

Since the release of Toy Story in 1995—the very first computer-animated film—Pixar has been capturing the attention of millions of people thanks to their brilliant storytelling techniques. One technique they use all the time is the following:

Once upon a time there was ______. Every day, ______. One day ______. Because of that, ______. Because of that, ______. Until finally ______.

Every Pixar movie is based on a call to adventure which takes the main character out of his comfort zone and moves him forward towards an unknown world. In Toy Story, when Buzz arrives Woody needs to learn to live in a world where he is no longer Andy’s favourite toy. In Finding Nemo, Marlin needs to cross an ocean to find his son. The main character (the hero) reacts, fights and grows within the story.

This storytelling technique was not born with Pixar—it comes from Aristotle’s teaching and his three-act structure, which is the common framework used in most movies and in many other communication forms.

The three-act structure suggests that a story is communicated in three steps: 1) introduction, 2) conflict, 3) resolution.

If we look closely, the two models (Pixar and Aristotle) come together nicely:

• Introduction: Once upon a time there was ______. Every day, ______. One day ______.

• Conflict: Because of that, ______. Because of that, ______.

• Resolution: Until finally ______.

Now the question is, how can you use the three-act structure in business presentations? Here are some ideas.



At the beginning of a presentation you should describe the world as it is today, without your product or service. (Once upon a time there was ______. Every day, ______). Your audience will listen to you because you are describing a world they already know. At this point, you can introduce a problem which changes their view about the world you’ve just described (One day ______). If you are presenting to a potential client, show them a problem they have and that you know you can solve. This way you’re creating a knowledge gap in their mind between the world as it is today and the world as it could be tomorrow if there was a solution to that problem. That’s your call to adventure which takes the hero (i.e. your client) from their current world towards a new and better one.


In part two of your presentation you should play with the gap you’ve just created (Because of that, ______. Because of that, ______). You can give your potential client concrete examples describing the status quo without your product and with all the problems that this entails and then you can explain how their lives could be better if there was a solution to their problems. At this stage, it’s important not to unveil the solution yet in order to create a bit of tension that makes your story engaging.



Now it’s time to show your solution. (Until finally ______). If you go through the three steps I’ve just described, not only do you create a gap in your client’s mind, but you also create something even more important: the desire to see that gap being filled. And when it will be you filling it up with your solution, your client will be much more inclined to accept your proposal.

Let’s have a look at a concrete example.

When Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone in 2007—with a presentation that remains to this day the greatest product launch of all time—what did he do? Did he start his keynote by showing Apple’s new smartphone? No. He first showed the other mobile phones available at the time on the market—and he described the main problems associated with them (for example the fact that all of them had a fixed keyboard regardless of the task you wanted to perform with your mobile at any given time). Only after creating a knowledge gap in the audience’s mind and a desire to see that gap being filled (How could the world look like with a better smartphone?) did he show their new product.

A few years later, in a Copyblogger’s article Demian Farnworth wrote about a storytelling formula called PAS: Problem, Agitate, Solve. The idea was that in order to tell engaging stories, you need to follow the following three-step approach:

• Identify a problem

• Agitate that problem

• Show the solution

Now go back to Pixar and Aristotle. Does Farnworth’s approach sound familiar?

The three-act structure is a technique that works any time there is a story to tell. And a presentation—even a business presentation—is nothing but a story. It’s the story about your product or service; it’s the story about your company; it’s the story about the problem you solve; it’s the story about your customers. Make sure you tell it.


Guest post by Andrea Pacini who works on helping people create better business presentations  – Thanks Andrea!

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