Changing the World in 180 Seconds -
Or, How I Won the Quick Pitch Competition

by Dana Bristol-Smith

Over the past few years I have been developing and leading programs for women who are rebuilding their lives from domestic violence and homelessness. 

My life has been enriched by being with these women. I've witnessed so much courage and strength, all of which inspires me to stretch and grow in my own life. I've gone from being a presentation skills trainer to become a leader and visionary for the organization called Leap to Success.  


Over the next three years, we will expand to reach thousands more women who desperately need skills and tools to change and perhaps even save their lives. In order to do this, fundraising is crucial. Our goal is to raise $1,000,000.


All of which brings me to my biggest challenge to date.
The Quick Pitch competition.

I'm standing backstage and my heart is pounding as my name is called. I receive a tap on the shoulder, my microphone is on, I walk out, take a breath, and look out from the stage to 350 people.

One of 85 organizations, I am a competitor in Advance San Diego a 3-minute Quick Pitch contest. I have been training and coaching executives and business professionals to deliver effective presentations since 2001, however; I had never entered any type of real-world speaking competition.

The title of this event:
Who is Going to Change the World in 180 Seconds?
(no pressure!)

After giving our presentation to a selection panel, we made the first cut and were a semifinalist among 19 organizations. We were given a mentor and two days training and coaching on developing our pitches.  

At this point, you may be thinking, all of this for a 3-minute pitch? Yes, all of this and more for a 3-minute pitch. The shorter the presentation, the more preparation is necessary. In a Quick Pitch every word counts.

Here's what I learned and used to build and deliver our pitch.

Top 7 Tips for a Quick Pitch Competition

  1. Immediately engage the audience
  2. Describe the problem as an urgent and compelling need
  3. Connect to the audience's emotions and get them to care about the problem
  4. Describe your solution and the impact you are making – how you are changing/saving lives/making the world a better place/other big lofty stuff
  5. Convey your credibility (credentials, funders, financials, number served)
  6. Share your vision for the future
  7. Ask for support and the dollars that will enable you to reach the vision

Our Strategy

From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to have one of our graduates with me on stage. Since we help women build their confidence and public speaking skills—there would be nothing as impactful as actually having someone make a personal testimony. No matter what I said – results speak louder than words. I was very fortunate to have Lana, one of our very first graduates, agree to be with me on stage.

I can’t tell you how many hours we spent in preparation for this event because it was too many to count. I met multiple times with our mentors who critiqued our content (after the first meeting I rewrote the entire pitch), delivered it to a couple of test audiences, and called upon two of my presentation skills trainers to work with me one-on-one. Chris Witt helped me with movement, when and where I would step and stop and with the flow of the presentation.

Jeff Bucholtz said, “Dana, stand on stage like a winner. You have already won because the audience is there to hear you. Just go out there and have fun.” That helped me shift my thinking. I was anxious, nervous and so focused on getting every word, every pause, every movement, just right.

The Moment of Truth

I walked on stage and looked out and thought about the thousands of women that we will help. It was my job to tell this story, to garner the support to help them. It was my job to think and act like a winner.

Lana joined me onstage towards the end to thunderous applause. She spoke beautifully. We ended the presentation together with our hands clasped and raised and asked the audience to join us in helping more women take the leap to success.

We won the competition! 1st prize was $25,000.
(Just $975,000 more to reach our goal.)


If you’d like to see the pitch, it’s here on YouTube

If you’d like to help empower women who are rebuilding their lives, email me, or you can make a donation online here.

Special thanks to Lana Zakary (center stage) for her courage, composure and heart for helping women.

Sherri Neasham, Dave Sanborn, Greg Klamt, Mike & Michele Cooney
Lana Zakary, Viki Hurst, Helice Bridges

About the Author

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. You can email Dana