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Communicating science in R&D? Pitch innovation like an entrepreneur.

Here are 7 tips how, from scientist to scientist.

by Nick Milanovich, PhD 

You don’t have to get heavy with the science of an innovation to achieve buy-in from other business units. In fact, too many details can turn off or confuse the most important people you’re trying to pitch to. Being knowledgeable is enough. The important thing is to tell a story that covers all the technical and non-technical commercial aspects that ultimately answer every department’s question of: So what? Now what? 

Ask yourself: What are the legal, regulatory, and safety hurdles? Can marketing sell it–what’s the claim on the box? Does it align with executive leadership’s top-line revenue goals? Supply chain, scale-up, packaging, cost/margin of the final product… any of these concerns can kill an innovation even with good technical results and consumer appeal. Make sure your presentation checks all those boxes, and then format the story with a beginning, middle and end.

Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. — Steve Jobs

I once was presenting to a customer during a sales call. One minute into the introduction, they pulled someone high up the food chain in from another meeting to listen. It was somewhat by design on my part, because the introduction contained the high-level overview of that particular technology’s broad commercial value. Getting right to the So what? Now what?  immediately clued the audience in on how this technology could be relevant and set the wheels in motion for top-level buy-in.

A simple, entrepreneur-style story is effective with a technical audience, too. Once, while working with a software retailer as a technical lead, I was pitching to a room full of 15 PhD level chemists and aerospace engineers at a big company. At the end of it, they were hopping around like caffeinated monkeys they were so excited. I showed the presentation to a co-worker who said, “This is like explaining quantum mechanics to my grandmother.” 

Simplicity works even when you’re pitching something complex to smart people. They bought the product, largely because my presentation was so basic that they could understand the technology’s alignment with the larger business goals.  

Staying simple on a story lets people get the whole picture. Translating it into their language–in terms of company goals and commercial applications and branding and market impact–gets them excited to pick the project up and move it forward. 

Once you’re in front of an audience, stop being a scientist. Become an entrepreneur. Tell your innovation story like you’re pitching a startup to an investor. That’s the secret to pitching innovation internally. 

Presentation 7 tips for moving innovation beyond R&D

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Communicating science in R&D pointers:

how to be an entrepreneur when pitching your idea to your R&D department and adjacent business units.

  1. Visuals. Show don’t tell. Literally. Use images or video. Your phone can be a powerful story-telling tool. Pictures and videos enable simple and effective visual demonstrations of your technology with minimal time and effort. This will not only help sell a technology internally, but there’s a chance it might be part of the marketing later.

  2. Translate for the audience. Expect a mixed audience. Imagine how you’d explain quantum mechanics to your grandmother. Hit the highlights and skip the details. Details take too much time and will be the source of confusion (and frustration) for the audience. There will always be a time and place to dig into technical details later.

  3. Clear and simple. Don’t wordsmith. You’re not creating poetry. The ROI on wordsmithing a bullet point is zilch and no one will notice. If you’re spending a lot of time haggling over word choices, chances are the presentation is too wordy and needs to be more visual.

  4. Straight talk. Think of a presentation as a conversation, not a lecture. It should spark curiosity and invite questions.

  5. Total buy-in. Have conversations with stakeholders. This strengthens the content in a presentation and the stakeholders can back you up during the presentation and help drive it forward afterward. Ultimately, the project will need to compel people whose job it is to sell, market, staff and budget it, and to ensure the project is commercially scalable and legally compliant. Emphasize the technology’s business implications across various dimensions.

  6. So what? Now what? Seriously. This is a profound and crucial question. It will be asked, and everything flows into and out of this philosophical nexus. What value does your technology add to the product and the company? Answer the questions:
    – What is needed to prove the technology works? -> For R&D folks to address directly.
    – What is needed to convert the technology into a product? -> This requires input from a lot of other people, e.g., marketing, legal, manufacturing, etc. 
  1. Create a master slide deck. This is the capstone into which every previously-mentioned point coalesces. If possible, also create demos, videos, etc. This takes time, but it will be worth it.
  • The master deck should include every aspect of technology: technical results, legal, regulatory/safety, supply chain, cost information, manufacturing options, market opportunity, and go-to-market strategy. Consider this to be a pitch deck for intrapreneurs, and consider the audience as investors.
  • Use the master deck to create custom presentations tailored to the audience. In most business settings, it’s sufficient to summarize the science in a couple of slides. Better yet, use visuals, e.g., photos, videos, and mock-ups, to make the technology or product come alive.


Read Nick’s How to Pitch R&D Projects Like an Entrepreneur


The Speaking Scientist, Nick Milanovich, PhD is a rare combination of scientist, speaker, and presentations coach, with a head for marketing and sales. In addition to being Director, Innovation Services Group at Xinova, he helps other scientists and engineers communicate in a way that is meaningful to their sponsors, investors, and customers. Nick holds a PhD in biophysical chemistry and has published and presented on diverse topics such as clinical dentistry, cancer diagnostics, and quantum mechanical modeling of aerospace materials. Nick has guided countless scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and organizations with developing impactful presentations, investor pitches, and marketing materials in ways that resonate with their audiences. Nick has developed a reputation for exceptional results with start-ups, national and internationally recognized companies, and universities.

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