11 Feb How To Deliver An Outstanding Pitch
You’re the founder of an awesome startup, you are hitting all your milestones, revenue is coming in, and you’ve got an all-star team. You get accepted to every pitch competition and whenever you see other companies go up to pitch you know your company should be seen as superior.
You get up on stage, hit them with the facts, take a bow…
and no one comes to talk to you afterward. Nobody invests. You never win any competitions.
The last competition was won by a dog food subscription box. A music station for babies won the time before that. A talking toilet? An app that tells you when you left the lights on?
These are the companies walking away with the 50k prize and a ton of free press.
But how? Why? Why, despite having everything in place to be a great success, does every one of your pitches fall flat?
In the famous words of Jake Peralta, “YA BORING.”
In the US and all over the world, people love a good performance, not just a good company. And what many founders get wrong is thinking that the most important thing they need to do is to explain every detail of their company and all its glorious features. But, when you have the opportunity to pitch in front of a large audience, it matters just as much what you say as how you say it. And how you say it, especially with audience voting, determines the first prize, serendipitous intros, and a good bit of press coverage.
Sure, you need to have the typical details to show your company isn’t some pipe dream, but let’s assume that you just went through a week of mentoring with me to learn what to put into the deck (*cough* Innogate *cough*) and you are ready to learn how to wow the world with your performance.
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
I came from a family of performers and spent much of my free time during school on stage. I was in plays, musicals, spoken word shows, and various skits and shorts. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to go back to the stage multiple times to talk about my life and learnings in the startup world.
- How you deliver a pitch and delivering an effective drama performance is no different.
The rules of the stage are the same no matter what you are doing because the rules were created to delight and engage the audience.
Your body sends a message
With any presentation, there are two voices, what you say and what your body says. The last thing you want is for your body to contradict you.
If you speak confidently but are constantly shifting your weight and flapping your arms, it shows uncertainty and nervousness. How is someone supposed to believe you if you can’t be sure about where to plant your feet?
- When on stage, keep your feet on the ground, have a relaxed and slightly wide stance, and only move with intention.
Moving with intention means you choose a point on the stage you’d like to go to, walk there and then you plant your feet again. But only do this a few times and always finish where you started instead of awkwardly walking back to your place at the end of your pitch.
When I am speaking, I like to imagine my feet are weighted and there is a string going from the top of my head pulling straight up.
- Keep your arms at your sides.
If you think you are making a stronger point by interpretive hand gestures, you’re wrong. Your arms are tools, wield them wisely. If you let them decide where they want to be on a whim, then you’ll look like a chicken. You are not a bird. You are a founder. Don’t flap. Gesture. A way to do this is by keeping your elbows at your sides and only move with the length of your forearm.
Pro tip: Try to use open palms because it is a universal symbol of openness and invitation.
- Make sure you face the audience. Never turn away.
Make eye contact if you can see the audience but don’t stare at one person the whole time. If you are nervous, your best bet is to choose a spot in the back of the room and look at no one in particular.
Do not look back at your slides. If there is no prompt for you in front, then no worries because you’ve memorized your pitch anyway, right?!
- MEMORIZE YOUR PITCH. The slides are for the audience, not for your reference.
Finally, and most importantly, smile. Smile like your life depended on it. Smile like you love what you are doing. Smile like you love everyone there. Because guess what, if you smile, they will smile, and if they smile, they will be happier.
Happier for you, happier with your pitch. Happy is good for you. No smiles, not happy.
- For the love of god, show off those pearly whites.
Your voice is the ocean on which your ship sets sail
- Don’t let the waters get choppy.
The first step to using your voice more effectively is to go into your brain and search for the following keywords:
“Uh” “Like” “Um” “Anyway” “So yeah” “Basically”
Smash that delete button.
It took me a long time to stop saying “um” and the only way I was able to solve this problem was with silence. Whenever you are about to say the word, hit pause. Mute yourself. Keep doing this every day, every time you speak. Always. Erase all use of the word in every aspect of your life and you will stop.
- Speaking of pauses. USE THEM.
How many times have you been out of breath by the time you finished your pitch? You are not running a sprint. If the length of your pitch is the entire time without any wiggle room, shorten it. Keep changing it until you have about 30 seconds left over (you’ll need them) for a short pitch. This way you can choose your pauses…
At the right moment…
For optimal impact.
You’d be amazed at how differently people react when you add a touch of dramatic pause.
Tell me a story, don’t sell me a car
What is the cliché persona of a car salesman? They are fast-talking, loud, stubborn, and the only thing they care about is getting you to buy at the end. Their greatest tactic is to blind you with all the features the car has tricking you into ignoring the price tag.
Do not do this with your company when you pitch.
- You should be able to tell me about your solution in one to two slides max.
You only need more slides if your product has multiple core features that you have proven customers can’t live without.
What should you do with all that extra time you have from not overselling your solution?
- Tell a story that shows why this product matters. To you. To your buyers. To the world.
Simon Sinek immortalized a way of presenting your company called the “Why, How, What” method. He showed that the greatest innovators in the world would talk about why they do what they do, then tell you how, and lastly tell you what they do
For Apple, it’s:
We believe in challenging the status quo, in thinking differently. We do this by creating products that are beautifully designed, easy to use, and user-friendly. We make computers.
Apple isn’t a computer company. They are a business that believes in thinking different. They just happen to make computers.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek
Tying it all together
Once you’ve added the why to your pitch, you need to be aware of the three moments that will cause you to lose your audience:
- The Opening
- The Transitions
- The Close
The opening is essential because people have short attention spans and if you don’t grab them in the beginning, you’ve lost. Most founders will lose half the audience in the first ten seconds. The way you have a strong opening is by doing the following:
- Greet the audience, state your name, and (usually) the name of the company
- State your why (grab their attention)
- Bring the audience into the room
To bring the audience into the room, you either put them at the center of the problem, tell a story about your target client to help them empathize or surprise them with a staggering fact that shows just how bad this problem has become.
- Your presentation needs to feel like one connected narrative, not fragmented components threaded together in 10 slides.
The way this goes wrong is in poor transitions.
If you need to go to the next slide to see what to talk about next, then you will almost always lose your audience. You need to hold their hand along the way. Don’t expect them to make the jump in logic between slides. Take a look at the difference in these examples:
We created Snailbnb, a shell-sharing platform for snails that allows any snail’s shell to become your next vacation destination. Not only did customers start using Snailbnb immediately on day one but we found that the market for this is massive with our only competition being snailtels and Couch-snailing. Despite this competition *dramatic pause* we are growing 5x the rate Couch Snailing has grown and users are posting their couch snailing listings on Snailbnb every day.
Our company is called Snailbnb. Snailbnb is a shell-sharing platform that allows any snail’s shell to become your next vacation destination. *click* You can see here, we had some traction on the first day. *click* The market is big. *click* Our competition is snailtels and couch snailing. We are growing faster than they did at their start.
Example B feels and will sound disjointed. When there is a chasm between slide transitions, you will lose your audience’s attention.
The closing is so important that I am shocked how many people awkwardly stumble through the ending of their pitch.
“So yeah. That’s it.”
Are you kidding me? DEAD. You ruined it. Everything you said goes out the window with this awkward finish.
- You need your ending to be as strong as you began.
These are the last words they are going to hear come out of your mouth. The finale. Crush it. Stick the landing with more confidence and poise than Katelyn Ohashi.
- When you finish, always include an ask.
Excite the audience by making them a part of the next steps of your journey, and say thank you. They listened, they didn’t have to. Thank them. They are going to introduce you to investors. Thank them. They are going to be your future clients. Thank them.
- Your ask does not have to be for investment.
It could be for an introduction to someone strategic, or a request to download your app and try it. You leave so much serendipity on the table if you do not include an ask at the end of your pitch.
- We’re all in this together
Making them a part of the journey is simple. You bring it back to the why and turn it into something everyone can participate in.
Here are some examples:
“Now that you’ve seen the importance of solving X-problem, feel free to tell anyone you know so they will never have to go without Y-solution ever again.”
“From this day forward, I hope you remember today as the day that you saw the beginning of the end of X-problem.”
“We all have a role to play in this world, you make small and big impacts every day through your choices, and we have chosen to walk this path by solving X-problem. Now that you know more about our path, we hope to see some on it with us.”
Finish with a statement that shows —
We are changing the world. You are changing the world with us. We are in this together.
If they feel they are a part of your mission, they will be much more likely to advocate on your behalf.
If you can do this for the audience, you’ll also be able to do this for clients, investors, and partners. The result won’t just be first place at a pitch competition. The result could be first in the market.