If this blog post listed 10 tips on how to deliver a great pitch, tips 1, 5, 7, and 10 would be PRACTICE. And when we say practice, we don’t just mean giving the pitch over and over. We mean watching yourself give the pitch on video and getting feedback on the pitch from friends and family, and then making adjustments. Like everything else startup, perfecting a pitch is an iterative process. Record yourself, take notes, tweak your presentation. Get input from others on what went well, what was boring, and what was unclear. Keep working on it.
Your pitch doesn’t need to be memorized, but you need to know it well enough to get through something going wrong. Something is going to go wrong! The PowerPoint will close unexpectedly, the audio will cut out, your wireless will drop, a door will bang, a dog will bark, someone in the audience will distract you. . . . You need to be ready to keep going regardless of whatever hiccups occur.
Pitching Dos and Don’ts
Do tell your story. Build tension with the story of the problem, make us empathize with your customer, and then show us how your solution resolves the conflict.
Do show your passion. It’s okay to be excited about your startup and your story! If you don’t care, the audience won’t, either.
Don’t read your slides. Use the slides to prompt the bigger story. Remember, you should spend 60–70% of your time on slides 2–4 (the set up, problem, and solution). The bulk of what you’re going to say won’t fit on the slides anyway.
Don’t read your Notes. If you’re pitching on Zoom, you can probably see the Notes on your PowerPoint. It’s tempting to read them. Don’t. We can tell when you’re using a reading voice rather than a presenting voice.
Don’t use bullet points as a crutch. If the slide has three bullets, have something to say about each one. If the bullet says “organic,” for example, that’s your cue to say it’s not only organic, but locally sourced from a family-owned farm on exclusive contract.
Don’t use jargon. If your comfort zone is being technical, stay outside your comfort zone. You’ll likely have a chance to show off your technical chops during the Q&A.
Do record yourself practicing. Do a practice run, record yourself, and play it back. It’s hard to know how you sound in the moment. Notice of how often you say “um” or get off track. Notice your body language. Do you need to cool it with the hand gestures? Are you standing frozen like a zombie?
Do test the tech. If you’re going to pitch on Zoom, practice on Zoom, in the location and with the computer you’ll use for the real thing. Make sure you know how to share slides. Consider whether you need someone else to run the Zoom session so that you can concentrate on pitching. Check how the lighting and background look on screen. Make sure your wireless signal is strong enough to support video.
A Note about the Q&A
Hopefully, after plenty of practice, feedback, and tweaking, you’ll know your pitch backwards and forwards. But when it comes to the Q&A, you’ll be showing off how well you can listen and respond on the fly.
Sometimes an investor might interrupt your presentation with a question. Politely answer, then get back on track: “Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve used net income on this slide. Now, our marketing plan to achieve that is . . . ” “Great point, and I’ll address that in the upcoming slides.” Ideally, the moderator will steer the conversation, but stay calm, no matter what.
No matter how much you know, you’re likely to encounter some new perspectives and some questions you haven’t anticipated. If you don’t know an answer, just say so: “I don’t know, I need to look into that.” Avoiding a question can get you into hot water. Acknowledge it, show your interest in learning more, and move on.
In our next post, we’ll start to explore what happens if your pitch is successful and you win an investment.