How to create an effective pitch

Imagine the following scenario. You’re pitching on your own on a stage, several spotlights pointed at you, face to face with a hall full of people who are either bored, or uninterested or rookies like you. Remember that trick which claims imagining your audience naked helps you face the crowd? It doesn’t work. Meanwhile, on a side of the stage, there’s a jury you’re trying to persuade you’ve got the next Facebook in the making. They will hit you with question after question right after you finish your pitch. If your answers don’t satisfy them, you can consider yourself in the doghouse. The bad part is that most likely you’ll run into them again and again. Startupland has a limited number of inhabitants.

I’ve seen my fair share of pitches and it all comes down to one thing: emotions. Pitching days are an explosion of emotions few can control. This post doesn’t refer to steps you should take, rather it’s about techniques and the broader picture. Pitching is about communicating well and clearly. It’s how you say it, not what you say. During my time in pitching competitions, I’ve seen people speaking one after the other, and almost always there is someone who disrupts the row. Either they sit in a different spot than their peers, or they have a different slide in their deck, but they set a new pace. Those are the people who get chosen.

A good pitch is like a narrative with continuous flow. As silly as it may sound, don’t forget to pause and breathe. I’ve seen so many people go on stage and start reciting the pitch they’ve learned by heart. They look tense, frightened and ready to choke at any given moment. They show no other emotion or self control. I call it the “pig taken to the slaughter” syndrome. Delivering the pitch is a tough job and not everyone is up to it. Some of us dread speaking in public, in front of hundreds of people. Others thrive in this medium. A lot of effort goes into those 60 seconds you see on stage. You have to create the deck, write the pitch, refine it a gazillion times, rehearse it another gazillion times, and then finally deliver it.

Generally, decks should aim for 10 slides, which is the standard. The first one is the cover, the last one the Thank you page, so that leaves you with eight black canvases. Use them wisely. Don’t follow the typical structure of a pitch. Define the problem, describe the solutions which exist at the moment, go on to describe your solution and how it is different. Insist on your business and what you have to offer, on benefits. Show you know your market and show off your team.

Don’t fall into the KPI trap. In the very early stages, it is difficult to predict with accuracy how things will evolve. Leave room for the unpredicted, don’t make unrealistic assumptions. You will be faced with plenty of obstacles which will delay your deadlines. Your perfect roadmap will suffer modifications and the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can improve your strategy. Anything you make is under permanent construction.

Showing the steps you intend to take proves you have thought things through, you have a vision and a perspective on how to achieve it. As for the financial part, you don’t need a complicated five year plan stating your monthly revenue. Take it for granted that people won’t believe you when you present them financial projections. You only need to explain your business model in such a way it’s understood.

Even if you are creating a product involving the latest tech, don’t get too technical in your pitch. In Startupland we have this overused phrase: explain it as you would explain it to your grandma or to a 6 year-old. Try to follow those lines. Always keep in mind you are pitching to someone for a reason. They need to understand what you are talking about. Most of the time, they will care about the money you can earn them, not the tech you’ve just patented. That’s the raw truth.

Try to keep it to a minimum. Some startups feel the need to be overly informative and share every little aspect of the business. Which is why they end up with decks the size of China. Presenting only the most important aspects shows your ability to prioritize. A good pitch touches all pain points without boring the audience. Just because others include some slides doesn’t mean you have to do the same. In a pitching competition, whoever shows self confidence and solid knowledge of their business wins. Don’t aim to follow the herd. Your business is unique, and so are you. Make sure everyone sees that.

A common mistake is to wait for the product to be ready before you start pitching. Even if your product isn’t ready and you need money to finish it, don’t let that overwhelm you. If you had enough money, you wouldn’t be there in the first place. Most people open their pockets to business plans. Few people invest in ideas. The point is that you have to convince them, product at hand or no product. Don’t be afraid if you get a positive response right away and if someone asks you what you’d do provided they gave you $1M, never ever say you don’t need so much money.

When you’re new to the startup world, the first move you’ll make is hit the search bar on Google. Do yourself a favor and dig deeper. By deeper I mean Quora, Medium, good old Venture Hacks and a bunch of other similar sites. Try to see how others have done things. Keep in mind though that what you read is nothing like the real deal.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

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