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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How to turn those horrible PowerPoints into presentations people are actually interested in

Death by PowerPoint. Oh, the horror! Blocks of text, black on white, on that huge screen, read aloud on an even tone with the presenter’s back to the audience. If you are really lucky, they also incorporate a bunch of blurry, boring stock photos. Admit it, you too have been one step away from falling asleep or pulling your hair during one of these presentations. People forget most of the time that the slides do not equal the presentation, they are just the visual support.

I’ve recently attended a presentation delivered by Neil Patel, and I have to say I was as impressed as I had expected to be. He used a great hook, he got interactive, asked questions and kept engaging the audience at various points during the process. His slides were simple and easy to follow, but all the attention fell on him, as it should be.

Here are a few steps to follow for outstanding presentations

Intro

Before you start working on anything, take a moment to think. What is the presentation for? Is it going to be sent via email? Then you have to include more text and be very careful with your choice of info. Be sure to write a follow-up email and add more details if necessary. Is it going to be delivered in front of an audience? Then you have to refine it accordingly, include more visuals and be brief. You want the public to pay attention to you and what you’re saying, not the screen. Create both versions if necessary, it takes more time but it’s worth the investment.

Get personal

What do we all hate when it comes to presentations? If your answer is standard, lifeless templates, then you’re right. Don’t offend your audience by using them. Instead, think of what appeals to them, do a little bit of research first. When you had your brand identity designed, you received your own templates, so put them to use. Once you create a style, follow it in all mediums. Use the same color palettes and fonts everywhere, so you’re coherent and people recognize your brand. You can create your own template or, if you’re not particularly creative, you can buy one and customize it. Either way, it shows your audience you care enough to put effort into it.

Avoid info overload

Oh, the horror again! I’ll probably say that a few more times by the end of this post, so brace yourselves 😉 Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need to give away huge amounts of data. Your audience has a limited attention span. This is where sorting and writing skills really pay off. Sometimes it’s better to break that slide with 10 bullet points into 2 or 3 separate slides. Pick only those pieces of info which may be of interest and can benefit you. Always keep in mind your audience, your presentation has to keep them interested, not you. A frequent mistake is getting too technical, in which case you will lose everyone’s attention in the blink of an eye. Maybe explaining to a 6 year-old or to your grandma isn’t just an overused phrase in the startup world.

Choose your images & symbols accordingly

An image speaks more than 1,000 words, so use imagery wisely. It is a defining element which can ruin or majorly improve a presentation. Go for high quality graphics and avoid clipart at all costs. Especially that which comes included with PowerPoint. Coordinate colors or use black & white, remember you are aiming for coherence. My favorite kind of slides are those made up of just an image, but a well-picked one. Add an inspiring quote or a phrase to support your verbal description, and you’ve got a winner.

Less is more

Keeping things simple is difficult. To avoid overload, think if it’s really necessary to use that image, those extra words or whatever other elements. If you can’t say yes and explain why on the spot, then the answer is no. Never ever use animated transitions between the slides. Maybe it was nice while you were using it for projects in school, but in the grown up world it’s an artifice you don’t really need and which makes you look unprofessional. Most importantly (this is a rule I swear by in everything I do), edit mercilessly.

Avoid charts if you can

There’s this myth that a presentation isn’t a proper presentation without charts. Oh, the horror of having to look at graphs you don’t understand and listen to figures and jargon you don’t care about. I feel you. If you absolutely must, use pie charts and make them as simple as possible. People don’t have the patience to decipher chunks of data irrelevant to them.

Check your details carefully

It goes without saying that you should always aim for the accuracy of your writing. Triple check your grammar and spelling. Always choose the word that best fits into the context. Thesaurus.com is an excellent resource to help you with that. Make sure you have the same fonts and colors throughout all your slides. The text should be coherent overall. If you use bullet points on a slide, don’t put a paragraph on the following one. Consistency and coherence are your goals. Check if all your links work and if you have included all your sources. Don’t forget to add your email on the Thank you slide.

Presentations don’t have to be boring. Be fun, make unexpected associations, go that extra mile no matter what you’re speaking about. Ask for feedback, and remember you should measure your success in the amount of emotion you manage to raise in others.

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

You can’t treat me like that!

“People can be however they want to be, we can choose to be however we choose to be.” I’m starting to think everything comes down to 3 things in life: choices, mindset & emotional intelligence. Not everyone will love us or make us the center of their universe, and we should be ok with it. Sometimes even the strongest people can be put down by petty minds, and it will take them a while to rise. We can’t control how people treat us, but we can control how we feel about it. Watch the video for more insight 😉

4 thought-provoking questions to spark conversation

We’re on the brink of a future beyond what we can fathom — a future with driverless cars, designer babies, intelligent robots, and digital doppelgangers. Who will you choose to be in that future? How will it change you?

Here are four fascinating questions to get you thinking. See what you would choose — and ask your friends what they think too.

1. If you could upload your brain to a computer, would you do it?

Imagine this: Your future self uploads your brain to a computer, creating a complete digital replica of your mind. But that version of you is smarter — learning faster than you ever could — and starts to have experiences that the “real” you has never had, in a digital world that you have never seen.

Would you be game to try it, and why? Would that digital version of you still be “you?” Should you be free to have a relationship with someone’s digital replica? Are you responsible for the choices your replica makes?

2. Should parents be able to edit their babies’ genes? 

If you had a baby with a congenital heart defect and a doctor could remove the gene, would you do it to save your baby’s life? Most people probably would.

But take that another step further: Would you make your baby a little more intelligent? A little more beautiful? Should you be able to choose their sexuality? Their skin tone? What if only the rich could afford it? What if you chose not to edit your child, but other parents did?

3. Should a driverless car kill its passenger to save five strangers?

A driverless car is on a two-way road lined with trees when five kids suddenly step out into traffic. The car has three choices: to hit the kids, to hit oncoming traffic or to hit a tree. The first risks five lives, the second risks two, and the third risks one. What should the car be programmed to choose? Should it try to save its passenger, or should it save the most lives?

Would you be willing to get in a car knowing it might choose to kill you? What if you and your child were in the car, would you get in then? And should every car have the same rules, or should you be able to pay more for a car that would save you?

4. What morals should we program into intelligent machines? 

Picture a world with intelligent robots — machines smarter than you’ll ever be — that have no idea how to tell the difference between right and wrong. That’s a problem, right? But giving machines moral values poses an even stickier problem: a human has to choose them.

If we’re going to program morality into intelligent machines, which values should we prioritize? Who should decide which moral beliefs are the most “right”? Should every country have to agree to a set of core values? Should the robot be able to change to change its own mind?

Watch the videos on TED

Self love isn’t cliche

Do you have standards or do you have expectations when it comes to yourself? You are enough isn’t just a motivational quote or a hot hashtag that will hopefully bring you more followers. It’s a way of life. It’s about knowing yourself with your pretty parts and flaws and accepting yourself just the way you are. The good part is that you can always improve as long as you’re aware you need to improve and you want it. Watch the video for more insight 😉

Shonda Rhimes & Cindi Stivers: The future of storytelling

“We all feel a compelling need to watch stories, to tell stories … to discuss the things that tell each one of us that we are not alone in the world,” says TV titan Shonda Rhimes. A dominant force in television since “Grey’s Anatomy” hit the airwaves, Rhimes discusses the future of media networks, how she’s using her narrative-building skills as a force for good, an intriguing concept known as “Amish summers” and much more, in conversation with Cyndi Stivers, director of the TED Residency.

 

Why the customer isn’t always right & what to do about it

The saying goes that our client is our master. In other words, clients have the right to interfere and dictate us ways of action. I have seen this happening quite a lot lately, especially when it comes to established brands. It’s a mistake many marketers make, an intentional compromise that lowers the value of their work but fills their pockets.

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Our clients may be the best in their field. But they don’t know how to do marketing, that’s why they hire us. They choose and trust us for our expertise. So we should remind them about that when they try to impose their ideas as the only available options. Most of the time, they are all into aggressive self promotion, sales, worthless content, more sales, stuff no one cares about, and yes, even more sales. It’s the sure recipe for failure, and the visible sign is that a page with 3,000 followers has only 2 likes per post.

The marketers who accept such an attitude do it exclusively for the financial gains. They develop long lasting relationships which involve strategies done 90% by the client, so their effort is minimum. They aren’t interested in growing that business or getting results, they are interested in receiving their exaggerated bill month after month. It’s our duty to signal unrealistic expectations and suggest alternatives which are more likely to become reality.

When you really want to achieve something, you fight for it. Even with the most pretentious of clients, we can still do our job the right way. We just need to be subtle when we make suggestions. It means more effort on our side, and people skills, but we’re marketers after all, aren’t we? There’s nothing a cup of coffee and a drop of wisdom and energy can’t solve.

People expect excellence and results from us, but they tie our hands and don’t let us express ourselves. They’re killing our creativity. There are a few things we can do when that happens. You’re not doing yourself or the client any favor by shutting up, on the contrary. So stop pulling your hair and taking deep breaths to avoid an outburst.

You have a finite amount of time and energy. Don’t waste it on something unreasonable which will turn into a source of stress. Don’t feel guilty about moving on. No matter the level your business is at, you can afford to lose bad clients. When someone becomes a pain, you can always stop collaborating with them. In time you’ll see money isn’t worth everything, and especially not your balance. And you will certainly find valuable clients who will respect your working style.

Almost a year ago, I met the owner of a printing agency who said he only takes on projects that pique his interest. Back then I thought he was arrogant. Now, when I’ve grown professionally myself and I’ve seen with my own eyes the quality materials they deliver, I admire him. In this day and age, the agency is not online because they’re swamped with orders. They have exclusive customers and seldom accept new ones, based on recommendations from existing clients.

Clients may think they are experts and assume something is supposed to work a certain way. When they think they know better how you should do your job, don’t forget you have all the know-how you need. Don’t misguide them by letting them think they’re right, it will only harm your business in the long run. Don’t be arrogant about it, but remind them you are the marketer.

The odious phrase “the customer is always right” is attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge. Yes, that Selfridge. But since 1909 when he defined it the world has changed. You will never be able to innovate as long as you don’t have enough freedom. So know your worth, constantly prove your expertise and work smart 😉

Christiane Amanpour: How to seek the truth in the era of fake news

Known worldwide for her courage and clarity, Christiane Amanpour has spent the past three decades interviewing business, cultural and political leaders who have shaped history. In conversation with TED Curator Chris Anderson, Amanpour discusses fake news, objectivity in journalism, the leadership vacuum in global politics and more, sharing her wisdom along the way. “Be careful where you get information from,” she says. “Unless we are all engaged as global citizens who appreciate the truth, who understand science, empirical evidence and facts, then we are going to be wandering around — to a potential catastrophe.”

 

The freedom of choice

Who we are and what we do are results of our choices. Sometimes choosing can be overwhelming, by going for something we deny ourselves the other option and that can be perceived as detrimental. We have all the freedom in the world, but what we do with it defines us and leads to success or failure. Watch the video for more insight