Sunday, 11 October 2015

You believe in your startup idea, right? Then prepare to pitch!

Got a business idea that you want to exist outside of your own head? Then you need to prepare to pitch. Pitch for financial support. Pitch to get the right team on board. Pitch to win clients. There we are I've said it four times - 'pitch'. Are you left with a feeling of dread? Maybe that’s because you've missed the more important ‘P’ word in this opening - 'prepare'. Not just write out what you want to say but really prepare to deliver it with passion!

I recently spent an evening watching 3 minute start-up pitches. It inspired me to write this list of pitching tips. I don’t need me to tell you that the substance of your pitch is absolutely critical. Don’t be vague about your own numbers when asking someone to part with their cash. But there are plenty of startup mentors to advise you on what evidence to take to the table. Instead let’s look at the mechanics of how you will deliver your pitch. Like a good barrister, you need both the style and substance to win the day.   

Decide what you want at the end of this pitch
You should know the minimum you want to walk away from this pitch with. This is the light at the end of the tunnel to keep you motivated even through your pre-pitch nerves and technology mishaps. Be specific and realistic about the amount of money or type of skills and support you’re looking for. And make sure you tell your audience in your pitch. If you want them to get on board with the next chapter of your story then they need to know where they could fit in.
Think about the structure of your pitch
You don’t need to be an expert in narrative theory to recognise a common structure in many films, plays and books. Writers do this to make it easier for their audience to understand and connect with the story they are telling them. Pitch writers can do the same. Watch Nancy Duarte’s excellent TED talk on The Secret Structure of Great Talks. In short, you should strike the right balance of explaining what life is like now and what is could be if your idea came to life. Spend too much time setting the scene and you'll leave us wondering "where is this going?"
One great idea at a time
By all means dream big but today's pitch isn’t the place to present the whole big picture of what your empire could look like when you’re Richard Branson’s age. Keep your pitch focused on making a compelling case for investing in the one great idea you have now. You risk watering that idea down considerable if you throw in all the other avenues you’re thinking about branching out into. But do prepare to answer follow up questions from your audience about where you see your company in 5 years.
Either make space for video and audio content or just don't use it!
Videos can be really powerful. You might want to demonstrate your prototype in action. Or get existing customers to validate there is a market for your product or service. If you go to the trouble of preparing a video, please don't talk over it! It’s amazing how many pitchers nervously do this. If you think this could be you, consider showing your video at the beginning of the pitch to succinctly set the scene and relax into standing in front of your audience.
Do you really need prompts to deliver a 3 minute pitch on an idea you’re passionate about?
Back in the 2000s I got pipped to the post for a job. The recruiter told me, "You were neck and neck with another candidate. We only decided to give it to them because they used PowerPoint". I thanked them for their feedback whilst silently screaming in my head "WHO NEEDS SLIDES FOR A 3 MINUTE PRESENTATION?!?". Others may disagree but I still think slides should be proportionate to the length of the pitch. A static slide with your logo, strapline, picture of your product, contact details will help people remember your identity. But if you’ve only got 3-5 minutes think carefully about whether multiple slides will make your key messages more persuasive or will distract from the words coming out of your mouth?
Make slides an asset not a distraction or irritation
In longer pitches make your slides an asset to your audience. Avoid ladening them with text and multiple bullet points. One takeaway point per slide maximum. Don’t let them become crutches. When you're nervous you're likely to keep turning towards your slides whilst delivering your pitch. If you do this, at least some of your audience won't be able to hear you. Trust me this is unbelievably irritating. I also don't remember Steve Jobs interrupting the flow of his annual product launches to say "uh, can I have the next slide please?". Invest £30 in a wireless clicker and learn to deliver your pitch looking forward with a minimal glance and point towards your slides. When it comes to the content take a look at this template pitch deck created by Chance Barnett, Founder of Crowdfunder.
Record yourself. Watch yourself. Cringe. Do it again.
Few of us like watching or hearing ourselves on camera but it's a necessary evil. You can capitalise on your fear of the camera to partially recreate what it'll be like stood in front of your audience. Once you've got over the cringeworthiness, watch out for clarity and content. Are you speaking too quickly? Did your voice tail off at the end of each sentence so your point was lost? Have you missed any key points? Does the pitch flow like a recognisable and engaging story?
Ditch the cast of hundreds to pitch
Every member of the pitching group should contribute something valuable. If you need one person to deliver the pitch and one person to stand there for morale support then you've got one too many people on stage. Do tell your audience who your team are but, in my opinion, you don’t need everyone stood there if they’ve nothing to say or do. It doesn't say "we're a lean efficient business where everyone plays an important role". It suggests a lack of confidence.
Expect the technology to fail
The wifi will be slower than your gran. The projector bulb will probably blow up. Even if it doesn't the damn thing is unlikely to recognise your laptop. If you expect all this and have a plan b you'll be fine. Avoid wasting time panicking and apologising for the technology, and instead show you’re agile enough to overcome a minor set back. On a related note, live demos are risky if your product is still in its infancy and you’re not confident at pitching. Consider a short, professionally edited video instead.
Screw modesty - you believe in this idea, right?
If there was a vaccine out there to combat British modesty I’d make it available on the NHS. Then we could all apologetically queue up at the doctor’s clinic for it. You can avoid being obnoxiously arrogant without defaulting to being painfully modest. Use natural words, tone and body language to show you're passionate and confident about your idea and have the energy and commitment to progress it further. Look your audience in the eye rather than staring down at notes. Take your hands out of pockets. Most of all, smile and be you. Even if Mr or Ms Ego in the audience tries to burst your bubble with a curve ball question, don't get deflated, defensive or dismissive. Thank them for the question and present your counter evidence calmly.

Mind your language
Talk like a human first and foremost. The word ‘leverage’ and similar corporate nonsense makes my blood run cold. In fact it makes me think you’re probably faking it a little too much. Humour and controversy might make your pitch memorable for all the wrong reasons. On the plus side I vividly remember the pitcher used “data rape” to describe the problem his business idea would solve. On the down side I remember him because I thought it was abhorrent.  And, I know this sounds odd but, have you chosen a tongue twister for a name? Under pressure I’ve seen people unable to pronounce their own company or product name clearly. You either need to find ways to relax and slow down, or it might be time to rethink your brand!

Move on. Nothing to see here!
You WILL screw some pitches up. It's the law of averages. Spend 5 minutes reflecting on what went well and what you need to improve for your next pitch. Use these notes and the questions below to prepare for the next pitch but don’t let the memory of a past disaster ruin future pitches.

Ask your audience (or at least a few friends)
What was my pitch asking for?
What was the key message you took away from my pitch?
What was the problem I'm aim to solve?
How would you describe my pitch style?
Imagine you have £10,000, would you invest in my pitch?

Read this excellent article for revenue advice

Good luck pitchers!
Read more at Laura's blog: Step33

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