Is Your Startup Pitch Missing These Three Key Ingredients?
Good entrepreneurs know their startup pitch is important, and they’ll take the time to put together a good one. Great entrepreneurs, however, know that their pitch can always be better, and will look for ways to constantly improve their skills as a dynamic presenter and communicator.
Chris Heivly, Co-Founder of The Startup Factory in Durham, North Carolina and Co-Founder of MapQuest, has pitched many times and has seen thousands of startup pitches from the other side of the table. Whether you’re pitching to land investment, to bring in new customers, or to attract new talent — the startup pitch is one of the most powerful tools in any entrepreneur’s tool box.
“Pitching is all about sharing a story with the audience in the way they want to consume your message,” Heivly said in a candid interview at his Durham, North Carolina offices.
What Heivly describes is a tough balance to strike, but ultimately, it’s what separates good pitches from great pitches. Being able to cater to your audience while simultaneously delivering an informative, engaging, and entertaining presentation, is a winning combination for entrepreneurs who rely on pitching to move their business forward.
It’s not easy to synthesize all the different elements of a great pitch, but by adding the following three ingredients to your pitch, you’ll have a better chance of standing out and getting your message across to the right people.
To deliver an awesome pitch, you first have to empathize with your audience. Put yourself in their shoes, consider the environment, and think about what they might be looking for in your pitch.
“I always tell people, start with who your audience is, what they want, and what you want to communicate,” Heivly said. “Then, fill in your pitch based on those components.”
Considering that approach, the size of the audience and type of people sitting in the audience should largely inform the way you deliver your pitch in terms of style and language. Most importantly, however, is to remember that no matter who your audience is, they’re human and are likely to get bored.
“Think about how you can get your audience to enjoy what it is you’re saying,” Heivly said. “Boring your audience is the worst thing you can do in a pitch.”
So, how do you make sure you’re not being boring? According to Heivly, it’s simple — be the largest version of yourself.
“One of the things we teach our companies at The Startup Factory is that first and foremost, you have to be you,” Heivly said. “If you do that, you’ll truly be authentic, and that authenticity will shine through. Being authentic is the best way to connect with your audience.”
Part of being true to yourself on stage, is not feeling restricted by your setup. For example, if there’s a podium on stage, and all the other entrepreneurs have stood behind the podium to give their pitch, it doesn’t mean you have to, too.
When Heivly pitches or gives a presentation, he always asks for a lavalier microphone, knowing that in order to give his most authentic pitch, he needs to be able to move around and maybe even go into the audience.
Knowing what you need in order to let your personality shine, as Heivly does, is a key step towards being able to deliver a genuine pitch that your audience will remember.
Great pitches aren’t built in a day. In fact, they can (and should) take weeks or months to perfect, and even then, they’re always a work in progress.
At The Startup Factory, Heivly and his team work with entrepreneurs on their pitch for a minimum of three weeks. That means, entrepreneurs his accelerator spent 25% of their time in Durham crafting and perfecting their pitch. This gives them time to structure their story, construct their pitch deck, and fine tune their delivery to avoid making common pitching mistakes.
“The more you pitch the better you get,” Heivly said. “We want entrepreneurs to get a minimum of 25 reps with the just me and my partner, Dave Neal, and on top of that, they’re pitching to each other, recording themselves, and doing it many times per day.”
Everyone knows the phrase practice makes perfect, but it’s important to understand that until you have a deep and intimate relationship with your pitch, only then can you begin to take it to the next level and start to perfect it. According to Heivly, it’s not until the third week of pitch practice that entrepreneurs can really hone in on the style of pitching that works best for them.
“We start with the building blocks and by the second week, we’re talking about language, wording and what can be eliminated from the pitch, which is actually really important to the overall arc,” Heivly said. “By the third week, we’re finally talking about pauses and key phrases — the stylistic things you can only get to once you have the basics down.”
Nailing down that perfect pitch can be a long, grueling process. But if you take these three ingredients to heart, you’ll be on the right track towards a memorable, engaging pitch that gets results.