As the demo day for Parallel 18’s (The 18th dimension) Generation 3 Cohort debuts this Friday, the crescendo of all mentor insight and learnings from the 5 months at this business accelerator are top of mind. And I want to share these with you. Here are 5 resources and tips for polishing your pitch before you hit the stage.
#1. Design Matters — Clean It Up
Mentor at Parallel 18 and lead designer at Facebook Design, Connie Yang, shared a most important design hack (for all you fellow non-designers, but designer wannabes out there like me). Resist the urge to embellish and double the white space. The slides part of your pitch has a tendency to be vastly overcrowded, hoping to add that additional text or logo that you think further supports your pitch.
The most important rule of design = resist the urge to embellish and double the white space.
4 other quick and dirty design hacks.
- Clarity comes first. Nothing is worse than ambiguity. If you don’t what you are saying, it’ll bleed through to the design and leave listeners and viewers unmotivated and left in a purgatory gray area.
- Provide and seek clear, meaningful feedback. Find other designers and viewers who you admire, trust or who are the profile of a person you are looking to impress or speak to during your pitch. Get the core detailed feedback, take what works, and dump the rest. The more you hear a certain piece of feedback (no matter how much you disagree), the more likely the general population will agree.
- Save time and use patterns. Don’t be afraid to stand on the shoulders of giants before you. Most things you want to create have been created before and likely by someone with more expertise. Google search great pitch decks in your industry, pitches by companies who are inspirations to your company or entrepreneurs you aspire to, or research information on effective pitches for the audience you are appealing to.
- Data helps. Add the numbers to your design and again, leverage the quantitative feedback from a quick survey of viewers. Keep in mind the sample size is proportional to the results reliability in that, the more people you ask, the more accurate the data likely represents general opinion whereas fewer people have higher chances of not being accurate representatives.
For the full guide for hacking design by Connie Yang, check out her presentation here.
Less is more — even a single image on a slide can be more powerful than a slide full of facts and information. Let’s not forget the cliche that a picture says a thousand words (and cliches only exist because they have a tendency to be true). Not to mention, design can help you remember your speech and flow. My former comrade & CEO of Unreasonable, Daniel A Epstein, used to use this trick religiously. He remembered his talk by creating a slide that reminded him of each important point in the flow of his speech — and he starts every speech with an amazing photo of a puppy, a lesson he learned in undergrad Advertising 101 that puppies, babies, and sex sell. Though, not when they are put all together at once.
When it comes to designing your pitch, less is more.
Identify Your Audience. The content, length, and flow of your pitch vastly differs depending on who your audience is and what your ending “ask” is.
- Investors. If you are pitching to investors, highlight the cold hard facts. Traction, numbers, money and make sure you show the clout of your team.
- Followers. On the contrary, if you are giving a TED Talks and hoping to garner an auditorium of new supporters, telling your story is more important.
- Media. Pitching to the media is a different story — creating a press kit with necessary items including brand, logo, talking points, and a strong “why give a damn” as to why your work is newsworthy and unique are more important factors.
Get in the shoes (and the seats) of your audience. Take a second to get in your audience’s’ shoes and visualize what they would want to see from you in order to fulfill “the ask” you are making — for money, a social media follower or that front page feature. As the old adage says, empathy builds empires. A great coach once gave me a powerful exercise — if you are faced with a problem, challenge or project that is stumping you, put yourself in shoes of a role model or mentor (someone you know or don’t. Who is alive or dead.) and journal as if you are them giving advice to yourself. This exercise has been an asset for me when trying to get insight from another point of view. My inner Paul Farmer gives great advice and taking on his persona gives me a new perspective that unlocks knowledge I didn’t realize I had.
Ask Your Potential Viewer. If you can’t seem to cross the chasm into their shoes, survey a handful of people who would be your ideal investor, a viewer, or reporter and get some feedback from the people who are archetypes for the ones you are pitching to and want to inspire.
Bring In The Pros. Take this one step further, and bring in a professional.
- The best storytelling consultant I have ever encountered is Katherine Smith, founder of Tell Your Damn Story. She offers both paid services and weekly free workshops and webinars.
- Another incredible expert who exists to help people “find their voice and speak their truth”– Erin Weed Erin is the Founder of Evoso which is another transformational communication expert and speech crafter — one of her workshops changed me both personally and was a game-changer in my communications ability. She offers services ranging from weekend workshops to a full blown Speaker’s MBA online.
Empathy builds empires. Use this mantra to get in the shoes (and the seats) of your audience’s experiences and perspectives.
#3. Craft A Captivating Story
One of Parallel 18’s mentor, Gary Bonilla, gave an amazing session on storytelling Given the far from impressive stats regarding human listening, formatting your pitch in an engaging and powerful way to captivate listeners is imperative.
Use The StoryTelling Arch
Using a storytelling archetype, literally, the format for that tale as old as time can be a helpful north star to lead what content you put in your pitch and when. The story arch includes
- The Hook. Start your story or your pitch with a hook — the fact, statement, or opening line that grabs your listeners’ attention. A staggering statistic. An emotional story. Maybe even a joke.
- Character Development. Next, introduce and develop the character — likely you and your team.Tell a quick vignette or share an experience to create a human-to-human connection with your audience or establish some type of credibility so your listeners develop a sense of trust.
- The Conflict. The third step of the storytelling archetype is present the conflict — the big f*cking problem, global issue or market gap of which you will soon fix with your startup — which leads me to the next stop of the storytelling arch, the “fix”.
- The Fix. This is where your startup or product comes in as the hero that is the solution to the big problem you posed to your audience.
- The Reason To Believe. Now, give your audience a reason to believe — to believe in you, what you are saying, what you are solving. Present data, evidence, traction to date or quotes from reputable media articles or thought leader and experts that act as validation points for the claims you are making.
- The Call To Action. Finally, end your pitch with a call to action — something to rally the audience behind you and your work, and garner some support. I like to call things like this, whether speeches, articles or videos, “kinetic media”, content that inspires people to act and get involved. So much of mainstream media presents stories and news that we just consume, which makes us feel unable to be effective in changing what is happening. This mass consumption leaves us powerless and docile in laying down to accept the status quo. Be different. Give the people a way in which they can get involved with your work and be part of your solution as a co-character in your story. But how do you really unpack this story?
Exercises to Unpack and Improve Your Story
Gary shared quick exercises for you and your team to do to unlock the core story of your startup.
- Lateral thinking exercises. Use these activities to reimagine your story. Exercises like these force you to think about your story or idea in a novel way and look at it in a different point of view. Find a series of creative questions and start answering them alongside your team. For instance, if your startup was a superhero, who would it be and what is its superpower?
- Create a “dos and don’ts” list. What DO you want to say and what shouldn’t you? Map these out to create black and white boundaries to make sure that certain content is or isn’t in your final pitch.
- Hug someone. Simple act — do so for 2 minutes (which feels a lot longer than it seems). The biological release of oxytocin that this action triggers will make you feel reawakened, sharper, and smarter. Then keep going.
- Use ART. Guide your story with 3 principals: authenticity, relevance, and talk ability (a.k.a. shareability). These 3 tenets are important foundations in crafting a story that has an impact on how your brand is perceived.
- Noodle your ass off. “Noodling” is the concept of exercising that make your thinking expansive and creative. Use mind maps, square images, or “speed date” with yourself, meaning write all your ideas about your story based on these exercises and get them all out — an incredibly important key of these exercises and story development process. Do a two-step quick trick in taking notes to gather all info and key facts → then craft rough situations and scenarios to visualize an end product.
- Draw. Make these ideas come to life in drawing your story and creations into physical images. According to Gary, “It’s really important to draw. When you draw, you see things from a different point of view.” Your drawing should include an image, words and a title. No matter how ugly the image, pay attention the words you used (they matter) and creating a catchy title that encompasses all the image seeks to communicate.
- Storyboard. Now do this drawing exercise to create a sequence of images, or a storyboard, an activity often used in creating advertisements. Imagine creating sketches of a movie or creating chapters of your story (for instance, the story of your life).
- A Foursquare Diagram. A final exercise is a box with four subsections divided in quarters. Here, you start with describing your idea in 10 words. Yes, 10 words. Next, describe your idea, startup, story or pitch in 50 words. No more no less. Next, draw it and finally, explain why it will work.
- Rinse and Repeat. And don’t make these exercises a one-night stand type of thing. Gary advises, “keep writing your story over and over again. Redo these exercises to keep it evolving, improving and epitomizing who you are and what you do in the most compelling, engaging, captivating and succinct way possible.
For the full mentor workshop from Gary, watch Parallel 18’s video.
#4. Seek Out More Pitch Sherpas
As entrepreneurs, we often try to do it alone. Asking for help can seem like an impossible option. However, this can be an Achilles Heel of entrepreneurs realizing their visions and getting more done, faster and better. Google is your best friend. Beyond this post and your own efforts, find mentors who can continue to help you evolve your pitch and give you new perspectives. You never know what exposure to new ideas or new pieces of advice can do to exponentially impact you and inspire you to create something even better. Some of my favorite resources include…
- Pascal Finette pitch essentials
- Chip Health on making your idea “stick”
- This workshop by Alex Borschow on pitch decks for investors and the 11 essential slides you need.
- Storytelling and communications posts by Teju Ravilochan (Teju Ravilochan)
- A mentor session on visual storytelling by Juanky Rodriguez
- Pitching tips mentorship workshop by Marilynn Crew
- Find rad pitch decks by exploring Slideshare
- Searching for talks on TED (like these 3 talks on pitching)
- Reading posts on my favorite blogs such as First Round, Fast Company, Unreasonable, Mattermark Daily, Techstars, and Y Combinator.
Too few entrepreneurs seek help before it’s too late.
#5. Rehearse Your “Routine”
Your presence on stage matters just as much as the words that you say and the slides in your deck. As Amy Cuddy shares in this talk, your body language is an influential factor in shaping your speech (and even who you are). Here’s a video on how to give a talk and be a thought leader. Though this video on “thought leadership” is a joke — and a hilarious one at that — it uncovers a few poignant points on the most moving pitches and TED talks that we remember as credible, engaging, and given by a confident spokesperson. You’ll be laughing with how true all these things are when you what this How To Be A Thought Leader video in that you experience these same sequence of actions every time you watch a TED talk. Things like pacing the stage, engaging graphs, repeating key phrases and asking world-changing questions are just a few that this spoof video highlight. And with all jokes, there’s a core of truth behind what this video points out and some resonance that stays with the audience. It’s a proven fact that the most powerful speakers in history have a few things in common and are not only giving great speeches, but are powerful orators — little things like the inflections of your voice as you speak tends to be a pattern amongst greatest speakers of our time and those who’ve come before us.
There are patterns and commonalities across the most powerful speeches and speakers in history.
So there it is. A collection of the best insight and expertise I’ve been exposed to throughout the five month at Parallel 18 and a few insights of my own discovered along the way. Now go out there and rally the people behind you, your work and your words.
Now go out there and rally the people behind you, your work and your words.
Originally published at catgeorge.com on July 12, 2017.