99 Problems but a Pitch Ain’t One
If death is the great equalizer at the end of life, public speaking has to be the equivalent during life. For most of us, it is a terrifying thing to stand up alone in front of a crowd and bare our soul to the scrutiny of the masses. Turns out, this also makes for great entertainment!
The pitch can be a major source of stress for startup founders. In my three years with ParkIT, I have won several pitches and about $150K in funding. Others, I have bombed. Recently, I accidentally walked off stage right before my pitch at the WeWork Creator Awards in front of thousands of audience and live stream viewers. Luckily, this story has a happy ending and minutes after my slip-up, we won a grant. For all the embarrassing moments, pitching can be a valuable way to raise funding without the strings of formal investment and simultaneously spread your mission to the world.
While there are many great resources on slide design, there are fewer on the content itself. Crafting an engaging story is more than going down a checklist of slide headers. It requires defining the most effective structure, shaping the narrative for your audience, and identifying a delivery style that leaves an impression. Here is a style guide for adapting your story for 3 common pitch types followed by tips to keep in mind for any pitch.
Elevator Pitch: The Longest 60 Seconds Of Your Life
The Elevator Pitch is your startup in a Tweet. It’s a one minute speed round usually in front of a live audience.
The time limit is the biggest constraint of the Elevator Pitch. Every second counts. Focus on conveying one main idea about your startup. For some, the most powerful message is sharing the founding story. For others, focusing on pain points the startup addresses is more effective. It’s important to craft a narrative that is easy to understand. If the audience gets stuck on a confusing sentence, they could miss the rest of the pitch.
Continually rewrite your script until you’ve filtered out the noise, the details tangential to your main message, and have found the most concise form. It may feel like you are simplifying your product to oblivion, but the purpose of the Elevator Pitch is more about transferring the perspective and feelings that motivate your startup’s mission than sharing hard data. Hit your top traction highlights, but choose the ones that align with your core message.
Because the Elevator Pitch is so short and often involves back-to-back pitches, consider how you can leave an impression. Starting with a soft opening like a joke or personal anecdote can make people laugh and give them something to remember you by.
Classic Pitch: What You See On Shark Tank
This Classic Pitch is a 5–10 minute presentation with a few minutes of Q&A. This is standard for competitions like Shark Tank and accelerator interviews.
There are many solid templates for the Classic Pitch. While these are helpful for ensuring you have the right slides in your deck, the way you present the information can make a big difference. Just like a movie plot can feel entirely different when told in an alternate order or perspective, the context in which you introduce your startup matters.
Craft a narrative arc that highlights your startup’s most compelling growth stories, whether it is an accelerator program, customer acquisition, or product development. The transition of ideas is important. Slide by slide you build your case and by the end, the audience should be able to intuit why your startup exists and what makes it unique.
In order to engage the audience throughout your pitch, it can help to have multiple climaxes in your narrative based on your most defining moments of growth. Spend some time writing a strong beginning and ending, as these will be the points when you capture the most attention.
Investor Pitch: The Big Kids Club
The Investor Pitch is usually a private conversation with an individual or small group that can last anywhere from minutes to hours. It could take place in as nondescript of a location as Starbucks to the biggest boardroom in a multi-million dollar office. Either way, remember that investors are people too and just want to hear your story and vision. More than anything else, this is a conversation and you are building a relationship.
Investor meetings typically come from an introduction, so start by establishing rapport such as asking about your mutual connection. Then, share your own/your team’s story. You will definitely get to the business side soon enough, but focus on generating empathy from the start. It’s good to have slides ready to highlight specific metrics, but don’t prepare a “scripted” presentation. It’s better to talk in stories and not slides. Consider telling your growth story with them in it so they can clearly see how they fit into the the picture.
Be ready to adapt the conversation to what they seem to be most interested in and don’t be afraid to stop to address their questions and concerns. You aren’t just pitching your idea as much as a long-term partnership to build your vision with them. Since you may be working closely if they choose to invest, the quality of your personal interaction is important.
Here are some final thoughts for on and off the pitch stage.
· Optimize for originality. If you found your slide deck layout from a Google search, chances are that many other people did too.
· Avoid data dumping and focus on the most impressive metrics.
· Minimize use of buzzwords like “IoT,” “disrupt,” and “Smart ___.”
· Craft “sticky phrases” that are memorable. I often use the same ending hook: “Why drive around in circles, when you can just ParkIT?”
· Use your company’s name throughout the presentation instead of the generic “we.”
· Consider giving a call to action (ex. Twitter, Kickstarter) to continue the conversation and give people something to reference later.
· For memorized pitches, I like to practice sentence transitions to build my mental map and word flow. I will say the last few words of a previous sentence before a phrase to cement the connection.
· Practice your tone, speed, and pauses as much as the content. Know which points you want to really emphasize.
· Some people will like what you are doing and others won’t. Accept questions and feedback graciously and don’t argue with people who don’t agree. Acknowledge their thoughts and respond with respect.
· Be professional, but also try to be memorable. As a Texan, my cowboy boots have helped me on the pitch stage!
Pitch preparation is a difficult process. There’s nothing glamorous about standing in front of a mirror making awkward eye contact with your reflection as you practice or that stomach-dropping moment when you step on stage and suddenly forget how to breathe. But if you have done your time practicing, the lines will come to you like muscle memory. If you spent the time crafting your story, you can channel your nervous energy into excitement for your mission.
For a few moments, you have the opportunity to commandeer the thoughts of dozens or thousands of people and show them a new way to see the world, and that is a powerful thing.
Hit that 💚 if you know just how real the pitch struggle can be.
Or do you need help structuring a different kind of pitch — to a prospective employer or new boo? Check out these Advo articles. We provide a field guide to adulting for your everyday millennial.