Nailing your startup pitch: The right emotions at the right time
When you pitch to consumers, investors, random people or your grandma, you’re trying to sweep them away in your story, both as a startup founder & as a human being. It’s not easy. Pitching well demands clarity when it comes to your business & value proposition, sure, but amazing, rational arguments won’t do the whole job. Triggering the right emotions at the right time is the key to making your pitch memorable & powerful. Let’s look at how to do that.
Before anything else…
Understand the audience. Every pitch is unique. Everything you say must be tailored to your audience, just like in a good conversation. So don’t just pitch blindly — try to understand who these people are, why they’re here, what they like, what they don’t like. Take the time to adapt accordingly.
Understand yourself, too. Every pitcher is unique. You can spend hours watching videos of pitches online, but copying others can easily lead to disaster. Don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Don’t try to put on a show of being super comfortable if you’re not. Be yourself, find your strengths and double down on them.
Find the emotional rhythm 🎼
A pitch can be long — and it can feel even longer. 30 minutes in front of a VC can be an eternity. 5 minutes — even 1 minute! — in front of a crowd can feel just as long. And that goes for both you and the audience.
A pitch is a journey. Make that journey exciting for the people in front of you by mastering your rhythm.
The rhythm of a pitch is set by the varying intensity you demonstrate over time. There are lots of possibilities…
… but only one really does the job well.
First impressions matter so much, you have no idea. We humans judge others really fast. If the first minute of your pitch is bad, it doesn’t matter if the rest is good — people won’t be listening. Whether you have 5 or 20 minutes to convince someone, starting off weak is the best way for them to just stop listening.
Last impressions are a big deal too. It’s like a concert, you’re going to definitely remember the last song, it’s something that sticks, so make sure to end on a high note.
Obviously, if you never convey any intensity, even if your pitch is pretty good overall, a flat presentation will mean people won’t remember anything in particular, they won’t remember any one number, punchline or story.
So, intensity is good? Time to put in extra intensity during the whole pitch? Maybe, if you’re doing a short, 1-minute pitch. But for anything longer (even 3 or 5 minutes), you can easily kill the vibe by being too intense. When your audience don’t have the time or brain space to process what you’re saying, it’s usually a bad sign.
So, you get it: A good rhythm is has variations, going up and down. But don’t go too far down. Bringing things back up every time is a challenge, be extremely aware of the risk. The fact is, if you lose your audience, it’s (almost) impossible to get them back, they just want to move on.
So this is it. Bring smart, small variations to your level of intensity. Create the right, strong moments and then chill out just a bit before building strong cases for your startup. The right rhythm gives people time to process things and still notice that the things you’re saying are super relevant. Always keep things above the boredom zone.
Startup pitching isn’t the only place you see this kind of knowledge work well. I’ve seen it all first hand with startups that pitch at The Family, but I also experienced it in a previous life. That’s right… I was a battle rapper 🎤
Battle raps have three main characteristics that apply perfectly to startup pitching too:
- Respect your audience
- Start strong
- Drop the mic
Respecting your audience is pure empathy. They’ve never heard your pitch, even if you’ve said it a thousand times. They often have no idea what you’re talking about — they don’t know the tech, the market, the industry you’re in. So make it simple. Use silence, your pitch must breathe. They shouldn’t have to make any effort when listening to you, the pitch should be absolutely smooth & frictionless, right up until the very end. When I first started out, I often made the mistake of trying to put a lot of intensity into my battles, being constantly aggressive & super fast with my punchlines. But it was too much, I wasn’t always in control, and I’d lose the audience.
Variance within the pitch needs to be smart. The beginning and end are crucial, so make sure both are intense. Then try to trigger emotions selectively along the way, to fit your strengths and the audience.
As an entrepreneur, finding the right moments and beats that fit your startup is your job. Context is incredibly important for each individual pitch. But I can give you the same advice I give to startups for a 5-minute consumer pitch: One sentence, Problem, Demo, Journey, Team, Market, Wrap-up. Ask yourself if your team stands out and why, have you already discovered something important about the problem, are your users reporting great results with your product? Choose a few of these moments to really highlight and use them to create your own rhythm.
A few tips to trigger emotions 🌈
Use repetition for key messages
Saying the exact same thing two times in a row instead of just once can make it stronger, giving the impression you are convinced & know what you’re talking about. Similarly, having the same intro to sentences throughout your pitch (the same kind of repetition used by MLK Jr. in his “I have a dream…” speech) is a great way to create order in your pitch.
Say why. Anytime you’re talking about a decision you made concerning your market, product, or cofounder choice, just say you you did it. Adding the word “because” is pure magic, our brains automatically add the interpretative “she’s-got-a-good-reason”.
Interactions are your friends
Ask the crowd questions. Make people part of your storytelling. Interact, then drop a bomb. As soon as they agree with what you’re saying by raising their hand, they are with you, it will be way easier afterwards to keep their attention. Just make sure not to force this, do it only when it makes sense and serves your statement.
Look for consistency
While interacting, ask questions that force engagement, like “Who would buy this?” or “Who would be interested in trying the beta to give us feedback?” This is how you can also get post-pitch value, since if people raise their hand they’re more likely to stay consistent and be supportive of your pitch/startup later.
Make it hot
Set a (fake or not) deadline. Use scarcity. Tell people that if they want to buy it with this promotional code, it works only for the next two days. Tell investors the timing is perfect now for reasons 1, 2 and 3. People want to have something before others, so use that.
One last thing…
Practice. For real. Repeat your pitch over and over (it’s the only way to make sure it sounds natural in the end), do it with passion & give deep insights.
And remember, these are just some tips — the hard work comes with the whole process of crafting a solid pitch.
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PS: Thank you Kyle for your precious help :)