18 Virtual Pitching Pro-Tips from a Non-Silicon Valley Entrepreneur
In a socially distant world desperate for bright spots during the COVID-19 crisis, here’s one that entrepreneurs outside Silicon Valley can appreciate: all venture capital pitches have moved online. This switch to virtual fundraising means nobody can easily make the trip over to Sand Hill Road, thereby eliminating a huge advantage of startups based in the Bay Area. If anything, startups that aren’t located in places with a significant VC presence might even have an advantage. They’ve been pitching VCs online for years, so they already know how to deal with the unique idiosyncrasies of remote pitches. For everyone else, here’s a list of 18 things you can do to keep “crushing” those pitch meetings, even when they’re virtual.
Tip #1: Resend the meeting link via email 15 minutes before the start
Because you’re already a good entrepreneur, you sent a calendar invite with a link to your virtual meeting room as soon as the pitch was booked. However, a great entrepreneur knows people get annoyed when they have to dig through a calendar invite for the right link, particularly when they’re busy VCs jumping from meeting to meeting and probably running a couple minutes late.
Instead of having an annoyed VC join you in your virtual pitch room, have a grateful VC join you by resending your meeting link via email 15 minutes before the meeting starts. Bonus points if you include the words “meeting link” in your subject line.
Tip #2: Join your meeting 5 minutes early
Being late to your own virtual meeting is worse than being late to an in-person meeting because you can’t use traffic as an excuse.
To be sure you’re on time, always enter your virtual meeting room five minutes early. In addition to being ready when the VC enters, you’ll also have a chance to make sure everything is working properly.
Tip #3: Don’t use your phone
In a perfect world, nobody would need this advice. And yet, I’ve had dozens of investors tell me stories of entrepreneurs facetiming them as they’re walking down the street.
Don’t be that entrepreneur. Get yourself to a quiet location, set up your computer, and prepare to stay in one place the entire meeting. It’s 60 minutes, max. You can do it. I believe in you.
Tip #4: Place your camera slightly above eye-level
Just like taking good selfies requires holding your camera above your head, having a good looking video conferencing presence means having your camera slightly above eye level. While it can seem a bit vain since fundraising shouldn’t be a beauty pageant, people are visual creatures. If your camera angle is showcasing an epic quintuple chin, the person on the other side of the screen is going to notice and be distracted by it.
Since most people use the cameras on their laptops for virtual meetings, this means you’ll either have to prop your laptop so the top of the screen is above your head, or you’ll need to spend a few extra bucks on an external camera. Do the latter. It’ll be easier and more secure than balancing your laptop on a pile of books.
Tip #5: Use a real microphone
While you’re buying an external webcam, buy a better microphone, too. It’ll make a huge difference in the overall sound quality of your meeting — even compared with your expensive Airpods.
The people you’re talking with won’t consciously realize how much better you sound than everyone else, but the clarity of your voice will subtly help raise their perception of you in comparison with the other entrepreneurs they’ve been talking to.
Tip #6: Place the brightest light source in the room behind your camera
In a news studio, the brightest lights always project onto the news desk from the camera-side ceiling rather than from behind the anchors. There’s a simple reason. Lights behind people create shadows and a “halo” effect that makes it hard to see people and read their facial expressions.
You can take advantage of the same concept in order to significantly improve the quality of your video by placing a lamp or desk light behind your camera and turning off any overhead lights that may be behind you.
Tip #7: Don’t sit in front of a window
This tip isn’t different than my previous tip about where the light should be placed, but it’s such a common error that it needs to be mentioned separately.
People often position themselves for video calls in front of windows because they think it creates a better “view” for others. WRONG! Unless it’s night, that window is going to be the brightest source of light, and it’s going to create a distracting halo around you that might seem angelic, but it’s actually going to annoy the heck out of the person you’re talking to.
Also, if you’re doing a video call at night, a dark window is going to create a distracting reflection that you don’t want, either.
Tip #8: Do sit in front of a plain, light-colored wall
Maybe you’re not foolish enough to sit in front of your window, but you still want to look “interesting” during your call, so you position yourself in front of a packed bookshelf. The investor will think you’ve read lots of books and assume you’re knowledgeable, right? Wrong again!
Anything in the background of your video will be distracting, and distracting the VC is bad. You want investors focused on you and what you’re saying. So sit yourself in front of a plain, light colored wall. This will make you — the entrepreneur asking for money — the focal point of the conversation.
Tip #9: Don’t sit in a swivel chair
Whether you’re sitting on a $50 piece of vinyl from Walmart of a $500 Aeron, your office chair probably swivels. Those types of chairs might be comfortable for day-to-day work, but swivel chairs create distracting movements during calls.
Don’t forget that the person you’re talking with won’t be able to see the chair you’re sitting in. If you’re unconsciously swiveling from side to side as you pitch, you’ll look like a 4-year-old who desperately has to pee. I’ve never met a VC who invests in 4-year-olds. Have you?
Tip #10: Have a rock-solid internet connection. Hardwire if you can.
In the age of Wifi, a hardwired Internet connection can be difficult to access, but the benefits are worth the cost if you’re hosting important virtual meetings.
For obvious reasons, you don’t want your call dropping mid-pitch. It won’t be your fault, and nobody will blame you, but it’s still going to be disruptive, distracting, and time consuming. None of those are good things.
Tip #11: Look at the camera, not your screen
One reason Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa gets recognized as one of the greatest paintings in history is the way the subject’s eyes draw attention to the subject’s mouth. This points to the value of eye contact in terms of encouraging people to focus on your mouth and what you’re saying.
Making eye contact during a video conference is difficult because the window showing the person you’re talking with is always going to be below the camera. In order to make eye contact, you have to train yourself to look at your camera, not your screen. Like da Vinci’s sfumato technique, it’s a difficult skill to master, but powerful if you can pull it off.
Tip #12: Small talk still matters
The awkwardness of virtual meetings often tempts people to jump straight to business. Fight that urge!
Regardless of whether a meeting is in-person or online, people are still people. They want to feel comfortable and familiar with the people they’re talking to, and that means making small talk at the beginning of the meeting to establish baseline trust and familiarity.
Tip #13: Use an uber-minimalist deck
I always tell entrepreneurs to build slides that are light on text and images to encourage their audience members to focus on them and what they’re saying rather than the slides. That’s because investors invest in entrepreneurs, not the slides, so entrepreneurs need to be selling themselves.
For virtual pitches, getting your audience to focus on you is just as critical but much harder since the slides dominate (and sometimes takeover) the other person’s screen. To combat this, keep your slides as minimalist as possible so the audience has no choice but to pay attention to your words.
Tip #14: Have more slides than you normally would
Being physically present in a room during your pitches provides lots of the visual stimuli that keeps your audience interested and focused. Without being in the same room, the stimuli vanish. You can compensate for this by increasing the number of slides in your deck and moving through them rapidly.
While having lots of content on your slides will distract your audience, flipping slides often will give your pitch a sense of forceful forward progress. This progress will help keep your audience engaged.
Tip #15: No videos or animations
Videos and animations don’t work well during screenshares. You probably already know this. Now it’s time to take those pieces out of your slide deck.
Tip #16: Be prepared for silence
Normal, in-person conversations are filled with countless micro-expressions and subtle tonal shifts that indicate when the other person is supposed to talk. Many of those subtleties disappear during a video chat, and it leads to awkward transition moments and longer-than-normal pauses between speaker shifts.
Luckily, the more you video chat with new people, the more familiar you’ll get with the different and less subtle rhythms of virtual conversations. However, at the beginning, be prepared to experience more silent pauses in the conversation than you’re used to, and remember that they aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
Tip #17: You’ll cover less content
Virtual conversations rarely cover as much material as in-person conversations taking the same amount of time. I haven’t figured out why this is the case, but it consistently happens, so I’m just going to go ahead and call it a fundamental truth of virtual meetings. As a result, my general rule of thumb is that you should expect to cover 20% less material in the same amount of time during a virtual pitch. Accounting for this ahead of time will either help you restructure your pitch or will give you the foresight to schedule longer pitch meetings.
Tip #18: Nobody cares about your dog
Yes, your dog is adorable. Regardless, the investors you’re pitching aren’t there to see your dog. They’re there to talk with you and learn about your company. When your dog walks into your room during a video conference and you pick him up and wave his little paw at the screen, it doesn’t matter how cute he is. He’s still a distraction that reminds the person you’re talking with that something is different about the way you’re communicating.
Keep reminding yourself during a virtual pitch meeting that your goal is to make the meeting as much about you, your company, and the pitch as possible. Anything that directs your listener’s attention away from you and what you’re selling is a bad thing.