How to Ace Your Virtual Pitch: Tips From 2020 TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Champ, Canix CEO Stacey Hronowski
We talked about the key strategies and methods that helped her secure the win, and how she went from being a shy kid to becoming a confident and commanding speaker.
The tips she shared are valuable for any founder, but especially those of you who must pitch remotely in the age of COVID.
So here we go:
1. COMPLETELY Memorize Your Pitch
This one actually goes against what most presentation coaches would tell you, but it makes sense in the unique universe of virtual pitch contests.
As Hronowski’s said: “I knew I wanted to memorize it, because if you’re looking at the screen [at your slides or notes], it looks to the audience like you’re looking down, which is not as powerful a visual.”
Memorizing her pitch paid off for her in two main ways:
- She had amazing eye contact: She was able to maintain eye contact with the virtual audience the entire time. And speaking as one of the audience members, I definitely appreciated this.
- She overcame tech glitches: In the first round, there was a tech glitch and she could not see her own slides for a major chunk of her pitch! This would likely have thrown most speakers, but she had her story and slides down cold, so was able to click on and speak on.
2. Record — and Watch — Yourself
If you’re like me, you probably hate watching videos of yourself. But that’s exactly how Hronowski identified a major element that worked for her — her intensity:
“I recorded myself pitching a lot of times and watched my facial expression, to see what was working for me and what wasn’t working. I was trying to be intense, because when I was watching myself, I noticed that [the intensity] was what held my own attention.”
I asked her how that intensity manifested itself, and she said it was a combination of two things — 1. Eye contact, and 2. Careful pauses to add to the build up, and emphasizing the key words.
She added: “I also tried more conversational versions, and I just felt like it wasn’t as good as the intense version. That’s why I picked that style.”
This is also contrary to most public speaking advice. A lot of coaches would tell you to make your presentation relaxed and conversational. But presenting is an art, not a science, and each speaker and situation may require something different.
Hronowski found a key element that differentiated her — intensity — and executed on that style effectively.
3. Practice Q&A Gauntlets
Hronowski also pointed out that executing a memorized pitch was actually the easier part. Responding to judges’ questions and thinking on your feet— that was a much tougher challenge.
Her tip? Lots and lots of preparation.
“There’s a certain universe of questions that you’re likely to be asked,” she said, “traction, market size, competition, defensibility. These are things you can prepare for.”
So she set up weekly sessions where her team would bring the hardest questions they could think of, and throw them at her one by one.
She also recommended an awesome online tool that collects all the questions founders get asked most often, and throws them at you one at a time, each with a clock counting down 15 seconds. This means you can’t just have an answer — you gotta have a concise and powerful answer.
Hronowski also mentioned that she learned how to think on her feet from participating mock trials as a college student — these are simulations where other people can make objections and even cross-examine you, so thinking and responding fast is essential.
Other Interesting Bits
Hronowski was especially thankful towards TechCrunch coaches, who had an interesting exercise for her — speaking while having a pen in her mouth (not kidding). Apparently the point was to enunciate, because presenting virtually can flatten a lot of the words that we say, so we actually have to over-enunciate.
“Plus, if you can memorize your pitch with a pen in your mouth, you for sure have it down,” she added.
Go With Your Strongest Points
I noted that Canix’s pitch didn’t even have a team slide, and Hronowski explained why:
“We initially had a team slide that we took out, because everybody had impressive teams, and I didn’t think our team slide was as strong as other points… Having gone through Y Combinator, they really drill into you the idea that if you used one slide to present your company, you should present your traction.”
Having achieved very strong traction, she gave a prominent role to that instead, trusting it would get her to the finals (and beyond).