How to Pitch Your Company. (If You're Not Nervous, You're Missing the Point)
BY Chris Heivly
Making a formal presentation to investors is hard--almost certainly more difficult and more stressful than you think. Here's how to get it right.
With the proliferation of pitch competitions, start-up events, and accelerator Pitch Days, you will at some point have the opportunity to pitch your company. In front of hundreds of people. Some of them even important. Are you ready? This is not anything like the one-on-ones or the one-on-few table meetings you have been doing. Let me repeat--this is not even remotely like a one-on-one or small group meeting.
An effective pitch can propel you and your company to the next level. It’s that important. Investors, partners, and future employees all see pitch presence as a proxy for business credibility. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
If you treat your public pitch like most of the milestones you have been managing, and you wait until the last moment to prepare, you will surely crash and burn. If you decide that all you have to do is dress up your current pitch deck and learn how to present it while standing instead of sitting, you will miss an unbelievable opportunity.
Here are three core ideas I want you to think about:
Rule #1 - Throw out your existing PowerPoint deck. Replace it with a story.
You've probably done plenty of table pitches by now, and maybe you're starting to feel comfortable. Public pitching is different. You are going to feel much more exposed. So you need to think completely differently. Start thinking about telling a story.
I don’t mean that you should read your deck in a dramatic voice, or riff on its points, or funny it up. I mean, get rid of it. Tell a story about what you are doing as if you were telling your mother. Record yourself. The change of both the audience and the medium will change your angle. You should sound completely different. This is good!
Rule #2 - Practice, practice, practice
At The Startup Factory, we spend the final three weeks of the 12-week program on pitch prep. Every day. Three weeks. Sometimes two practice sessions per day. And that is just with the partners. The better teams practice another three or four times per day by themselves. Our first go-round at the Startup Factory, we spent eight to ten days. Not enough
Repetition is your friend. Something happens where superfluous words start to fall off the table and great phrases emerge. Your pitch gets tighter and more relevant.
Our three weeks break down as follows:
Week 1 is story and arc.
Week 2 is content and phraseology.
Week 3 is word tweaks and physical presentation nuances.
Rule #3 - As David Crosby said, let your freak flag fly
In other words, be yourself. No one expects you to be a pro. What a potential investor wants is a sincere, energetic, and thoughtful listen. I always try to find and enhance our speakers’ personality--no matter how quirky. The more you try to be someone else, the more insincere the pitch gets. This is bad. Most people can spot a fake a mile away.
The other way to look at this rule is in understanding the value of confidence. Confidence is king. The easiest path to a great pitch is to be confident, and the best foundation for confidence is to be you.
Chris Heivly: is a managing director at The Startup Factory, a seed-level investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year. In addition to TSF, Chris is the founder of the Big Top Job Fair and a national writer and speaker about start-ups and start-up communities. @chrisheivly