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6 Steps to a Perfect Pitch

You'd be surprised at the difference a perfect pitch can make. But first you have to get there.
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No matter how obvious it may seem that you have a winning idea, the ultimate success of your company is entirely dependent on how well you can personally drum up interest, excitement, and investment.  

Which means you need to pitch. A lot.

Ironically, the ultimate goal in developing your pitch is to make it seem as if you are not pitching at all.  Your audience should feel as if they are taking part in a very interesting conversation, and should be left wanting more.  

With more than 20 years’ experience creating and delivering hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches for customers, analysts, and investors, I’ve developed a step-by-step methodology to getting your pitch nailed.

The six steps:

1.    Take inventory and take heart

You likely have a great foundation for your pitch in materials you have already created. Pull together every presentation, product description, scribble, customer praise (or lashing) that you’ve ever seen. Dedicate one to two days with your team to sort through, filter, and organize it. Be prepared to investigate the gaps you’ll uncover and take a new look at the competition. It’s best to do this off-site with a barrel of junk food and have some fun with it.

2.    Take your position

Before you construct a pitch, it’s critical that you apply both creative thinking and discipline around your positioning and messaging.  If you don’t have a knack for marketing, this is a great time to invest in a pro who can facilitate this process. You will need to decide on an overall message and, at most, two to three supporting points at most. Your positioning and messaging is just as fundamental to your ultimate success as any ‘secret sauce’ or competitive advantage.  A compelling, sticky message is make-or-break for any venture.

3.    Choose amongst your children

Once you’ve decided on your key message and positioning, do the math and put your deck together. Count on one or two minutes per slide, and ruthlessly limit the number of slides.

You will probably need to develop a number of versions of your pitch, depending upon how much time you have. For a one-hour customer or investor presentation, a good guideline is to kick off with a 15 to 20 minute pitch (that means 10 to 15 slides, max), plus a two to five minute demo (live, video or slide). Leave at least a third of the meeting for introductions, follow up, and next steps. The only excuse for running out of time is because you had great audience questions, not because you couldn’t edit yourself.

4.    Get your razzle-dazzle on

Script every word and time your delivery.  And I mean every word. Be sure that you are doing the talking and not hoping the slide will do it for you. It’s death to your presentation to have your audience reading lengthy slides while you’re talking.  Bullet points should be five words or less. No more than five bullet points per page.   

Once you have timed your script to one to two minutes per slide, you should reduce the script to the bare minimum. What you want is a Cliff Notes version of your presentation--enough to prompt you, but not enough to temp you to read your notes, word for word, if the jitters hit. Practice out loud, on video, in the mirror, with your team--no fewer than 10 times. You should be able to deliver the pitch without having to look at the slides.

As you practice you’ll gain confidence with your message. Think of your practice sessions as stage rehearsals at a theater production. Just like to stage actors, you will need to bring the identical enthusiasm, emotion, emphasis, and storytelling every day, and sometimes 10 times in a day. So pull out those tap shoes and top hat and get in character. This is your big show!

5.    Gather your friendlies and give it a go

You need at least three practice sessions, and you need solid feedback at each.

‘Friendlies’ are not the same as cheerleaders.  Friendlies need to be ruthless, and you must encourage them to not hold back. Over time, you’ll learn that the worst outcome from an investor or customer pitch is silence and a polite, “Thank you, and best of luck.” Listen to your critics and buy them lunch for beating you up.

6.    Stick a fork in it.  

At some point you need to declare it done and go for it. Creating your pitch, and getting it ready for prime time, is probably going to take you three to ten weeks. You don’t do this in a day. Once you begin delivering your pitch, it will evolve as you learn the positives and failing points and make tweaks and adjustments.  

Once you have your pitch nailed, you will be amazed at how foundational it is to your venture.  Pitching your venture should feel as natural as breathing. With the right pitch, whether you are in a conference hall with 1000 people or having a glass of wine at a networking event; whether it is a structured presentation or an elevator pitch, your messages, supporting points, and, most important, your enthusiasm, will all weave together naturally to prompt excitement and action from your audience.   

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jun 5, 2013

RENEE LORTON | Columnist

Renee Lorton is President and founder of White Rock Advisors, providing board and advisory services to early and mid-stage technology companies. Ms. Lorton?s experience spans over 20 years including roles as CEO (TaxLAB, Centrifuge Systems), SVP/GM (PeopleSoft, Cognos), Global CIO (PwC).

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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