Pitching your business in any kind of setting is a crucial part of becoming a successful entrepreneur. But pitching in a competitive environment can be both higher-stakes and, if you prevail, higher-reward. 

Just ask Toby Rush. Last year, the founder and CEO of Kansas City-based software company EyeVerify used his pitching skills to win $10,000 in cash and an estimated $1 million in angel financing. Those were the prizes for "Get in the Ring," an annual startup competition hosted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 

Since then, EyeVerify has completed a Series A equity funding round, raising $6 million from Wells Fargo, Sprint, Qihoo 360 and its initial investors. Now Rush, a semifinals judge in this year's competition, is sharing his tips on how to pitch effectively, both in the business world and in a competition format:

Make every word count. In a competition where time is of the essence, extraneous words can send you home empty-handed. “My typical style is much more conversational,” Rush says. “I love to engage in dialogue, I love to have more storytelling. But when you’ve only got 30 seconds, you’re not inviting a conversation or a story. You’ve really got to keep it really condensed.”

Leave them with a picture they can remember. Being condensed doesn’t mean you can’t pack imagery into your words, Rush emphasizes, using his winning pitch from last year as an example. “My short, short pitch of the company: ‘We use a selfie camera to transform a picture of your eye into a key that protects your digital life,’” he says. “Selfie camera. Picture of my eye. Transform that into a key. Those are very tangible, visible words that they can leave with.” Even better, he adds, bring props: “If there’s a physical thing you can bring into the ring, those are very effective.”

Recognize your audience. In most business settings, pitching is all about the company. But in a competition-style setting, the focus is on the entrepreneur. “There’s not nearly enough time to dive into market validation, financials, assumptions, models--there's none of that,” Rush explains. “It’s much, much more, ‘How good are you at pitching your idea and your company?’ and probably less about ‘How good is the company itself?’”

Be a showman (or woman). There are plenty of very effective pitching styles out there, but when you only have four 30-second segments to make an impression, there’s only style that works. “You’ve got to be over-the-top and energetic,” says Rush. “You’ve got to get up and put on a bit of a show. Leave your conservative, self-deprecating self back at the door. Get in, pitch hard and swing big.”

Pitch confidently. If you go in believing you’ll lose, you’re bound to do just that. “You’re pitching a vision, and something that’s exciting,” Rush notes. And if you’re in a high-profile competition, you have to take that confidence to the next level--it's the only way to effectively prepare for a potential first-place finish: “Assume you’re going to win. Have your people and resources marshalled so you can maximize the exposure and impact of being on a national and global stage.”

The North American "Get in the Ring" finals, of which Inc. is a sponsor, will take place on November 6 and 7 in the Kauffman Foundation’s home city of Kansas City, Missouri. The finals will also be livestreamed here.

Published on: Oct 29, 2014