I was on the Harvard campus this summer to teach public speaking and communication skills to global leaders enrolled in a yearlong executive education program. For their final exam in my course, they had to condense months of research into a seven-minute presentation they delivered in front of the class.
The most common question I get with every class is, "How do I present everything I know in seven minutes?"
The short answer is you don't.
Pitches and presentations at this level of executive leadership are often targeted to potential partners and high-net-worth investors. Wealthy investors and busy CEOs don't have the time to read hundreds of pages of research about every pitch or idea that comes across their radar. In a first meeting, they simply want to know if the idea is worth pursuing.
I find a common thread in my conversations with billionaires and venture capitalists who hear thousands of pitches. Virgin billionaire Richard Branson summarized it when he said, "If your pitch doesn't fit on a napkin or the back of an envelope, then tell it to someone else who wants to hear it."
Here's the secret to pitching Branson and other billionaires: Don't tell them everything you know. Tell them what they need to know.
Branson doesn't want to hear a pitch longer than seven to 10 minutes. And in that time, he needs to learn the answer to four questions:
- What's the idea?
- What problem does it solve?
- How is it different than anything on the market?
- Why should he accompany you on the journey?
Answering these four questions clearly and concisely is harder than it looks. It takes work, but it can be done in just a few minutes. The secret is to edit relentlessly. With each draft, cut words and phrases until you can answer each question with just a few sentences, supported by an example or data point.
If you want to use PowerPoint, that's fine. Just remember that your slides should complement the pitch with photos, images, or graphics that are easier to visualize than talk about. The presentation should not be a written document that you simply put on PowerPoint slides.
Your only goal in an initial pitch meeting--especially to a billionaire--is to get them excited about your idea. After that, the text-heavy document you spent months preparing should be ready to send as follow-up material should your listener be interested in learning more.
Keep your pitch tight, focused, and concise, and you'll be more likely to win people over.