This week, two business founders I have been coaching to hone their start-up business pitches stood on stage presenting their business ideas for $100K in cash prizes. And guess what? The most valuable thing for them wasn't any prize money.
Instead, it's all the other benefits that accrue when you prepare your pitch and deliver it in a way that seems effortless. And yet, start-up entrepreneurs will, and should, put in 20 or more hours to prepare for just three critical minutes on stage.
Signing up for a pitch competition can sharpen your public speaking skills as it's almost impossible to be a bad public speaker if you're delivering a great pitch. Plus, it's training for any high-stakes pitches you'll be making in the future.
As a pitching coach, here are some of the benefits I know you can gain from delivering a great pitch-- even if you don't land that big-money pay-off.
1. You'll learn how to rehearse properly.
Once you have locked in the perfect script, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. It's the key to a great delivery on the day of the competition.
For a flawless delivery, you need to speak slowly, build in pauses that signal you're moving on to a new point, and delete filler words like "um" and "ah". Hitting the consonants makes you easier to understand.
2. You'll learn to hone your message.
Your message needs to be sharp when you've only got three, five or seven minutes to tell a compelling story about the problem, how you are solving it and why you are uniquely positioned to do so.
Here are some keys: remove arbitrary text since brevity is imperative. Script each word for each slide. A rambling pitch is a recipe for disaster.
Last year, one of the entrepreneur teams I coach, Two Birds co-founders JP Coakley, and Kelsey Lents, won the top prize of $30K in the "Bark Tank" pitch competition. Their pitch took 50 hours to prepare, but at the end of all that work, it paid off since they felt confident and ready for any curve-ball question thrown their way from judges. And, they continue to leverage their carefully crafted messages in business meetings.
3. You'll benefit from feedback.
Some of the feedback from judges, fellow entrepreneurs and audience members will feel good-- like when a judge expresses interest on-stage about making an investment in your business or a key introduction. But some of it can feel uncomfortable, like if you're told, "There are three other companies already doing what you're trying to do, realistically, how are you going to catch up with them?"
However, most advice can add value to your business. Maybe it's about your business model or highlighting that your message isn't clear.
Plus, the more you pitch, the more real-time feedback you receive and the better you'll get. Is your audience bored, confused, or on the edge of its seats? Use this information to improve your presentation.
One note of caution from my colleague Eric Koester, founder of the Creator Institute: "Never let what you say in your pitch, or the feedback you receive become more important than what you hear from your customers who are the real, objective 'judges' of your business."
4. You'll build your network and increase your exposure.
Potential mentors, investors, co-founders and other key stakeholders in your business are sitting at the judges' table or in the audience and right next to you. Take advantage!
This Spring, Derron Payne, Co-Founder of Small Talk, competed in his first business pitch competition. A General Manager from Lyft was serving as a judge and expressed interested in the ideas he was hearing. At the post-pitch reception, I suggest Derron go talk to him.
5. You'll get inspired.
Finally, the person you most want to inspire during your presentation is yourself. Pitching is a time for you and your business idea to shine.
Pitching to a receptive audience is the ultimate opportunity to shake off the grit that comes with the start-up grind, recognize your own accomplishments and get fired up about your business and its potential all over again.