One of the big surprises at CES this year is that there are several startup pitch events. I attended one yesterday related to Kimberly-Clark, the megacorp responsible for iconic brands like Kleenex and Huggies. They held a pitch event for entrepreneurs who would earn the right to partner with one of the KC brands. It's like Shark Tank with more hand-holding. A second pitch event called Launch.it, also held yesterday, involved small companies seeking varying seed investment amounts. In both cases, a panel evaluated the pitch, but I kept thinking about the presentations.
As you can imagine, these pitch events can be a little chaotic considering they are taking place at a convention that attracts about 150,000 people and thousands of gadget companies. You can't control the equipment used for the presentation, can't predict who will be in the audience (or if they will even respond to what you say), and have a strict time limit. It's a proving ground for good presentation skills.
After watching a dozen entrepreneurs trip up during their pitch, I realized things you should always avoid when presenting.
1. Never look confused
I'm convinced this is something you can practice. In several cases, when the slides didn't advance or the crowd didn't seem engaged, a few of the presenters looked confused or worried, and it was evident they were not as confident about their product. Other presenters never looked confused and plowed ahead no matter what happened on the screen. Your confusion is wholly obvious on stage, so it's important to look as though you are not stressed out or worried about anything. Stay cool and calm.
2. Don't get angry
A few of the candidates seemed to get angry when a clicker that advances the slides didn't work right. One even said he didn't think it was fair that the clicker didn't work, which just seemed like he was whining. (He saved his presentation by talking about a cool wrist-worn security product that you use to login to a computer.) Another entrepreneur just smiled and waited patiently until it worked, which helped him appear more confident.
3. Avoid reading anything, ever
I noticed one entrepreneur read her entire pitch, apparently as a way to make sure everything went according to her plan. Most people in the crowd immediately started looking at their phones and ignoring her. During another presentation, a guy pitching a company that makes a mobile app showed a few quotes on screen but I noticed how he just kept talking and didn't read the quotes. That's a smart strategy. We can all read. He trusted we would get the point form the quote and only referenced it quickly.
4. Don't be too cavalier
It's sometimes easy to confuse confidence with being cavalier when you know the presentation is a little staged and perfunctory. One presenter added at the last minute rode up the aisle on a two-wheel vehicle, which is the product he was pitching. It looked like a more modern Segway. He seemed to have a care-free attitude about the pitch event, as though it was just an extra thing on his schedule and he knew the presentation would be glitchy. I noticed how his presentation just seemed a little too loose and lost interest in the product because he didn't seem to have interest himself.
5. Get the right cadence
The last thing I noticed a few times is that some of the presenters spoke too fast and a few spoke too slowly when they got nervous or things didn't go right. It's important to get the right cadence. One presenter used a nifty technique. He spoke quickly when it was ancillary info or a joke, but when he said something more important, he paused and even took a quick swig of his water to let it sink in. Brilliant.