Your ability to deliver an effective pitch has a significant impact on your success. Whether you're trying to convince investors to take a chance on you or selling a product to a potential client, you need to be exceptional at pitching and presenting.
For millennia, humans have passed down knowledge through the art of storytelling. Yet, we are never taught effective presentation skills in traditional education. Instead, we rely on PowerPoint to tell a story for us rather than using it as a tool to support our story.
As a human behavior scientist, a published author, and an advisor to Fortune 500 companies as well as startups, I have had to develop strong pitching skills. These are some secrets that you probably haven't heard but must know to deliver amazing pitches.
1. A good pitch is a great story.
It has a beginning, middle, and end. It has a hero and a villain. There is a problem that needs to be solved and only one thing can solve it. You aren't delivering facts. You are delivering an epic tale. For your story to make sense, you need a hero. And who is the hero?
2. You are not the hero.
In a great pitch, the hero is your pitching audience--only they can save the day. Your idea is the tool that they will use to vanquish the enemy. Allow the story to play into their ego.
Stop making yourself out to be the hero, because it does not matter if you're amazing. What matters is that they can use your knowledge, experience, strategy or product to save the day.
3. PowerPoint is a visual aid, not the story.
When you present, do not read off the screen. If you do, you are not necessary for the presentation. People could just read your deck and probably enjoy it more. Follow these three principles of strong PowerPoint etiquette instead:
- Your slides are only visuals with at most a title.
- There is rarely a reason for bullet points. If you need additional information, provide handouts. However, pass them out after. Otherwise, people will read them during your presentation and will not pay attention to you or the story you're telling.
- The smallest font size you should use is half the age of the oldest person in the room. If there is a 60-year-old in the room, the smallest font size you can use is 30.
4. Practice makes permanent.
People will often practice their pitch several times. This is critical as it will make you feel more comfortable. But, it is just as important to anticipate potential questions and practice how you're going to handle them. There are few things more frustrating than having a well delivered and designed presentation that ends with lackluster responses. If you can't answer audience questions clearly and eloquently, people will think you are unprepared.
5. Have two versions of your deck.
Leave-behinds are useful, and some decks are emailed around for people to read. This means that you should produce a second, readable version of the deck. This version should include key ideas, bullet points, and descriptions so that people can understand it even if they won't be at the presentation. It is never a substitute for a solid pitch, but it can still help spread the word.
6. Be well-rested, mentally and physically.
Mental factors have a huge influence on your ability to perform. In his book Originals, Adam Grant discusses research on presenters that told themselves they were excited before a presentation and those that said they were nervous. The excited speakers performed significantly better as rated by independent judges.
Additionally, your cognitive abilities are severely reduced when you don't get enough sleep. It is significantly better to be energized and well-rested for a pitch than to be exhausted from staying up the night before to "prepare". You'll be more confident and less stressed the next morning when you have had a full night of sleep.