Pitching combines both art (crafting a story) and science (instincts and timing). This piece outlines various types of presentations and the key elements that can help you nail your next pitch, whether to customers, investors, the media or analysts.  While there are many aspects to communicating well, this article will highlight several best practices from my recent Branding and Messaging Master Class for BBVA’s Open Talent competition, input from our recent LaunchTalks panel storytelling experts and advice shared from VCs, PR gurus and angel investors at the recent Empire Startup Summit.

Keys to a Successful Pitch

Types of Pitches: Different pitches are needed for different purposes.  Most growth companies will need to develop several that can be modified and used as needed.

  • BBVA Open Talent 2014 Elevator Pitch Speed Rounds

    BBVA OpenTalent Winners Practice Elevator Pitches

    Elevator Pitch: A brief (30 second to 2 minute) introduction to who you are and what you do, frequently used at networking events for quick introductions and identifying prospective customers or referral sources.  The purpose here is to create interest and make yourself memorable.

  • Sales Pitch: A call or meeting to get a client to buy your product and service where you have limited time (anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes) to understand the prospect’s needs and convince them you are the right solution or partner to help them so they are interested in hiring you or learning more about your products or services.  The goal here is to drive action, ideally another opportunity to tell them more or provide a proposal.
  • Investor Pitch:  5 to 30 minutes to convince an institutional or angel investor, venture capital or private equity firm, or friends and family, to lend you money to grow your business. The focus here is to explain your business and financial model, product differentiation, growth and market opportunity to convince them to invest in your venture. Investors care most about your leadership experience, management team, and execution capabilities.
  • Media Pitch: Typically a short update (10 to 30 minutes) where you either propose an idea to a journalist or are asked to comment on an aspect of your business or a relevant topic where you have expertise.  The goal is to deliver a meaningful sound byte that portrays you and your business in a positive light and gets quoted (if that is your specific goal) or used on background to cultivate the relationship.  A closely related pitch is to industry consulting organization, where you are either explaining your business or sharing unique industry insight to portray yourself and your company as experts in a particular area and the goal is relationship-building.

Preparing Your Message: Things to keep in mind when crafting your wording, tone and cadence.

  1. Explain the problem you are solving. Answer the all important question, why should they care? Why is this an issue and how do you make it better?  Briefly explain the challenge that your business or products address.
  2. Focus on benefits: Why should they listen to you and how can you help them?  How can you make their problem better or address their challenge?
  3. Highlight the most important messages. Clearly focus on what does your audience absolutely need to know.  Since you only have seconds to make an impression, boil your points down to the most essential elements and leave the details for subsequent follow-up discussions.
  4. Simplify your message. Find the “bulls-eye” and get to it. If you can’t encapsulate what you are doing in a sentence, spend more time honing your explanation.  This is often where people will say something like “We are like the ABC (relevant industry-leading model, such as AirBnB or Uber) of XYZ industry.”  The caveat here is to only use this if your business model is in fact similar.
  5. Find the hook. Can you create a way to engage your audience from the beginning?  Is there some underlying value or emotional connection that your offering delivers?  If you can find a way to focus on broader human desires, for example for empowerment, confidence or safety (like Stantt, check out their Kickstarter campaign here) – then you can really capture your audience’s interest.  Tying your story to a simple core emotion raises your pitch beyond simply selling to storytelling with a deeper meaning and purpose.

Nailing Your Presentation: Some tips for preparing yourself for your moment in the sun (or rain or snow) – it’s important to anticipate any type of weather conditions.

  1. Lenore Kantor presenting

    Lenore Kantor presenting

    Know your audience. Before you present, it is essential to gather as much information as you can about who you are speaking to so that you can tailor your comments accordingly. There is nothing more disappointing then realizing you were telling a potential investor about your product’s benefits, when they really care more about your financials.

  2. Use visuals for impact.  Be mindful that graphics and imagery can be powerful – use them to help you, not distract your audience.  The best images are easy to absorb and convey information simply and quickly.  Remember that less is more here and if they can’t read it from the cheap seats in the back, then don’t use it.
  3. Be authentic. Develop a pitch that reflects your brand. When you present, you represent your company’s image and what you say should reinforce how you want people to experience working with you and your company.
  4. Connect and engage. People buy from other people. We want to feel that we are being heard and seen when we meet someone before we want to spend more time with them. It’s extremely helpful to relate to whoever you are pitching to by finding a personal connection or being mindful of the other person’s body language. Go for creating a dialogue – not a monologue.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. You cannot rehearse and hone your message enough. While some people are great off the cuff, your pitch is something that you want to have a facility with because it becomes natural when you use it.  It can also help to visualize how you want your talk to go – seeing yourself nailing it can make all the difference.
  6. Prepare in advance.  If you are presenting to a room, take into account potential technical mishaps that may come up to the extent that you can anticipate them.  It’s not uncommon for laptop connections and wifi to fail or microphones not to work.  Consider creating a copy of your deck or hand-out on a flash drive, email the files to yourself and bring hard copies.  Be ready to fly solo without those props – let your energy and enthusiasm create engagement without the pitch deck or presentation.
  7. Be flexible.  The more confident you are in what you are saying, the more adaptable you can become in how you say it.  And believe you me that you will need to be nimble, particularly your one hour meeting gets cut to 15 minutes.  You get the idea – opportunities rarely turn out how you imagine, but being able to go with the flow will enable you to be ready for unanticipated changes.

There are many other aspects to presenting effectively, but hopefully these highlights give you a place to start.  If you would like to develop your pitching skills – from developing and honing your messaging to enhancing and perfecting your communication and presentation skills – we can help!  Contact us to learn more about how we can work with you individually, your team or your organization.  We regularly present to groups and can design customized workshops or training for your needs.