Whilst this article is focussed on pitching your business idea in a ‘Dragons Den’ style scenario, there are a lot of helpful tips and advice that are useful in many other business situations; whether you are presenting to the management team or board of directors; pitching your product or service to a new potential customer, or whether you are pitching yourself and demonstrating your presentation skills as part of the selection process for a new job.
10 Tips for the Perfect Pitch
by serial entrepreuneur Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten (Taken from the The Next Web, October 21, 2010)
So you have a great idea and need some money to start a company? Well, so does the rest of the world! To make a good impression and improve your chances of getting your seed money I have compiled a list of tips. I might not be the ultimate expert on this matter but we use these tips ourselves to prepare for meetings with potential investors so at least you know they are tested tips! :
Tip 1: No more than 5 slides for your presentation!
A simple formula to explain this tip: if you have a 30 minute meeting you will want to spend 10 minutes getting to know each other, asking some smart questions about the investor and giving them your elevator pitch and at least 10 minutes for general questions after your presentation. That means you have 10 minutes left for a presentation. You will be talking for at least 30 seconds about each slide and then the investor will have one or 2 questions taking another 30 seconds each. That leaves you with 1 slide for every 2 minutes or so.
So the maximum number of slides is 5 for a 30-minute meeting. How do you know how much time you spend on each slide? Practice your story at least 10 times and you will know! Keep a few slides with extra information in the back of your presentation or even in the middle. If a certain issue comes up that you can illustrate with a slide you can always show it. Quit all programs except the one that you need to do your presentation. Don’t check your mail in the background, disable Skype and AIM and everything else that might try to notify you off something halfway during your talk. Tip: create a new user on Windows or Mac OS X just for presentations.
Tip 2: Don’t read the text on your slides
Never read the text on the slide out loud. People can read faster than they can listen. If you read the text on the slide people won’t listen to you anymore and just read your slides and then be bored. Make sure you know what is on the slide (keywords and figures) and illustrate them with your story and details. This is another thing you should just practice a lot.
Tip 3: Watch yourself
Borrow, rent or buy a video camera and tape your presentation and watch yourself to see how you can improve your story. This does miracles for your presentation. I promise you that the first time you see yourself you will be incredibly embarrassed and will see at least 5 ways to improve your story. When you practice, let your partners play the investor. You all know damn well what the painful questions are so ask them. It’s fun to see your partners sweat and talk their way out of a tough question, and a great learning experience!
Tip 4: Timing is everything
Practice your story with a timer next to you so you know how much time you spend. It’s terrible to be in the middle of your story and then suddenly realizing that you only have 1 minute left to go through 4 slides. The only way to prevent this is to practice.
Tip 5: Test your story
Call your mother (or father) in-law and explain your story over the phone. If she gets it you are ready to talk to your investors. If she doesn’t get it: back to the drawing board and video camera. And if you can sell her some shares, even better!
Tip 6: Answer EVERY question
Make sure you have the answer to these questions: who is your audience, what is your marketing-plan, when are you going live, how much money do you need, what kind of percentage are you thinking about. Be firm and decisive when you answer these questions. Don’t make them up on the spot and don’t try to be interesting by being mysterious about these issues. It won’t work. When you are practicing with your video camera and you are playing bad guy (well, a VC anyway) try to think of every question you can think of and not just the ones you have the answer for.
Tip 7: Don’t bluff, lie or try to be a smart-ass!
What you shouldn’t say: We don’t really need money right now (THEN WHY ARE YOU HERE?), that your exit is going to be an IPO or acquisition by Google (YOUR INVESTORS KNOW THAT), that this is a sure thing (NO SUCH THING), that you don’t have any competitors (YOU ARE LYING, DIDN’T DO YOUR RESEARCH OR YOUR PRODUCT SUCKS), that you aren’t going to do it yourself (MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR IDEA, MONEY AND TIMING IS THE ENTREPRENEUR. IF YOU DON’T DO IT THAN NOBODY ELSE WILL) and don’t tell them they should decide quickly because you have other investors waiting unless it is true!
Tip 8: Use your deodorant
Some entrepreneurs say ‘I don’t like selling. They should take me as I am. I’m not going to dress up for them!’. That might sound cool in a bar but when you go to meet with an investor he looks at you more than at your idea or company. You are your company! So if you are late, unshaved, unfriendly or smelling bad you make a bad impression and so your company makes a bad impression.
You also make a distinct prediction about how you will treat important partners, clients and employees in the future: if you don’t respect the investor, you won’t respect anybody else who matters in the future. So: take your hands out of your pockets, stand up straight, smile, say ‘please’, open the door for your investor, be on time, offer coffee or something else to drink and don’t interrupt the investor! Avoid saying ‘Euuh’ and ‘Hmm’ too much. The more you practice your story the more confident you sound.
Remember that investors look at you more than anything when they invest. They think ‘Is this someone I can trust? Will he be able to motivate his people? Can he sell his product? Will he work through the night to get things done? Will he do anything to protect my money and our future company?’. Did you forget your slides, did you get stuck in traffic, forget your tie? Then you will also do that with your important first customer. This opportunity might change the rest of your life! Sleep in front of their office if you have to avoid traffic, pack 3 spare ties in your bag and bring 16 backups of your presentation on CD, DVD, memory-stick and paper.
Tip 9: Don’t be a clown
Be serious about your stuff. This concerns you for the rest of your life! If an investor makes a joke laugh politely but don’t be funny or make jokes about your company. If you don’t take your story serious, why should they?
Tip 10: Don’t pick a fight
Don’t argue with your investors. If you disagree with what they say never say ‘Yes, but’. You can say ‘I don’t think that that is the case but maybe we can talk about it some more after the presentation because it is an important issue which I would like to explain further’. If you absolutely want to answer that question right there and then say something like ‘Excellent question! I’ll tell you why that isn’t the case in this particular case.
So what happens when you ignore one or all of these tips? Not much. You can ignore all the tips in the world if you have a great idea and are able to make a good impression on your investor. If he is unshaved, smelling and too late too you might get along fine! Remember: This is a list of tips, not rules. One more thing: the people you are meeting are entrepreneurs just like you. They want to make money just like you. They we’re young and brave once too. So if they ask a tough question try to take it like advice and thank them for it. You don’t even have to be nervous because the least you can get from a meeting is some experience and a few good tips. You have nothing too lose here. So, good luck with your presentations and may you be showered with money!