10 top tips for pitching

by Daniel Batten on March 17, 2009

Happy new year!
This is an excerpt from my column for this month’s Idealog magazine #13, Jan-Feb ’08: v.useful tips for first-time pitchers, and most of the lessons apply to any environment where you seek to influence:

1. Pitching is storytelling. Saying, “When I was down on the farm I used to see a lot of time wasted dagging sheep, and I wondered if this could be automated” is the right lead-in. “Here are the top five attributes of the Auto-Dagger 2007” is not.

2. The story only has four bits. “This is the opportunity, this is the market size, this is why our product is disruptive and why we can get to market cost-effectively, and this is who the team is that is going to do it”. That’s it. Don’t waste time on in-depth product descriptions or any details on anything.

3. Aim for curiosity, not closure. A great pitch will get you to a due-diligence meeting. The best way to do this is to excite curiosity. Ironically, that means you have more chance of getting to the next meeting if you leave some of the story “to be continued”.

4. Write your script first, the presentation second. Use the PowerPoint to support your story, rather than your badly ad-libbed story to support your slides.

5. Less is more. Remember that only so much can be retained by people the first time they see something. Putting down two key ideas is better than ten points that no-one will remember.

6. When you pause, they absorb. “Um” and “ah” are enthusiasm-killers. Each time you feel the urge to say this, pause instead. Sounds simple, but the effect this one change has on how an audience perceives your confidence is unbelievable.

7. Less know-how is better. Get someone who only has a high-level understanding of the product. Technically-minded founders and scientists try to describe the fine details, whereas metaphor and general product overviews can be very quickly understood.

8. When they ask questions, don’t try to know it all. Instead hear the question behind the question. “What will you do with the money?” means “Do you understand the difference between buying things and investing money in things that will grow your business.” “Have you thought of doing x?” means “Are you open to listening to people like me who want to give you helpful input?”

9. Relax! In Ricardo Bellino’s book You Have 3 Minutes!, he describes his successful multimillion-dollar pitch to Donald Trump. Trump thought Bellino was nervous and lacked some key facts, but was drawn to his vision and enthusiasm. The point is: you will feel nervous, so relax about the fact you’ll be nervous, because only then will your infectious enthusiasm shine through.

10. Investors don’t know why they invest. All humans €”and most investors are human €”are very good at rationalising why they decide to buy something. But research suggests they actually create an after-sales rationalisation for a decision that is predominantly emotional. They’ll invest when they feel confidence in you and your vision, and an emotional connection.

If you feel the wheels starting to fall off a presentation, don’t try to spin your story. You’ll win hearts and minds with honesty. Acknowledge that someone has asked something you can’t answer, that there is a gap somewhere that you hadn’t considered, or that you have work to do on your presentation skills. Better this than trying to paper over cracks. Things started to go badly in San Diego in 2003 on my first ever pitch, but because I was open to input and learning we were invited back to pitch again.

That’s pitching in a nutshell. In the 80s, Dr Albert Mehrabian said successful communication is 55 percent non-verbal, 38 percent voice, and only seven percent actual content. I was sceptical when I heard it, but after three years of constant pitching I reckon Mehrabian was dead right. You learn the work by doing the work, which means you are better off preparing for a pitch by putting yourself in an environment where you are constantly practicing in front of people the way you voice and present your message than you are shutting yourself off from human contact in a room with PowerPoint running perfecting slide-layout.

The pitch is your bridge to the investment capital you need to realise your dream. The money and the business opportunities are here to be found. It’s the bridge between the investors and business opportunities that needs to be fixed, and your pitch can do the fixing.

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