Pitching is a contact sport

If you ask investors how to pitch, they’ll say they want to hear your burn rate, free cashflow, bottom line, projected profitability and other metrics that help them assess if your business aligns with their investment strategy. There’s nothing wrong with that. Yet, it turns out that those facts aren’t so important when the listeners hear them in every pitch.

Listen. There’s a time and place for those metrics. But it’s nowhere near the first half of your pitch. Many founders fall for this trap, and while I am no pitching expert, I have helped a few founders get their stories straight. I want to give you some ideas that can improve your pitch. If this article starts a few discussions or helps a founder in any way, I’ll consider it successful.

You’re not special.

Your idea is not as unique as you believe. Your listeners have seen deals like yours in the past. Look at this passage from Real Venture’s FAQ page:

Question: “Will you sign my confidentiality agreement / NDA?”
Answer: “We see hundreds, if not thousands, of business opportunities every year, all of which have some sort of crossover with another opportunity we will
have seen. We do not share ideas between companies, but we also don’t want to be drawn into litigation when we fund a business that might have some resemblance to another business, we were pitched...”

That’s why being memorable is important. When later that night their spouse or husband asks if anything interesting happened today you want them to talk about your idea. That’s how you get to the next meeting. Starting with a great story will achieve that for you. You must also construct every element of your pitch in a way that flows. Don’t ramble about your competitors for 5 minutes and don’t think you’ll impress anyone with your hockey-stick revenue growth.

Get their attention fast

At the beginning of your pitch, your only goal is to captivate your listeners. For example, if your product can bring a sense of novelty, start with a product demonstration. But make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

My favorite alternative is to start your pitch with a story. When we hear a story, we tend to remember their message with ease.

“my experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later.”

If you struggle to come up with a story, here are 4 common types that can help you find inspiration:

  • The value Story: illustrate the pain points you solve and the benefits of your product or service.
  • The customer story: Present the problem through the life of the end user and show how your solution makes their life better.
  • The founder Story: If you have an origin story worth telling; do it.
  • The purpose story: inspire your team and your potential partners to rally to the cause.

I don’t want to disappoint you, but I must warn you that there are many ways to tell a bad story. To guide you further, here are 4 components you should try to include in your stories:

  • Identifiable characters: we care about them and we connect with them on an emotional level.
  • Authentic emotion: The story receiver feels empathy for your identifiable character. This means we can relate to the emotion they are feeling during the story.
  • Significant moment and rising tension: a specific moment in time that marks the passage from normal to not normal.
  • Specific details: The story portrays tiny details that are specific to the people or places you’re featuring in the story. This proves to them that you are an insider.

Introduce your idea

To transition from the intro to your idea, use economic, social and technological forces. With the three forces, you can paint a moving picture of market trends that leads to a perfect window of opportunity for your business.

Here’s an example of market forces that can combine to introduce a company that helps high school football teams reduce the number of head impacts by leveraging affordable technologies:

  • Social forces: “Athletes and scientists are now concerned more than ever about the rising number of injuries in contact sports. Football teams and organizations are looking everywhere to find solutions that can help them save the sport we love.”
  • Technological forces: “With the latest technological advances, filming high quality videos is now so easy, everybody has a camera in their pocket.”
  • Economical forces: “If we reduced the number of injuries in contact sports the potential saving is between $433 million and $1.5 billion per year for college and between $5.1 billion and $18.4 billion per year for high school.”

Right after the market forces, you are ready to introduce your business idea. If you’re not sure how to do it, I suggest you start with this framework from Crossing the chasm:

For (target customers) who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative). Our product is a (new product category) that provides (key problem-solving capability). Unlike (the product alternative) our product (describe the key product features).

You don’t have to pitch it exactly like that; fill in the blanks and ideas will come to you.

Be confident.

I know. You think this advice is not actionable. Please, let me try to help. Before a pitch, it’s important to understand that neediness is the worst ingredient of deal-making. It lowers your value, thus your potential partner’s interest. On the contrary, confidence increases your perceived value.

Reframe the situation to boost your confidence. You are the prize. The investors all have money; your idea - combined with your team’s ability to execute your plan - is unique. It’s the combination of both – assuming your idea is great, and your traction supports it – that allows their investment to multiply.

Ask yourself - other than money - what kind of help are you looking for in an investor? Make a short list of skills and connections you want to get out of the partnership. This list gives you more control over future discussions and you’ll be able to ask qualifying questions, which reinforces that you’re confident.

Other takeaways in short burst

Introduce your team in one or two sentences. Only tell the audience relevant information that show why you’re the team for the job. People won’t add up all your skills and experiences, they’ll average them. This means key info gets diluted in a never-ending list of bullet points.

Don’t spend more than 2 sentences on your competition. Our competitors do X for Z. We do Y for W. If they have more questions, you can answer them later when they ask.

Know your competitors. There will always be someone in the audience that knows who they are. You don’t want to be left clueless when they ask how you differentiate from Company ABC inc. Do your homework.

Numbers are important. Use them to prove your expertise in budgeting. Investors love to know that you know your numbers. State your past revenue, expenses and profit in a brief sentence. Don’t waste more than 5 seconds on financial projections. Everybody inflates their revenue projections; you know it and investors know it.

Practice your pitch a thousand times. Pitching is a sport. You need to do 10 000 repetitions before you get good at it. Like in sport, even those with a natural gift can lose if they don’t train with intensity.

I hope this article gave you new tools and I wish you well on your venture.

Come on.
Reach out.

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