There’s a high chance that if you want your startup to move from being a side hustle to a roaring success, then you — as its founder — will not simply need to pitch at some point, but will need to become a pitching pro.
Whether pitching to one person in an elevator, or a global audience on TV, pitching is an art form whose relevance you’d be a fool to dismiss.
Every time you pitch, believe wholeheartedly that the stakes are high and you must ace the opportunity.
And it’s highly likely that you’ll not always know when it’s “showtime”, thus you must always be ready; have your pitch fresh in your mind, cater it to the time you have, calibrate it to the audience, and — most importantly — always pitch as if this occasion is the one you’ve spent a lifetime preparing for.
Why we pitch
So let’s start at the beginning.
Typically you’re pitching because you need to outline the strengths of your business in return for something. I’ll simplify this as: you’re pitching for some kind of capital, be it
human capital (such as a Co-Founder, mentor, partnership), or
financial capital (investment).
When you’re pitching to me, quite simply, it’s for my money or my time.
How to pitch
A pitch is a performance and you must always bring your A-Game.
You must demonstrate your Passion, your Purpose, and your Personality every single time.
And the best way to hook your audience is by having a clear narrative. By telling a story, often with a clear persona (or character), you’ll be able to bring your audience along for the ride and keep their attention.
And you need to stand out.
You need to be engaging.
Your “WHY” needs to be unambiguous.
Both your business pitch needs to be watertight, and your delivery needs to be a command performance.
What do I mean?
Let me show you an example.
One of the best pitches I’ve ever seen is by an Australian agtech company called BioScout.
In this video, Co-Founder Saron Berhane is pitching to a live audience at a StartMate DemoDay event.
Please watch the video then I’ll explain why I rate it so much.
What Stands Out.
Throughout the pitch, Saron manages to convey what is a relatively technical challenge and solution — using the storytelling tool of “Brian the Banana farmer” — in a layman, but thorough, simple manner.
Here’s what they do well, and what you should ensure you cover:
- She explains clearly who they are, what they do, what problem they’re solving, and how they are dealing with it;
- She is clear as to who the problem is being solved for;
- She demonstrates their credibility (why THEY are the ones to solve this problem, and why THEY have the solution to fix the problem);
- She avoids complex sentences, figures, and data, while equally outlining the business case and model;
- She creates and provides an opportunity, and indeed a clear value proposition, for potential partners and investors
And from a “performance” perspective, throughout, she ensures she injects her warm personality — like she’s talking to a friend — demonstrating that she is calm under pressure, has a good cadence to her voice, and physically doesn’t shuffle around but stands naturally, and moves her hands within her circle.
And all this happens because of her clarity of purpose and practice.
Let’s Break this Down...
1. Each aspect of the quintessential elements of public speaking are covered in the delivery:
Confidence: If you want others to believe you, you need to (sound like you) believe in yourself, your team, and your product/service.
Content: Know what you’re talking about, and back it up with facts and data if you can.
Character: Demonstrate that you are trustworthy, reliable and most importantly credible.
Charisma: Sell the topic but recognize that the charisma of the presenter is often 50% of what will be remembered. Show that you’re passionate about the problem and your solution.
2. Having a structure helped Saron deliver a pitch that was clear, straightforward, easy to navigate (both for the audience and likely for her to deliver), and easy to understand.
Whether or not you pitch with a deck, it’s likely you’ll need one at some point during your entrepreneurship journey, so I’ve created one to help you along your way.
Included in the deck is the structure/sequence I personally like to see (it’s worth watching the BioScout video again right now and ticking off each element as it’s covered):
Practise in front of a mirror (corny, but relevant).
Practise in front of an audience you don’t know well (family and friends are often a little kinder than a panel of judges will be).
And practising is not simply about ensuring you have everything ironed out to perfection, but also because ensuring that you are able to control what you can control to the best of your ability.
Game Day. The Event.
Prior to most pitches, you’ll be nervous. It’s a fact. Face it.
Learn how to channel these butterflies.
Plenty of times during a pitch event there’ll be numerous left-field challenges totally out of your control.
Take pitching for TV as an example: the lights, the cameras, the sheer hustle happening around you, is not within your control and will take you out of your comfort zone.
So many entrepreneurs will become distracted by this and not perform.
The sweat running down the eyes, the heat of the lights, plus the shear occasion can become too much.
You need to make sure you’re not one of the many who’ll crumble under these additional pressures.
You’re Not Alone
Solidarity is good amongst a group of startups when at an event, but when it comes to being in front of a panel, it’s every startup for themselves.
When it comes to LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION in front of a judging panel, you’re very rarely the only startup pitching.
You may be the ninth of ten startups pitching in a very long day.
While you maybe fresh to give your three minute pitch no problem, just imagine how “less fresh” the panel maybe.
How can you use this to your advantage?
If you’re pitching to a panel who’s already watched nine other pitches, how are you going to ensure that their energy is lifted, and their attention is focused throughout your pitch, no matter how tired, hungry, and weary they are?
I’ll give you a personal example, drawing specifically on the TV headline of this article.
When filming the McDan Entrepreneurship Challenge, while each entrepreneur may only be given three minutes, by the time you’ve been set up with your microphone, the cameras, lights, and stage perfected, the panel readied, on top of your three minutes, with a few takes, you will also likely get significant feedback off-camera. This can take 45 min to an hour. With ten or so startups filmed during a day…you do the math.
This goes back to what I said at the beginning of the article.
Whenever, wherever your pitch must be game-ready.
And, for anyone who happens to pitch in front of me, here are some insights into my focus.
What I’m Personally Looking For
- Credibility (in you/your team, your product, and your solution)
- You can back up your claims (i.e., you’re truthful, realistic and aren’t promising the rainbows and unicorns)
- If you say you have no competition, I won’t believe you.
- The accuracy (within reason) of your market sizing and knowing your numbers in general.
- Your passion, enthusiasm, attitude, focus, and how well you “show up”.
- You know your audience (ie. if you’re pitching TO ME, I expect you to have done your homework ABOUT ME)
- A clear reason as to why you’re pitching in front of me (e.g., is it for a competition, why are you here, what will you do if you win, and what will you do if you don’t?)
In terms of how you deliver the Pitch, ensure you inject:
Pace: get the cadence of your speech to have an even, natural tempo and rhythm.
Passion: demonstrate you care, why you’re the one. Even if you’re tired or have pitched 100 times in a day, the passion should always be clear.
Personality: a way to ensure the audience is engaged is by injecting some quirks, elements of humour. No one wants to hear a monotone robot.
Mindset: are you the right person/team, with the right intentions, in the right time of your life to be embarking on this tough journey?
Message: why are you doing this?
Money: what are the financials (investment, revenue, etc.)?
Movement: what are the impactful ripple effects of your startup to the community, the industry, the country, etc?
In terms of why you’re delivering the Pitch, think:
At the end of the day, practice makes you pitch perfect.
A panel can quickly distinguish between those who have practiced and those who haven’t, those who’ve done their homework and those who winged it, and those who are in this for the long haul versus those who are riding a wave of luck.
Ultimately, make sure you’re so ready that you can silence all the noise around you and confidently deliver the pitch of your life; one that you can leave the stage and be eternally proud of.