Pitch pointers

Once you’ve got your business plan pitch deck and your 1-pager together, it’s time to get out there and pitch. For some, that’s the fun part. For others, it’s high anxiety. Either way, here are a few tips to consider.

Cheat. If you’ve followed my advice, you won’t be reading from your slides when you pitch. Instead, you’ll use the slide to keep you on track, and to clarify the words you speak. That doesn’t mean you have to memorize everything you’ll say, though. Instead, print a copy of your deck, and write your name on your copy so you won’t accidentally pass it out. Try presenting the deck a few times out loud, alone, and when you find wording you like, write a few bulleted notes in the margins. I find those notes helpful on the first pitch or two. After that, I don’t need them. But it’s still nice to have a cheat sheet as a crutch in case you get nervous, or frazzled by tough audiences.

Practice. Before you pitch to an investor or advisor, practice on friends, and have them do their best to interrupt you, ask you challenging questions, and give you feedback. Develop a list of objections, and think through your answers. Look for ways to tweak your deck so you avoid walking into traps, and begin to build your backup slides.

Prep. Do your homework before you walk into a meeting. Think about what will constitute a “win”. Are you looking for a second meeting? An introduction? A verbal commitment? A check? If you don’t know what you want, you are less likely to get it. Also, know your audience. It’s easier than ever to do that given tools like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – not to mention good old fashioned networking. Find out about their industry experience, their education, even their hobbies. If they are professional investors, find out what they have invested in previously, how much they typically invest, what stage they invest at, their industry focus, and any other investment criteria. If possible, find people who have pitched to them before (or had them as investors), and get their advice.

Probe. Before and each meeting, there’s some time for chit chat – even if it’s in the hallway. Use that time to ask just a few open ended questions, and also show off a little of the homework you’ve done. You might glean some information that can help you shape your pitch, or learn more about what it will be like to have this particular investor as your long-term partner. Here are a few questions I’ve found helpful:

  •  “I saw from your website that you’ve invested in ABC.com. How is that going?”
  • “How do you typically get involved with companies you invest in?”
  • “Do you tend to invest alone, or with others?”

Draw. One approach I find particularly effective is to stop at some point during your presentation, and draw a diagram of something on a whiteboard or just a piece of paper. This tends to ramp up the energy level in the meeting, and helps to drive a particular point home.

React. Tailor your presentation to your audience, and make adjustments as you go. Watch their eyes and body language. Are they sneaking peeks at their blackberries, flipping pages, or folding their arms? Pick up the pace. Did they seem to dwell on one of your points or ask an insightful question? Engage them in a dialogue. Provide more detail, and ask questions to find out what’s on their minds. In fact, try to listen as much as you speak.

Respond. When answering questions, get to the point quickly, and be clear and direct. You can add detail as you go, depending on whether you sense that the audience needs more. Be careful not to get defensive, or to move beyond your comfort zone. If you really don’t know the answer to something, you are usually better off saying you will look into it than taking the risk of flubbing your response.

Tag-team. If you’ve got a business partner, one of you should lead the pitch, and the other should provide backup coverage by reading the audience, adding any critical points you’ve missed, and taking notes on what seemed to go well or poorly so you can recap afterwards.

Ask. After your pitch and the ensuing Q&A, ask your audience what they think, and whether they are interested in whatever it is you want from them. If you get negative feedback, ask follow up questions to get to the root cause of their concerns. You may not win them over, but you could learn valuable lessons for your next pitch.

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