You’ve secured a meeting with your audience—let’s say a potential investor. Before you pull out your business plan pitch, you’ll have a window of time from when you shake hands with your audience to when you present the first slide in your business plan presentation. I call this window of time “slide zero.” Slide zero is something most people forget about, but it can have a significant impact on the outcome of your pitch. Here are two examples from the real world:
- Allison. It was one of those mornings for Allison. At 9:00 a.m. she had a pitch in the mid-town office of a leading venture capital firm. At 8:50 a.m. she was still stuck in downtown traffic, thanks to an intense thunderstorm. She arrived late, soaked and frazzled. When the investor came out to meet her, she started a conversation about weather. That conversation continued as they walked down the hall and took their seats in the conference room. Knowing they were behind schedule, Allison jumped right into her pitch. The pitch came off a bit stiff and impersonal, and a day later Allison got an email telling her it was a great idea, but they’d like to see her make more progress on it.
- Vincent. Before his meeting with a potential investor, Vincent did his homework. He learned that the investor had made a previous investment in a company—similar to his—that had failed. He also discovered that he and the potential investor had a mutual friend—a well-respected entrepreneur in a related industry. Vincent arrived early enough to camp out for a coffee nearby and gather his thoughts. When he met his investor in the lobby, he mentioned their mutual contact. The man lit up and told Vincent about a time he had sat on a panel with their mutual friend. Then Vincent mentioned the previous investment and asked what had gone wrong. The investor told him that when the company’s customer needs changed, the company’s technology took too long and cost too much to modify. Vincent made a mental note to demonstrate the flexibility of his software. He nailed the pitch and landed the investment.
So, what should you cover on slide zero?
- Establish rapport. If you have a mutual contact that will serve as a confidence-building bridge between you and your audience, mention it. Demonstrate your social skills. Ask an insightful question with a follow-up to show you were listening. See the recommended reading list at the end of this chapter for good tips on how to act, talk, and think when you are in the spotlight.
- Apply your super-sleuthing skills. During the banter, try to ferret out a little information that could be helpful to your pitch. Try to find out about experiences or perspectives that could shape the way your audience will react to your material. Are there land mines you should avoid? Hot buttons they’ll want you to cover?
 That means “no” in venture capital-speak.