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3 Tips to Master Your Startup Pitch

You have less than 5 minutes to make the right impression in your startup pitch

When it comes to pitching your business, delivery is everything.

Nicole Glaros, Chief Product Officer with Techstars, watches anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 pitches every year, and the vast majority of entrepreneurs, she says, fail at making the right first impression. She urges them to keep it simple and clear: “Tell me how you do what you do.”

Glaros boils her advice down to a few key points: Know your audience, make your introduction interesting, show potential investors the traction and the business opportunity, nix generic language, and kill the bullet points.”

“When there are words on the slide, you’re reading from them,” Glaros says. That’s why the bullet points have to go.

Simple mistakes like reading directly from your slide presentation can be costly – you risk losing your audience’s attention. Also, it’s just awkward, and if an entrepreneur is going to be awkward during this critical pitch time, “you’re going to be awkward in your business,” Glaros says. Or at least that’s what investors may conclude.

You need to own your pitch. Make it into a call to action.

And there’s an easy way to tell if you’ve lost your audience’s focus: Are they looking at their phones?

top tips for your startup pitch

Practice your startup pitch in public

Practice is absolutely essential to learning to give a great pitch — and practice in public is how to learn whether you’re nailing it, and where you’re losing your audience’s attention. It’s essential to get your pitch out of your head and into the world.

Scott Dickman, a YPO member and President of Tulsa-based Base, Inc., says he’s on his fourth or fifth career with pitching. Dickman attended a pitch session hosted by Techstars, a YPO alliance partner, for members of YPO at the CES 2020 in Las Vegas. He arrived at the annual event in his capacity as a Trustee of the University of Tulsa, which has licensed a startup, Exaeris Water Innovations. Dickman’s also an investor and officer with Exaeris. He has plenty of pitching advice for them, and all startups.

“You have to shorten your pitches,” he says. “It’s like speed dating … Don’t oversell it. The worst thing you can do is sell yourself as something that you’re not. Be honest about where you are and what you’re doing.”

At this event, YPO members heard 5 pitches for new enterprises, from a cloud platform for augmented reality applications, to automation tools for the hospitality industry, and a magical game for children to improve writing skills. Dermot O’Shea, a YPO member and Co-Founder and Joint CEO of Taoglas, a leading provider of next-gen IoT solutions, agrees that entrepreneurs need to immediately engage their audience.

“The reason entrepreneurs do a bad job at an elevator pitch is because you’re living in that story in such detail,” O’Shea says. “It’s very hard for you to come out, step back and describe it to someone. You don’t want to undersell it. But in actual fact, it’s enough to know why should they care. They need to see what the product does, who would buy it, and why people should buy it.”

The detail stuff comes later, O’Shea says. If someone’s interested, they’ll dig in for more information on their own time. You can tell if the audience is interested and engaged by how they respond to your pitch, and the questions they ask. This is just one of the benefits of practicing in public.

startup tips: how to nail your presentation

Boiling down that pitch

In her series, Master Your Pitch, Glaros spells out 5 ways entrepreneurs can present their business, demonstrate their products, and ultimately stick the landing, locking in opportunities with future and potential business partners.

  • Taylor Your Pitch. Too often entrepreneurs make mistakes like not knowing their audience or tweaking their message to suit. Or they spend too much time on their story or explaining their product.
  • Make your introduction interesting. When pitching your business to investors, you have less than 30 seconds to introduce yourself, build credibility, define the problem, and make the audience care. How to be interesting: Talk about a startling fact, tell an interesting personal story, contradict conventional wisdom, make the audience laugh, play on a fear, or be appropriately different.
  • Demonstrate what you sell. This is a game of show, not tell. Don’t use your demo to talk about how you’re better than your competitors – sell your vision. “You don’t have to sell me what’s going on today. I want you to sell me what this looks like in 5 years, and how you’re going to make me money,” Glaros said.
  • Show me the money. Investors want to hear about the money, of course, but it’s up to you to turn those abstract numbers into FOMO. Talk about things in creative ways. You need to communicate the opportunity here. Don’t include too many words or numbers on a presentation slide. A common mistake: Entrepreneurs negatively talking about the competition. Instead, answer this question: What makes your business better?
  • Stick the landing. Leave your audience with a specific call-to-action. A great lasting impression is key.
“You have to be more interesting than my cell phone.” Nicole Glaros, Techstars Chief Product Officer 

Get comfortable with pitching

Dickman enjoys pitching. He says it’s easy to do as long as you like the company and you enjoy what you’re doing. “Being extremely candid is important,” he says. “It’s easy to believe your own story; you become the hero of your own story.” O’Shea adds that entrepreneurs need to get to the point quickly. In other words: “The last slide needs to be the first slide – tell me the conclusion,” he says.

“If your product or solution is good enough, then tell me about it straight away,” O’Shea says. “Don’t distract from the product by talking general stuff about the market. Cut to the chase. Tell me what you’re doing. You can damage your trust element with the audience when you don’t go straight into it.”

Finally, know your limits, he says. If you’re going to blitz a place with 25 or 30 pitches, make sure your last pitch is as good as your first. Otherwise, your exhaustion and lack of enthusiasm will start to become apparent.

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