What we’re talking about
If you’re seeking investment for your small business, you’ll probably need to produce a short presentation – that’s known as a pitch. It’s a chance to present your business in a structured way, with both visual and verbal content that’ll aim to convince those watching of its value, and of your value as a founder. Creating a pitch deck is one challenge, but the prep doesn’t stop there. To deliver it in a compelling and logical manager, you’ll need to have practiced numerous times, honing the content and style as you go.
Why it’s important
You can’t rely on information alone – how you get your data and value across is arguably more important. A study from SOAP Presentations suggests that the effectiveness of presentations is only 7% determined by content; 38% is down to your voice, and 55% non-verbal communication. Practicing is one of the best ways to correct inaccuracies and inconsistencies, and come out with a seamless pitch when the day comes. It’s also a good way of easing nerves, with 90% of pre-presentation anxiety stemming from a lack of preparation. Practicing is essential if you want to stand out from the crowd.
Things to note
You don’t need to learn it word for word. You need to be confident and concise, and reading from notes can be distracting for both you and your audience. But learning it word for word carries risks – namely, that you’ll sound unnatural and freeze if you forget your lines. The aim instead should be to memorize key pointers – you want to get so familiar with your pitch, by running through it numerous times, that the right words roll off your tongue. You should be able to riff off your central points and stats as if you were having a normal conversation.
Complement your visuals. Don’t forget that your pitch has two aspects – the verbal (your speech) and the visual (your presentation). They need to work in sync, complementing each other. You shouldn’t be relying on your slideshow for prompts, and you also shouldn’t totally ignore the slides and focus all your energy on speaking. Practice navigating your presentation and speaking at the same time – guiding your audience through slides and referring them to important images or stats.
Cut the fluff. The practice period should help you perfect what you’re going to say, as well as how you’re going to say it. Make sure you’ve included all the basics in your pitch – but be objective in editing it. The best pitches are brief, because good businesses speak for themselves. Cut stuff that feels superfluous or boring, or that you don’t really believe yourself. Listen to feedback and respond appropriately, by making changes or explaining yourself. This will also help you when it comes to fielding tricky questions from would-be investors later.
Make audience-specific changes. It’s likely you’ll be delivering your pitch to more than one set of prospective investors. Individual venture capitalists and angel investors will have different requirements, portfolios, communication styles, and areas of interest or expertise. Some pitch meetings will be more informal and conversational than others. You should do a bit of extra homework before every meeting, and tweak elements of your pitch to fit the scenario.
Prepare for virtual pitching. Make sure you’ve anticipated the ins and outs of pitching remotely, and that you tailor your practice period to fit this format. You’ll need to actively decide on background, lighting, and platform choice, and make sure that your mic, video, wifi and screen sharing are all operating seamlessly. Run-throughs with colleagues and peers should take place virtually rather than in-person – so they can help you identify whether you are speaking clearly enough and looking in the right places, alongside other standard feedback.
How to practice your pitch
1. Conduct a fact-check. The first step is making sure that whatever you’ve written down is actually accurate. Checklists like this one might help, and you’ll also need to check all your facts. It’s particularly important to get figures and financials right if they’re used in your pitch. Prepare some more detailed information to have on hand if it’s asked for.
2. Study the script. Go over your speech until you know the order and specific sections of the speech inside out. Can you talk convincingly about your finances or your team? Could you share the three key things you want potential backers to take away from your pitch? Spend extra time on the slides you keep forgetting, and move on when you feel capable of jotting down a top-level run-through on paper.
3. Learn the script. Now it’s time to go deeper than the main ideas. As mentioned, learning it word for word can be risky but you still need to memorize the main structure and the key points, paragraph by paragraph. You’ll also want to pinpoint some soundbites and statistics to know by heart. Memorizing techniques, like these, might help you here.
4. Record yourself. Start by audio recording yourself and listening back, to pick up on areas where your intonation doesn’t quite sound right, where you’re tripping over your words, or where information seems to be missing. Then video record yourself to pick up on factors like eye contact, facial expressions, body language and posture. Keep making recordings until you come across as eloquent and confident.
5. Time yourself. It’s likely you will have been allotted somewhere between 10 to 30 minutes to pitch. If they haven’t specified, you should still aim for this amount of time. If your pitch goes on too long, people will lose interest; if it’s too short, it’ll look like you don’t have much of note to share. Time yourself properly – speaking slowly and clearly, and pausing every so often, exactly as you plan to during your actual presentation. If you’re way over or under your time limit, the answer usually lies in making changes to the content, not altering the speed of your delivery.
6. Pitch to your colleagues. Now’s the time to pitch in front of people – in-person or over Zoom, depending on what will be required of you. Your colleagues will be able to rate your performance as observers, and can also help you out with that last bit of editing. Like you, they know the details of the company and the strong points you should be shouting about. Treat it like a dress rehearsal, keeping to time and not stopping for questions and comments until the end. Then discuss what went well and what could be better.
7. Pitch to others. Now for a final dress rehearsal. This step is key for making sure it resonates with those that aren’t as entrenched in your startup’s story as you are. You can deliver your pitch to a friend or partner – anyone you trust to be honest – or go to specialized events where you do it in front of strangers. Doing it to a group of people you don’t know carries the added bonus of helping you anticipate and manage any public-speaking-related nerves.
8. Don’t forget about the Q&A. A decent chunk of your time will be taken up by answering follow-up questions. While you don’t know what they’re going to ask yet, you should prepare so that you can expect the unexpected. Compile questions that occur to you, and that are raised by friends, colleagues and fellow founders, throughout the rehearsal process. Have convincing answers prepared, with numbers to match.
• Getting the delivery of your pitch right comes from knowing the content – that means spending time learning your script and the overarching structure.
• Expect to make changes to your script and slides during the practice period; it will reveal any inconsistencies and flag where things don’t flow.
• Don’t just go through it by yourself. Get in front of others to simulate the pitch environment – and the nerves that may come with it.
Perspective. AllBusiness asked 13 young founders what their best tip for practicing pitches was. Here are the answers.
Example. Via Entrepreneur, you can watch founders pitch their ideas to judges TechStars and ValleyNYC. The video should help you identify what works and what doesn’t.
Tool. The makers of this tool collected more than 200 questions from venture capital investors and angels, which you can test yourself with.