Pitch Perfect

Yawn! Another blogpost on pitching. Is that going to make the world any better, solve riddles and problems of our time? Will it make me / you happier, slimmer, more beautiful, etc.? No. But the honest truth is: I can’t stand bad pitches any more.

You might think that we reached a point where everyone has consumed everything there is about good pitching, inhaled all the good material and all the pitches are perfect. Let me tell you the ugly truth from the front: they are far from that, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. It is probably the one skill where US startups crush any European Startup anytime. Unfortunately. Because there is a dozen of other disciplines, where we easily trump them. So let’s fix this.

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I looked at my past year as an investor, and figured out I heard about 1 pitch a day, including weekends. Roughly 400 companies have tried to communicate their ideas in anything from 6 to 60 minutes and I can tell you, I went out of those pitches with a warm fuzzy feeling only 1 in 10 times. Why? Because still pitching is considered an “art” where it is really a craft, a skill, that can be trained and perfected, that can be learned and refined like nothing else in Startupland.

The preparation for this article was easy, attending Pioneers Investors Day and the Startup Awards weekend in a short time span. I tried to identify the most common issues and summarize them in clear statements, that make it easy to follow. So without further ado, 4 areas that your pitch needs to do perfect.

The Deck

  • Use a common structure, there are enough good examples. Why? This way you make sure everything expected is in there and I can follow it easily. Innovation should not be happening in the deck, but in your company.
  • There is only one, or maximum two, slides on the product in your deck. Why? It may be a super technical, super complicated product as such, but if you are not able to describe it in 2 slides, how on earth are you ever going to sell something?
  • Know your pitch. Inside out. If you stumble, I stumble. Why? After all you are talking about your company, your baby, your main occupation. You should know your stuff, right? Right?

The Speech

  • You are what I focus on. I need to get the strongest possible impression from you. Why? Because I also judge your startup based on the human capital. So show me the best you can.
  • That means: never turn to the wall and read your slides. Always keep eye contact. Hands out of the pocket. Give me the strongest, most assertive voice you have. No mumbling in your beard, no slow and silent speech. Why? Your energy translates to my energy. If you mumble your slides to the wall, hands in your pockets, no movement, I will feel uncomfortable or even bored. You don’t want that.
  • Love your pitch as much as you love your product. Why? Yes you might be in love with your product (that’s most likely the reason you started this company), but you need to love your pitch just as much to convince me. You will be pitching for sales, partners, employees, etc. in the future, pitching is your most important skill.

The Tools

  • Prototypes, product, etc. to the audience. Why? If you have something to show, give it to me. I am as curious about cool stuff as you. I WANT TO TOUCH IT!
  • No complex setups. Why? Whatever can go wrong in a pitch will go wrong. If you are not able to master your tools, you lose an opportunity to tell a story. Never be obsessed with those, be obsessed with getting the message across.
  • Stories are your best friend. Why? They immediately engage me, give me a context, and make for a perfect outline of your presentation. If you have a story to tell, use it. It’s your most powerful tool

The Q&A

  • This is the most important part. Why? A good Q&A can save a bad pitch. A bad Q&A can ruin it.
  • Short, precise answers. Why? I need to get the feeling you know your thing inside out. No need for long stories here. Time is precious. You wan’t to take as many questions as possible to show you know your thing.
  • Great question. Not. Why? Don’t congratulate me on a good question. Answer it. Q&A is No-Bullshit-Time. It’s like in a boxing ring, you would never tell the other guy “good punch”, would you?

Last not least: Know what you want. The Ask is what you do this pitch for. Pitching is about getting something. And even if you are just in training mode, ask for what you currently need. You never know who is in the audience and might be able to help.

Alright. Let’s pitch!

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