Being able to pitch an idea to strangers is a necessary skill across many industries. For entrepreneurs and startups, though, pitching your business in a compelling manner is especially important because it can be a stepping stone to landing potential investors, partners and supporters.
So what are the ingredients to crafting a credible, persuasive and outstanding pitch? From creating the pitch deck to delivering your presentation, we spoke to two experts in this realm for their insights on the topic.
Know your audience
Before you even begin to craft your pitch, it’s important to consider your target audience, said Anders Lykke, VP of Sales at Priori Data, a mobile app data and analytics provider based in Berlin. A core part of his role is to pitch Priori Data to potential clients and partners as well as to spread the word about the product at conferences and events.
“It always depends on what you’re trying to achieve with the pitch,” explained Lykke, “Are you trying to create general excitement about the product and your company? Or do you want to lay the foundation for a particular conversation?”
To gauge your audience, he suggested asking yourself these questions: Will you be presenting in front of a diverse group of entrepreneurs at a conference? Or a crowd of mobile industry professionals? Will you be at a local community event? Or pitching to investors in a boardroom? Once you have these parameters down, it’ll be easier to cater your pitch, in terms of length and structure, accordingly.
Succinctly describe the problem and how you’re trying to solve it
One of the most important goals of a pitch is to convince people – in a short amount of time – why you and your company are relevant, aka why they should care. It’s probably best to incorporate this aspect at the beginning of your pitch presentation, so people know what they’re getting into right off the bat. Again, keep in mind when explaining the problem that how broad or specific you delve into it should be dependent on who you’re talking to.
There are a number of ways to go about structuring your pitch, but what works for Lykke is painting a picture of the problem scenario at the very start. “Once I’ve outlined the pain point clearly, I talk about the potential impacts of the problem, provide context with market data and then go on to paint a picture of how we’ll solve it,” he added.
Back up your points with data
Establishing credibility during a pitch is crucial. But, how do you do that? “Avoid general statements and use numbers as often as possible,” said Candy Behunin, who heads marketing at Unicorn Pitch, a pitch deck design service for startups. Lykke shared a similar opinion and stressed that it’s also critical to use data from various reliable sources to help people understand the problem you’re tackling as well as the impact the solution might have.
Create a professional pitch deck
The pitch deck is often an important element accompanying your pitch. “Picture it as a sales document that needs to speak for your company,” explained Behunin, “Sometimes, investment decisions will be made with you not being present and with people whom you have not had a chance to speak to. All they see is what their partner has told them – and your pitch deck.” So make sure your deck factually correct and highlights only the most critical pieces of information.
When creating a deck targeted to investors, the Unicorn Pitch team suggested including information about the opportunity, market, technology/product, KPIs, business model metrics, team, why you/how can you defend this great opportunity as well as the status of funding. Seasoned German entrepreneur and investor Felix Haas, who also backs Unicorn Pitch, added: “As an investor, what immediately catches my eye in a pitch deck is seeing that there are great co-investors who are already committed. A big turn off for me is when founders come in with an unprofessional-looking presentation.”
If the slides are for a pitch to a more general audience, go for a streamlined deck that focuses more on a compelling story. If you need inspiration for this kind of deck, Behunin recommended looking to Y Combinator pitches as a reference.
Take a deep breath
Getting nervous before a pitch is not uncommon – even for people who have done it a hundred times. Priori Data’s Lykke, who also has a lot of experience in the realms of acting and stand-up comedy, said a good way to combat stage fright is to tap into your “inner peace zone” for a couple of seconds. “Generally, a couple of deep breaths goes a long way to calm yourself down before you go on stage,” he added.
Some people thrive on stage, while others recoil at the thought of it. And yet, there are successful entrepreneurs that come from both categories. It’s not necessarily a matter of either/or. Of course, for some people it’ll require more practice but regardless of which group you fall into, being authentic plays a big role when delivering a compelling pitch, said Lykke.
“When carrying yourself on stage, it’s incredibly important to present in a way that is in sync with who you are as a person – don’t try to play role of someone you’re not,” he said adamantly, “It doesn’t matter if you’re introverted or extroverted, it’s about owning yourself and finding a way to present the pitch that aligns with your personality. Everyone knows it can be difficult to pitch on stage, but by simply being genuine, you can build a great level of empathy in the audience.”
Leave the audience wanting more
When pitching, the last impression is equally – if not more – important than the first impression. On this train of thought, Lykke said, “When pitching a business, you have to leave the audience energized and excited… And people get energized and excited about great ideas.”