Pitching is a key element to startup success. Over the years, it's become something that’s expected from a holistic founder; a concept in which we teach developers, designers, and entrepreneurs how to become more balanced and well-rounded human beings through communication, emotional intelligence, mindfulness and team building.
Besides managing a team, building the tech, and seeing to everyday operations, you now have to become a master speaker in a variety of situations.
And these situations only seem to be increasing. Now, instead of only needing to present a 10-minute pitch, you have to be prepared for elevator conversations, long-form VC presentations, and competitions that can vary in both style and timing.
As someone who works with hundreds of startups and pitch teams each year, one of the most frequent questions I get is:
"How do you build a standard pitch when it seems like there’s no baseline?"
1. Start A Pitch Library
The first key is to remove the word standard. There is no standard pitch that all audiences will abide by. However, while it may seem like pitching scenarios have no consistent structure, there are routine practices you can build a pitch library around.
A pitch library is a small collection of pitches that can be applied to multiple events. At AngelHack, we instruct our startups to craft a pitch, and be fully prepared, for any of the following common situations:
- 45-Second Elevator Pitch
- 3-Minute Competition Pitch
- 30-Minute or 1-Hour VC Pitch
This allows our startups to build a library of pitches to iterate on as needed. If they enter into a 2-minute pitching competition, they can easily remove 1-2 talking points from their 3-minute pitch to fit the bill.
"By preparing for your common pitching needs, you’ll have a library of slides and talking points that can be used in all types of situations."
2. Leave Room For A Q&A
Regardless of presentation structure, one thing you’ll want to leave room for is questions from the audience. This is true of elevator pitches and presentations to VC firms, and, if you don’t plan ahead, chances are you’ll get interrupted with questions before you have a chance to finish anyways.
So...how long should you leave for the Q&A? At least ⅓ of your pitch.
"That’s right. An entire third of your pitch should be allocated for questions."
Using our breakdown above, this would look like:
- Elevator Style: 30 Second Pitch / 15 Second Q&A
- Competition Style: 2 Minute Pitch / 1 Minute Q&A
- VC Style:
- 20 Minute Pitch / 10 Minute Q&A
- 40 Minute Pitch / 20 Minute Q&A
Questions are a vital part of any pitch because no matter how hard you try, your presentation won’t be able to cover all the different personalities and interests or concerns of your audience.
However, the best part of saving a large chunk of your pitch for Q&A is that you can focus on the highlights; if you have strong metrics, highlight them in the pitch; if you have a very detailed and timely features plan, save it for the Q&A.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have a pitch ready for some of your more complicated areas.
"On the contrary, you should have a full list of questions that audience members might ask you."
This list should include anything you removed for time, any points that weren’t included due to uncertainty, and any technical questions you may be asked. From there, you can take your list and prepare a ~15 second elevator answer.
You won’t be able to predict every question you’ll be asked, but with this list, you’ll minimize the risk of freezing up when your audience inquires about an element outside of your pitch.
3. Tell A Story
Imagine you're giving a pitch during a hackathon. You have 2 minutes to present your startup idea, and even though you’ve practiced running through your demo, your tech doesn’t seem to be working. What do you do? Where do you go from here?
Memorizing a pitch can often lead to a “deer in the headlights” moment. You might forget a word as simple as “product” and it throws off your momentum, or your demo might break and you forget how to lead into your next point.
All of these reasons are why it’s important to use waypoints to tell a story during your pitch. Think of all the stories passed down in your family, when someone retells a tale do they do it word-for-word? Most likely not.
Chances are they know the curves in the road that leads to each new element. Great pitches use a similar methodology.
"Instead of memorizing a pitch they use their time to build a hero (usually their market audience)."
This hero experiences a problem, applies it to his surroundings, and saves the day using their magic weapon (your product).
This can also be broken down into a more technical sense. If you don’t have a general story to tell, you can still break your pitch down into story-like sections to help keep your timing on track.
For example, if you’re giving a 3-minute pitch, you’d use the first 30 seconds to build the problem and solution, 1 minute to talk about what you’ve created (“demo”), 30 seconds to talk through market strategy and business plan, and the final minute for a Q&A.
"Building this story, or structure, not only helps keep your pitch on time, but it can prevent the dreaded ‘pitch pause’ and keep your audience entertained at the same time."
4. Keep It Clean
No one covers clean pitching as well as Venture Capitalist, Guy Kawasaki. His rule to clean pitching is called 10/20/30, and this rule states that your general pitch should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain font no smaller than 30 points.
And while this specific rule may only apply to long-form VC pitching, the overall spirit works to keep any pitch on track. When you incorporate too many slides, you may have to skip over some or rush through others, making your overall pitch look sloppy.
Each slide should serve as a waypoint for the storyline mentioned above, and too many waypoints make for a constantly changing road.
"Regardless of your pitch time, keep your deck clean to keep the audience focused on you and your idea."
5. Innovate How You Practice
Almost every single pitching guide or public speaking course ends on this note, and for a good reason. Your pitch simply cannot get better without practice.
Luckily, working in tech provides us with new ways to practice that haven’t previously existed. Of course, you should still use self-practice methods to measure pitch, tone, and speed; and you should practice in a community-space to friends, family, and colleagues.
However, it never hurts to keep innovating. Take VirtualSpeech, a VR application that allows you to experience the rush of public speaking to an audience or small panel.
There’s also Unmo, the app that tracks your filler words and timing.
"With new apps being created constantly, there are unlimited resources to practice your pitch and get its timing to that perfect sweet spot."
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