Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but many of the most innovative entrepreneurs are creative contrarians. They are outsiders, gainsaying the doubters that say it cannot be done. In fact, many entrepreneurs are introverts, which can be a major barrier when it comes to that vital part of the entrepreneurial process: pitching.
Entrepreneurs are suddenly asking to be judged by their doubters, which is certain to raise their defences. Yet, painful as it is, the only way to make their creativity profitable is to present their work to those that hold the keys to their future.
Luckily, there are plenty of books, advice and personal experience that can guide us through this important process, which are distilled here into 10 key pitching principles;
Principle 1: Show them don’t tell them
“A pitch does not take place in the library of the mind but in the theatre of the heart,” write Roger Bayley and Stephen Mavity in their book Life’s a Pitch.
Of course, describing pitching as theatre can send introverts right back to their bedrooms. Yet they’re not asking us to ham-up our pitch with Shakespearean language or exaggerated body movements. Their plea is that we make presentations visual. Don’t tell them your idea, show them. Use images and demonstrations, not just words and language.
You can find more inspiration on how to do this in; How to avoid death by PowerPoint – 9 Practical tips to captivate an audience with your presentation
Principle 2: Develop strong content
Yet we also need strong content that’s well argued, well delivered and compelling. We must decide the key points to get across and how they can be framed in the most compelling way possible.
Convoluted statements about technicalities will fail to ignite investors’ interest. Compelling phrases that generate strong visual imagery, meanwhile, can fire-up even the most jaded of audiences.
Principle 3: Give yourself time to prepare
This principle comes from bitter experience. If I allow myself too short a timeframe for thinking about both the content and structure of a pitch it invariably falls flat. Some time and focus, however, are sure to be rewarded with useable ideas as well as a strong structure for presenting them.
Principle 4: Focus on the audience
There’s little to be gained from waltzing in and giving them a blast of positivity about your products, skill or art when it’s irrelevant to their needs.
So focus the pitch – not on you – but on them. Who are they, what’s their problem, and how can you solve it?
Principle 5: Follow a structure
This sounds obvious, yet it’s often neglected – resulting in pitches that fail to build a story or answer a need or ignite the interest of those on the receiving end. In public relations, pitches are structured to have:
- A premise, in which we state why we’re here and what we’re about to present,
- Objectives, in which we set out our goals, although it’s here where the barriers or problems we’re aiming to solve can also be outlined,
- Who are we trying to influence?
- Here come the sales points and benefits,
- A What’s our overall plan for execution?
- Some tactics or action points.
Principle 6: Make simplicity an obsession
The simpler the presentation the better, something Bill McGowan, in How to Win calls the Pasta Sauce Principle – the notion that every sauce is better when it’s boiled down to its essence. In fact, we should leave them with a single message – what in entrepreneurial circles is known as the “elevator pitch” (i.e. what we’d say to a key investor if given just seconds to say it).
Principle 7: Exact solutions are far from perfect
Defining the problem is often more important than presenting an exact solution: not least because everything changes in execution. So spend time looking at the issues being addressed, before outlining solutions that are thought-through but incomplete, allowing them input into your solution.
In fact, this is a key moment in any pitch – when they start adding their input to your idea. Of course, we can react defensively, but it’s usually them aligning themselves with your potential.
Principle 8: Delivery and body language matters
Delivery and demeanour matters, as does your appearance. Rules include:
Don’t try too hard
Don’t look unbothered but avoid looking as if your life depends on it.
Go in as an equal
Being overly toady will more-likely inspire contempt than confidence.
Inject some deliberate pausing or periodically ask your audience, “Any questions?” to encourage their input.
Yes – all the usual tips on body language: stand tall, sit up straight, shake hands firmly and develop strong eye-contact.
Of course, the rules here are changing, so – if in doubt – research what you think they’ll be wearing and get as close to that as you can.
For more tips on this aspect of your pitch, make sure you read;
- Using the power of body language to deliver captivating speeches and presentations
- How to deliver a successful business pitch
Principle 9: Remember they’re buying you, not the solution/product
A recurring observation in Life’s a Pitch is that the final advertising campaign is rarely the one used in the pitch by the winning team.
In other words – and despite appearances – what’s being chosen is not the product being sold but the team presenting it. And the gurus all seem to agree on what they’re looking for: someone they can work with.
Principle 10: Welcome the questions
Some of the most difficult pitches I’ve experienced involved disbelief, sarcasm and even insults. Meanwhile, some of the easiest pitches I’ve made involved no questions at all. Of course, they end in rejection while those interrogations often end in a deal.
Questions are what sales people call, “buying signals”. Even negative feedback has the upside that they’re taking it seriously, no matter how it looks at the time. Certainly, we should answer questions straightaway rather than insist on completing our presentation. In fact, screw the presentation: once they’re talking it’s done its job.
That said, just occasionally it’s as bad as it seems. Yet even here we should be grateful: allowing us to write-off this “car-crash” by turning it into a learning exercise for the next pitch. And, yes, there will be a next pitch. There’s always someone else.
About the author
This guide has been written for ByteStart by Robert Kelsey, author of The Outside Edge, How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders. He is also Deputy Chairman of the Centre for Entrepreneurs and CEO of Moorgate Communications.
More on pitching and business plans
For more tips on winning pitches and business plans, read;