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by • September 3, 2011 • Pitching & sellingComments Off110

Pitching effectively to big groups

I watched & graded roughly seven hours’ worth of startup pitches yesterday. A couple thoughts on effectively presenting your business to big groups (most of this also applies to board-room pitches).

On presentation content

Ground it in reality. There are only two ways to do this: traction and customer understanding. The best slide I saw yesterday had a big skype logo and the text “30 hours of user interviews”. Another great pitch entirely skipped over the problem statement, use case, and revenue plan, but his growth and engagement metrics proved that those issues had all been nailed.

The appendix it not vestigial! The appendix is tragically under-utilised in startup pitches. Your main deck is meant to tell a coherent story. It’s either a traction-driven story focused on your company’s meteoric rise to stardom, or it’s a user-driven story about finding, understanding, and solving a need. “But I need financial projec–” NO. Stop it. If they aren’t part of your main story, they go in the appendix. Competitors? Usually the appendix. Cashflow? Appendix. You look like a badass during Q&A if someone thinks they’re asking a doozy and you flip to an appendix slide which perfectly addresses it.

Record a practice run it and watch it at least once. The goal here is to figure out what should be in your appendix by paying attention to pacing. Watch for where you look surprised by the content on the next slide, or you suddenly switch topics and begin talking to explain the slides rather than using the slides to enhance your talk. Throw that sucker in the appendix (or find another way to tie everything together).

Demos rule all. The benefit here is twofold. First, demos prove you can build something and help the audience get it. More subtly, the process of creating a step-by-step user walkthrough forces you to confront a lot of the nitty gritty and gives you a level of robustness during Q&A which is unattainable otherwise.

On presenter tactics

Bring a wireless clicker or mouse to advance slides. Freeing yourself from the podium makes the single biggest difference to presenter quality. Some of them magically insta-work on almost any computer. Find one and treasure it. If you’ve only got a wired mouse, you can hold it and sort of wander around a little bit while leashed to the computer.

Obey the 3×3 backup rule. You need your presentation in 3 formats (pdf, keynote and powerpoint) stored in 3 places (your computer, a USB stick, and an accessible cloud service). Review what each format looks like and don’t rely on platform-specific features like keynote’s (admittedly wonderful) presenter mode. Learn your hotkeys (Can you place each of ⌥⌘P, F5, ⇧⌥F, and Ctrl+L?)[1].

If you’re going to rehearse at all, rehearse a ton. I clocked more than 80 hours of rehearsing my 5-minute talk for YC demo day. If you are going to memorize words and phrases, you need to overdo it by so much that it becomes natural again. Avoid at all costs the awkward middle-ground where you’re focusing on remembering words.

During Q&A, answer and then stop talking. Just like when you’re getting arrested, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you. Answer the question they asked, and then stop. Don’t answer the ones they haven’t asked and please please please don’t talk in circles.

Control the flow of questions. Irrelevant questions should be recognised as such. After one pitch, someone asked “blah blah revenue plan?” because that’s the sort of question people tend to ask and I guess they were on auto-pilot. In this case, it was totally irrelevant, and to the founder’s credit, he pointed out that much more pressing business questions take priority for the next 2 years. Now, I’m sure he had ideas about revenue, but he knew they were just ideas, and rattling them off would have made his otherwise solid pitch feel shaky. Sometimes, someone will have an intimate knowledge about the industry and pick on you for forgetting to talk to certain people or knowing about company X. If it’s a suggestion, thank them for the good idea and write it down right there on stage. If they’re complaining you didn’t talk to someone, say you would love to and ask if they can introduce you. They’ll either shut up or become helpful, and you remain in control instead of just accepting their whipping.

[1] ⌥⌘P, F5, ⇧⌥F, and Ctrl+L are fullscreen mode in Keynote, Powerpoint, OSX Preview, and Acrobat, respectively.

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