Tips on Pitching in Person

Personally, I find pitch events to be a little bit contrived.  It’s not how I want to encounter a company—I’d rather just sit across the table from someone and chat about their business and their vision.  However, the innovation community seems to be in love with this format, so you can’t be a VC without watching a bunch of them.  For the most part, while the companies may be interesting, the actual pitches are usually so-so.  A few of them are just awful—and very few do an amazing job.  Those stand out.  Here are a couple of low-hanging fruit tips I’d offer up to make them better.

First off, technology sucks.  That's why I have a job. If it ceased to suck one day, I'm not sure there would be anything left to invest in.  That's why, when you're giving a live presentation, you should pretty much assume the technology will fail—whether it’s your technology in a demo or the A/V in the room.  That is, unless you're using something simple and dependable to do presentations in the browser, like with the upcoming Crunchdeck presentation tool.  

That being said, too many pitch presentations have the delivery of a Powerpoint as the main focus, verses the story.  People spend more time clicking around slides than just talking to me like a normal human.

First off, you should be prepared for every conceivable tech failure.  You should have a copy of your deck in multiple formats, particularly PDF, on your own machine, on a USB drive, and on the web (like in your Dropbox). You should be able to get mugged, lose all your stuff, and walk into anyone with an internet connection being able to give a pitch.  The venue that you’re presenting at not having Keynote is absolutely not an excuse for you not to be able to give your pitch.

Furthermore, you should be able to give your pitch to anyone sans deck.  Most people I see are overly reliant on their pitch deck, letting it drive them versus the other way around.  They're basically reading off the slides, albeit slower than the audience can read it to themselves in their own head.  Slides are supposed to augment a live presentation, emphasizing, complimenting--driving a particular message home--not be the main event.  If you don't have your talking points memorized cold, in the order if your deck, then you're going to be like Superman and Kryptonite if the presentation won’t work.  Sometimes, and I do this all the time, an investor will just ask you to talk to them about your company and email the slides later.  That shouldn't mean that your structured message suddenly goes out the window and it becomes meandering storytelling time.  Stay on message no matter what and stick to your story.  If anything, getting out from the podium and away from the deck should make you more engaging and make this more conversational versus turning you into a deer in headlights.  Are you going to move on undaunted or turn into Tonya Harding with a broken shoelace?

Think about the story--particularly the order that makes the most sense.  Is this a play where there's a big dysfunctional market with tons of low hanging fruit that the right team can take advantage of?  Then start me of with the wow slide that shows me how much money other companies are leaving on the table or wasting.  Maybe team isn't nearly as important here a the traction on what you've already built.  Don't then lead with team because you saw it in that order on some VC blog.  You have to think of the end result of this story as me going to my team in our four hour weekly meeting and pitching your story to see if there's any interest.

And please, please, please spend a little time making your presentation visually appealing.  How much would it cost you to pay a graphic designer to create a sharp looking template for you in your company colors?  $100?  $200?  It just looks a lot more professional—and if it means the difference in getting a customer, a business development partner, or an investor, isn’t it worth the money?  Good looking presentations that don’t just use stock templates make it seem like you pay attention to detail, that brand is important to you, and that you’re always trying to put your best foot forward.