How not to pitch!


There’s dozen of sites, blogs, and even book on how to pitch. I’ve even written a couple of such posts myself. However, it’s MIT VMS pitch scrub week, where teams of VMS mentors critique the 5-minute pitches of selected ventures in order to prepare them for Demo Day, April 26th.

I’ve participated in these pitch scrubs several times and keep seeing the same mistakes made again and again. So here’s some things NOT to do:

Have no company tagline on your opening slide

I believe that you have about 6 seconds, perhaps even less, to strike someone’s attention and capture it. So put time and energy into your first slide: a compelling graphic and a memorable tagline will do! Think of it this way, if the power went out and you couldn’t show any more slides what kind of impression would your audience be left with from just seeing your first slide?

Fill your slides with bullets

PowerPoint should be renamed BulletPoint! Bulleted lists are just fine for documents. But a presentation is not a document! As one of my fellow mentors said, Think of a pitch slide as a billboard. Seen any billboards with bullets lately? No, they have a very attention grabbing graphic image and equally attention grabbing text, and not lot of it either.

Mistake a pitch for a lecture

Pitches take 5 minutes. Lectures can be an hour or more. Students have at least paid to hear a lecture while investors haven’t paid to hear you. If they think they are being lectured to they will draw their smartphones faster than Billy the Kid could get his gun out of his holster. I see lecturers at MIT project incredibly dense slides and use a laser pointer to direct the student’s attention. That just won’t work with investors and their 6 second attention span. You aren’t trying to communicate knowledge, your goal is to spark enough interest so that an investor will be eager to learn more.

Read your pitch

This is a deal-breaker. If you haven’t practiced your pitch enough to not only have it memorized but are able to deliver it in a relaxed, conversational manner, you will lose your audience very quickly.

Try to jam too much stuff into every slide

This is probably the most common mistake novice presenters make. Some of these pitches might make very good executive summaries of a business plan, to be read at leisure on a notebook or desktop computer. But they don’t work in a presentation. No one will be willing to simultaneously listen to you while attempting to unpack all the stuff you have jammed into the slide. Deliver one message per slide. You do that with three elements: an image, a caption for the image and the words you use to amplify and complement the slide. I think too many presenters have read how you must keep your presentation down to 10 slides to they try to present their entire business plan by packing multiple graphics and lots of text into each slide. Think of your presentation as delivering the highlights. No sportscaster would bore his audience by telling them about the all timeouts, penalties, and other boring details of the game. The audience wants to know who won, how and why. And they  want to see the exciting plays.

Speaking in a monotone, mumbling, or whispering or talking too fast

If public speaking doesn’t come naturally, practice. And seek out opportunities to speak out, if only in a class or seminar. Presenters talk too fast for the same reason they stuff too much stuff into each slide: they fear the just won’t have enough time to convey every single thing about their startup. Speak slowly, clearly, and rhythmically. Use your voice to emphasize key points. Try watching a few sportscaster on TV.

Using text that’s too small to read

You may think everyone would know better, but they don’t.What they can read on their laptop screen is not what forty or fifty year old eyes can decipher from the back of the hall. Test your presentation on your parents, your friend’s parents, your prof, anyone who is middle-aged or older as many angel investors and VCs are.

Confusing the audience when your product name isn’t you company name

If you plan a product line it’s perfectly fine to have your first product have a name different than your company name. But be aware this is not a linear progression of difficulty it’s a geometric one. Given that you are a startup the audience is much more interested in how you solve a customer’s problem than the name of your company. Highlight the product or service and make it obvious that the product name is different than the company name.

I’ve only been through the first night of pitches . There may be a part II after Thursday’s pitch scrub.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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