23 ventures presented at the annual MIT Venture Mentoring Service Demo Day yesterday. They each had 5 minutes to pitch an audience of investors and their goal was to generate enough interest that investors would want to stop by their exhibit to talk with them, or at least drop off a business card to arrange a talk at a later date.
As I have done previously, I participated in the two-day pitch scrubs where several VMS mentors gave each founder feedback on their Demo Day pitch deck on a Tuesday and then reviewed the final deck the following Thursday. As usual the improvements in the pitch decks was striking. But as my father used to say, some presenters left room for improvement.
Here are some observations from the day:
- Founders varied in their mic technique. Unfortunately some wandered away from the mic, others stood too far away. In both cases it made it hard for us to hear what they were saying. I think the founders would have been better served by a lavalier microphone, but given that very little time was available between pitches that might have presented a problem in handing it off from one presenter to the next. I’ve seen many people fumble trying to attach a lavalier mic to their clothing.
- Reading from their notes. This is a worst practice! Presenters must memorize their presentations. Why? So they can focus their attention on their audience and delivering their talk in a rhythm and cadence that holds people’s attention. More than once it looked like someone lost their place in their notes and got flustered as a result.
- Packing too much information into each slide. Try as I might I can’t seem to convince presenters or maybe even mentors as well that it is a very bad idea to cram multiple messages into a single slide. All that does is distract or bore the audience. Less is truly more when it comes to presentations. One message per slide!
- Trying to convey too many messages. I coach my mentees that people can’t absorb more than three main points of any presentation. They should start with their desired takeaways and build their presentation around them.
- Robotic delivery. Founders are selling and sales people need to convey excitement and enthusiasm for their company and its product. That was not evident in several presentations.
- Letting nervousness affect their presentation. Several presenters had trouble putting up the correct slide at the right time and from their speech. It was clear to me from listening to them that they were very nervous. Rookie presenters need to practice, practice, practice to memorize their talk and thus feel confident in their presentation.
- Testing the volume of the audio track on their video clips. Obviously this wasn’t done, as we were blown out of seats from the first clip because the volume was so high.
On the whole the presentations went over well. The video and audio systems in The Media Lab are stellar. Many of the ventures were truly investor-ready. But no matter how good your equipment is, if you don’t take advantage of it you won’t generate interest from investors in your venture.