Don’t depend on PowerPoint, and be sure to start confidently.
Perfect business pitches are the stuff of legends. We’ve all heard stories of someone bumping into a wealthy investor in a lift or at a sports event, and convincing them to depart with several million to fund a new business. And with the rise of intrapreneurship (acting like an entrepreneur within an existing organisation), even employees at larger firms will likely have the chance to sell a new idea to their seniors. Here are three tips to keep in mind.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT FIRST MINUTE
Football scouts are often said to judge prospective signings’ abilities in large part based on their first touch of the ball. And grabbing your audience’s attention in the first minute of a pitch is equally important. If you leave all the impressive content to the end of a presentation, chances are they’ll have switched off and started checking their emails already.
James Caan, investor and former Dragons’ Den star, recommends setting the tone with a confident opening statement. “Don’t appear unsure of yourself or apologetic for being there,” otherwise you’ll lose people’s faith straight away. He says that making eye contact with everyone concerned is another way to increase engagement from the start.
STRESS THE BENEFITS
It sounds obvious – what else would you try to stress other than the benefits of your new business plan or product? But according to Carmine Gallo, a communications coach based in the US, far too many pitchers spend time on the specific features of their idea or product, at the expense of painting a vivid picture of how it could actually change things for the better.
Writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, he uses the example of a drill bit – “nobody wants a drill bit,” what they want is a hole in the wall. Time spent explaining the idiosyncrasies of how your drill bit equivalent works is wasted if you don’t go on to draw this through into a compelling end point, explaining how it will allow you to drill a better hole in the wall. It’s the same with airline companies like Southwest, he says: “it’s not selling a plane ride – it’s selling productivity.” Ask yourself what you’re really selling, he recommends. If the product or idea is fundamentally a means to an end, don’t play down the latter by dwelling on the former’s details.
LOSE THE CRUTCH
PowerPoint has been the weapon of choice for pitchers for well over a decade now. And while a sleek set of slides can no doubt still impress, it’s possible to depend too much on your “pitch deck” (as Americans call it). In a recent This American Life podcast, venture capitalist and Lowercase Capital founder Chris Sacca described the pitch deck as a “crutch”, saying he’d prefer to walk and talk with the people pitching to him.
You can’t always guarantee access to a laptop and projector when pitching. Entrepreneurs vying for seed funding, for example, need to be ready to give a snappy, compelling presentation in an lift – the famed “elevator pitch”. And employees proposing a new internal business idea should be primed to pitch to any executives they should happen to run into at the water cooler. The secret to these brief, verbal pitches, Sacca thinks, is to instill within your audience a “fomo”, or “fear of missing out”. You’ve got to leave them feeling as though they’d be throwing away a massive opportunity by not helping you out.
Presentations on the go
Haiku Deck, described as “the Instagram for pitch decks” by Mashable, allows you to create beautiful presentations on your iPad without needing to worry about how the format will carry over to different devices. It’s designed with pitching in mind – the slide themes are sleek, minimal and high-impact, and exporting to other formats has been streamlined. There is also an option for sharing presentations quickly through email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest from your iPad or iPhone.