Pitching: avoiding the pitfalls and answering the right questions

pitching new frontiers

I’ve been watching a lot of pitches recently – at Wayra, Ryan Academy, NDRC and the Web Summit, to name a few. I’ve also pitched plenty of times myself. I’ve pitched at UCD’s Innovation Academy and the Digital Skills Academy, I’ve pitched to all kinds of decision makers in business as well as to public stakeholders (ministers, TDs, local politicians, residents, planners) when I was launching and promoting GAP.

I’ve worn the various hats when it comes to the elevator pitch: journalist, entrepreneur, judge… Many were good, others less so. Some common mistakes, though they seem obvious, keep popping up. The basic rules are the same, no matter what you’re pitching. So, here are some tips that will enhance your chances of success:

What problem are you solving?

Tell us early and clearly.

Who are you and what is your company name?

I saw someone the other day who seemed interesting, had already sold a previous company for seven figures, and yet still mumbled his name and didn’t clearly say the name of his company.

What do you want?

Clearly tell us what you are looking for, and what sort of help you need – financial, technical or other.

History. Briefly, please!

Your back story is slightly interesting, but should never dominate the pitch or take up too much time. Tell us enough, but not so much that we are wondering what you are here for today.

Don’t be surprised by the content of your slides

This might sound obvious, but again and again people get tripped up by  the wrong slides loading, or seeing images they didn’t expect. What were they expecting?

Don’t have ugly, text-heavy slides

Slides should just be a visual prompt. You can read, we can read, we don’t need you to read off the content of your slides. One word, or only a few, is plenty. Less is so much more!

Don’t read your presentation from hand-held notes

It looks bad and it means you’re not looking at your audience. You don’t need to follow an exact script, rather use the slides as a visual path to take you through a series of concepts. Yes, this will mean you need to learn your content, but that’s part of pitching.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And know how long your pitch takes

Yes, we all hate practising our pitch, but just accept that it’s part of what you need to do. Also, the second and third time, it gets better. You’ll work out where you are stumbling, and what you need to articulate more clearly. It’s well worth the time you put into it.

No TLAs (three letter acronyms)

One team once went to the US and said: Hi, we’re an EI backed HPSU… Speak in plain English. You gain nothing by over complicating your delivery. It’s far smarter to be able to explain your concept simply: We do x, which solves y.

Find a devil’s advocate

Think about the weak points in your project, then think through good answers to these challenges. You don’t need to have a complete answer to everything, but you should demonstrate that you are aware of this risks and have considered possible strategies to deal with them.

Be happy and relaxed. This is not the worst thing you could be doing!

It’s true that many people hate public speaking. If you’re one of these people, then start finding opportunities to do so. It’s not going away. If you want to succeed in business, you’ll need to be able to explain to others why they should give you their money and/or expertise.

Do all of this and you will already be scoring above a large number of your competitors! Best of luck with it, I look forward to hearing more about your successes! If you want to get some inspiration from the masters, you could check out some videos of people like Guy Kawasaki or Elon Musk.

About the author


Simon CockingSimon Cocking New Frontiers

Simon is a founder, mentor and currently Deputy Editor of Irish Tech News. He has been writing on topics as diverse as sport, art, environmental issues, community development and, of course, tech for the past 15 years and and regularly contributes to Tweak Your Biz, Tech versus Nature, Geektime and journal.ie…. [Read Simon’s profile]

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