Préparer son pitch en mode rush

Un petit article, en anglais, sur les techniques de pitchs, avec un angle particulier : vous êtes à la bourre ! Mais vraiment, très à la bourre !

Pitcher son idée est un exercice souvent effrayant pour un entrepreneur : il dispose de très peu de temps (quelques minutes) pour attirer l'attention d'un investisseur potentiel. En cas d'échec, vous avez laissé passer votre chance.

Paradoxalement, alors que les enjeux sont élevés, la préparation du pitch est souvent remise à la dernière minute, et je ne compte pas les sollicitations que j'ai eu d'entrepreneurs qui vont voir "un investisseur potentiel très important, la semaine prochaine" et qui n'ont pas la moindre idée de comment introduire leur projet.

Alors, comment se préparer quand vous avez très peu de temps ? Cet article s'adresse autant à l'entrepreneur qu'au chef de projet, ou à un participant à un concours de pitches.

“A good idea poorly sold is called failure” - Dan Blacharski

This is it: your idea has been selected to be pitched in front of senior business angels, or senior managers within your company. Thousands of StartUps outside the room would do anything to be given the same opportunity. Congratulations!

But all your competitors have tremendous ideas. And time is running short.

So here are some quick guidelines to maximize your efforts and increase your idea’s chances to win!

Pitch preparation and structuring

Your pitch should be built around four main blocks

  • Tell us about why the problem you are solving is so important for you, your team, your clients. Can you tell us the story that drove you crazy and pushed you to develop this solution? Do you have a shocking statistic? According to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, 95% of our decisions are emotion based. The problem you are fixing is painful and getting rid of it will make some people’s life better off. Share these feelings.

  • What is the magic in your solution? Is it its simplicity? Did you get inspiration from a totally different industry? What makes it innovative? There is one moment where you and your team said “wow, this idea could work our problem out”. What is the great output of your project? Tell us about it.

  • Where do you stand now and what are the next steps? Your idea is no longer a vague concept or wishful thinking. Prove it.

  • Call to action: what do you expect from the audience? Briefly tell us why the problem you are solving is also important for the them. Scalable ideas obviously bring more value. If you are pitching internally, what can the other departments learn from your idea? How can they help? What should they do?

Three common pitfalls should be avoided:

  • “It’s not about you” --> pitching is about solving a relevant problem, not explaining how hard you worked on it (and we know you did, but in fact, we don’t care. No one does. No offense). If it helps understanding the idea, briefly put you pitch in context (e.g. where you work) but bear in mind that you are pitching your project, not your life or your department. This is a very common bias, maybe the most common one and it should not be underestimated.

  • Humor is good and will boost any pitch. But writing good jokes is incredibly hard and failing ones will kill your presentation. Be cautious.

  • The audience is not patient (no audience is) and their span of attention is falling fast. For a 5 minutes speech, clearly stating the value of your idea should be done within the first 60 seconds. Sooner is even better.

Preparing delivery

  • 1 speaker only. We know: you worked as a team and everyone deserves to be under the spotlights. But this is a very bad idea: tone, speed, quality will be very different, handing over to another speaker adds difficulty. This gives a very unprofessional feel to you pitch --> best practice: unless you have no other choices or have a tremendous idea, choose your best speaker even if he is not the main contributor. It may sound very unfair, but winning is the best reward for the team, not a 1 minute slot on stage.

  • Slides are your enemy: the less you have, the better. The best TED.com speakers have no slide at all and they deliver the speech of a lifetime. If you still need some, make them as simple as possible: 6 to 8 words per slide and very big font size so they are easy and quick to read. Remember: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Use sharp colors, avoid gradients or fancy animations (they won’t look fancy at all on the printed version of your document anyway). What if your laptop can’t work? Can you still make an impact with no slides?

  • Demos are great and no one imagines an Apple Keynote without them. But they are also risky and turn you pitch into a nightmare: go for it only if you are 1000% confident.

  • Videos are evil: we want to see you on stage. Team quality and engagement is a key factor for any business angel. Pro videos done for the project could be seen as an unfair advantage or a desperate try to hide lack of preparation and confidence. Designing a good video and managing it on stage is hard. Unless you have significant skills and a lot of time, you should avoid this path.

  • Rehearse – Rehearse – Rehearse again. Below 5 rehearsals, quality will be very poor. Pro speakers consider that you need at least 50 rehearsals (under real conditions if possible) to reach acceptable levels. You worked hard on your project. Don’t you think it deserves 4 hours investment in rehearsals? You can be 100% sure that winning teams will make the effort.

  • Everything you prepared is written language. And written language is not fit for verbal pitches. Use rehearsal to “translate” your text into spoken language. Speak out loud and you will naturally find more appropriate words.

  • Rehearse under stress to boost memorization. You know your pitch. But stress on stage in front of a huge crowd can disturb you and ruin your efforts. What if a telephone rings? Or someone just in front of you starts joking with the person next to him? Rehearsing under stress will strongly accelerate your memorization. It will also prepare you to manage the unexpected without being disturbed. Go in front of a mirror, as close as you can. Watch yourselves in the eyes and do your pitch without looking somewhere else. You will hate it. But after a few tries, you will have boosted your ability to deliver under stress.

  • Days before, start to imagine that you already won. Pro athletes never enter the field thinking they could lose. They already imagine themselves celebrating their crushing victory. Neuroscience shows that this will improve your confidence, your energy and your final performance.

  • Get as much feedback as you can, especially from people with no expertise on your project. But at least 3 days before, your only priority should be to work on your fluency while on stage. Unless someone proves you that you are totally out of line, do not change a word any longer.

On stage

Feeling stress at the idea on going on stage? Good. The legendary French Actress Sarah Bernhardt used to say that you can't reach elite performance without stress. Before applying for an Oscar, here are four basic techniques every speaker should know to avoid being overwhelmed by emotions.

  • Having notes with you is fine: even pro speakers from the TED.com conferences do. A few bullet points to help you if you have a memory hole. No big deal.

  • Just before going on stage, 3 deep breathes will mechanically lower your stress. Just check you are not doing them with your functioning microphone …

  • Power pose: just google Amy Cuddy’s TED conference now. 20 minutes long video. You will see a great speaker and learn a super easy trick on how to boost your self-confidence.

  • Body language: just look at the audience and avoid crossing your arms in front of you. By doing so, you’ve just eliminated 90 % of common errors.

Q&A session

Now, your team is with you: it you want to put the team under the spotlights, this is the moment.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of questions/topics that may be asked. Some may be perfectly covered by your pitch already but if the audience cares about your idea, it will ask for clarifications.

  • The problem does not exist. Have real life examples ready and explain why you can be considered as an authority to speak about it.

  • The solution does not work (it does not fix the problem): do you have proofs? figures? clients’ feedbacks?

  • You cannot deliver the solution (too complex, lack of expertise, too expensive …): where do you stand and how fast are you moving? How much did it cost so far?

  • The solution cannot work here. It works for the others, but we are soooo different. What is the scalability of your idea?

  • The solution exists already. Did you spend some time checking on the market, on the other departments? What are alternative solutions? Could it be done differently?

  • Can the project backfire? What will be the impact for the clients, the teams (if you pitch an internal project), the audience (individually), the shareholders, the environment? Can you imagine negative consequences for your project?

  • What do you expect from us? (never ever beg for investors. Being perceived as a hard tryer is recipe for disaster).

After your performance: spend time to step back. What went wrong and how would you do it differently? What went well? Why? If you found a punchline, write it down immediately. Ask for feedback. This is the moment where you are really improving so get the most out of your previous effort and secure your progresses.

Public speaking can be scary at first. All these best practices will strongly accelerate your learning speed. Being good at it still needs work, but it is also incredibly rewarding and fun. Mark Templeton, charismatic former CEO of a very successful tech company used to say that developing his communication skills is one of the most profitable investment he has ever made. Now the floor is yours.

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