10 Ways to Engineer the Perfect Pitch
1.the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.
-the work done by, or the occupation of, an engineer.
-the action of working artfully to bring something about.
If you think about the definition of engineering, at its core it means putting pieces together to create something. Many people don't associate themselves with the word "engineer" but in fact, they engineer many elements during their life.
I believe that if you are an entrepreneur you need to know how to "engineer". You have to take multiple elements and figure out how they all work together to take an idea and create a startup.
A big part of engineering is figuring out how things fit together.
The other side of engineering, that's maybe less known or talked about, is your ability to communicate what it is that you have created.
But however popularized the concept of pitching your idea is, people still have a very difficult time pitching in a way that explains clearly their idea, engages people and leaves them with some sort of call to action on what to do next.
Pitching is one of the most challenging aspects of entrepreneurship.
Don’t believe me?
Next time you meet an entrepreneur, ask them “what they do.”
And get ready for a long, drawn-out and often times confusing explanation about their product service or gadget.
Or better yet, if you are an entrepreneur, try to explain your big idea in one sentence.
Not so easy, right?
So much focus is put on the technicalities of engineering and not as much on the technical skills needed to explain what you have engineered...in a simple and succinct way.
I speak about public speaking all over the world. And one of my favorite forms of public speaking is pitching my ideas. Recently, I had the privilege of being asked to give a presentation on pitching at the Global Demo Day put on by AngelHack.
AngelHack is an organization that's recognized for being the global leader in producing hackathons. For seven years, they have been holding hackathons around the world, attracting thousands of entrepreneurs and engineers (young and old) over short periods of time who develop teams that then create new ideas from scratch.
At these hackathons, startup teams are formed and at the end of the event, teams pitch their new business ideas to a panel of judges which usually include successful entrepreneurs investors, venture capital firms and often times big time tech celebrities.
AngelHack provides feedback on each pitch, really focusing on problem, solution, and how this relates to early-stage investment. AngelHack’s annual Global Demo Day and Silicon Valley week is the culminating end to the HACKcelerator, where the top performing startups are at the point of ultimate articulation.
And ultimate articulation has to happen in three minutes while explaining all aspects of a business. The challenge of pitching in a compelling way is no easy feat!
Having worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and being flown around the world to share my unique pitching 3-1-3 Method, my specialty is in helping individuals and startup teams learn systems to help them improve the way that they communicate their ideas.
During my workshop for the 16 top teams from the AngelHack events, my two-hour presentation broke down a step-by-step process that I created in order to help them craft the perfect pitch in under three minutes. Having a system and methodical approach to pitching “what” your idea is, only gets you halfway to the goal.
The other half is “how” you say “what” you do.
It is crucial to understand that there are a number of technical aspects in the pitch delivery itself that you have to master.
It is “how” you deliver your pitch.
For those of you who were not part of the 16 winning teams from around the globe, or have not had a chance to visit one of my workshops, with the help of AngelHack mentors, we compiled a list of the top 10 technical speaking tips to help engineer the perfect pitch. Just to be clear when I say “perfect pitch” I am not talking about the baseball TV show or to a reality TV show where singers compete.
I am talking about the great art form of pitching your ideas.
Use these 10 tips to engineer the way that you speak, use your body language, and effectively leverage the stage and your audience to create maximum impact when delivering and explaining your big idea.
1. You're trying to say too much
When you are asked to explain your big idea in three minutes or less, you must understand that it is impossible to fit everything in. You must distill what you say down to the core elements that will spark interest, give credibility, and create excitement. Many times entrepreneurs try to pack as much as they can into a pitch. It is very common to see startups get stopped in the middle of their pitch only to realize that they have taken more than the allotted time to explain the idea.
Nothing is worse than running out of time when pitching your idea. The goal of your pitch is for your audience to have a clear picture of your idea, and have them also want to learn more.
2. Slow down
As you pitch an idea that you created at a hackathon over a whirlwind 48 hour period, you must realize that you are more familiar with your idea than anyone else in the room. Your tendency to be excited about your idea combined with the nervousness of presenting in front of a large crowd of important people may result in you speeding up how fast you're talking.
You might have no idea what you are talking too fast, but those who are listening will definitely notice. If you are speaking super crazy fast, certain words may be hard to understand or certain concepts hard to follow.
Fitting more information into your pitch by talking faster is not the answer. Choosing the best information to communicate in a clear manner at a pace in which even the oldest person in the room can follow, is what you should be doing.
3. Have clear and simple visuals
When you're in front of your laptop and developing a powerpoint to go along with your pitch, it's hard to look at it from an objective standpoint. There is a good chance that your slides are too busy, your text is too small, and there are too many elements on each slide.
When you are giving a presentation and your Powerpoint is on a wall behind you, there is an inherent conflict of attention. Your audience has to decide between paying attention to you or your slides. They cannot look at the slides and listen to you at the same time. It's simply impossible. You don’t want to force audience members to switch their attention back-and-forth between your visual aids and what you are saying. If your slides are filled with information, graphs, small text and lots of bullet points, you might be creating the downfall of your pitch without even knowing it.
After watching the first dress rehearsal of pitches at the Global Demo Day, some startups were told to scrap everything they had created. So when you are working on your slides, make them super simple. And also remember that slides are for leading, not reading. Don’t be that person who is facing away from the audience, reading your slides word for word.
4. Write down the feedback you get
Adi Abili, Managing Director of Accelerators and AngelHack shares that as an early-stage startup there is a tendency to be very introspective. You are headed down as a team working on your product, and not always looking for feedback and direction. A pitch is a way of getting feedback on what you are doing. Are you articulating why a solution solves a need, and why the founding team are the best people to address it is pivotal?
Various tips and feedback were given to AngerHack teams, but there was one thing that many did not do.
They didn’t take notes. They just stood on the stage and listened. What good is feedback if you can’t remember it?
You should be taking notes, or having someone else take notes. Or better yet, ask if you can record the feedback with your phone so that you can reflect on it later.
5. Don’t forget to include an ask
Jacob Clarke, North America Regional Manager says that one of the best pieces of feedback he heard this year was to always include an “ask” in your pitch. It’s important to know that your pitch should change depending on who you’re pitching to.
Are you looking for investment? If so, how much do you need? And why do you need that much?
Are you looking for an advisory board? If so, what kind of individuals are you looking for? Are you willing to dilute equity for that?
At the practice sessions, once the companies started to implement this in their pitches, there were huge improvements. Asking for the ask helped the audience know what to do to help them.
6. Don’t forget to pitch your founding team
Jacob Clarke, North America Regional Manager says that the most important piece of advice he gave was for the graduating companies was to really showcase their founding team.
AngelHack’s community is made up of the top 5% of developers worldwide, and most of these entrepreneurs are extremely talented, immersed in their tech ecosystem and well-connected. You need to explain to your audience the different types of developers you have and specifically how their experience is unique for your venture.
Pitching your team in your pitch is crucial. It is something to get excited about and to celebrate!
If you have a kick-ass business development person, what are some notable successes they have in driving sales for a company?
You MUST highlight your team because, at the end of the day, investors don’t invest in ideas, they invest in the people who have ideas.
7. Prepare, prepare, then prepare more
Sabeen Ali, CEO of AngelHack says that preparation is key! At the actual Global Demo Day this year, judges asked startups very tough questions. It was obvious those teams who were well prepared. Most were able to successfully address the questions, but some teams were not as prepared as they could have been, and that was a big missed opportunity.
Prepare, practice, and then practice some more. Your three minutes on stage in front of investors is a make or break moment. Why wouldn’t you invest extra effort in making sure you are prepared not only for the actual presentation, but also for any and all possible questions that judges may ask you.
8. Be excited, like actually excited
I am not sure whether it is the nerves or fear, but I oftentimes see startup teams who take the stage and explain their idea in a dull way. The same entrepreneurs were super excited, smiling, and pumped up during rehearsals, but when the time came to pitch in front of investors, it is like the wind is taken from their sails.
Have you ever heard someone say (in a monotone voice), “I am really excited and passionate about this project.”
I bet you have, and guess what, you can’t help but think that they are not excited or passionate, because if you are saying one thing, and your body language is saying something else, the body language always wins.
The trick can be as simple as smiling! Yes. It can be that simple.
When you take the stage, before you say anything, think how stoked you will be when you get awarded the grand prize! Smile like you just got funded. The judges will see the spark in your eyes, and your words will have more energy.
If you come across as not being excited, as in authentically excited, then people won’t get excited about your idea.
9. Block it out
The word “blocking” is an old theater term describing when directors would use small wooden blocks to determine where they wanted their actors to be on stage and at what time. The term has remained, and the concept is still as important today as it was thousands of years ago.
Do you know where you are going to stand on the stage? Do you know where you are going to move to and when you will move there?
You should know these things.
You need to have an idea of where you will be on the stage during different parts of your pitch. Using the physical space of the stage can help you to reinforce the impact of what you're saying.
For example, standing in the middle of the stage creates a feeling of centeredness and is a good place to talk about general concepts of your idea. Shifting to the right or the left of the stage can help you isolate individual points you are making. Moving towards the front of the stage and closer to the audience can reinforce impactful, powerful sections of your product or service.
With these tips in mind, start “blocking” out your moves based on your pitch elements as soon as you get a chance to test your stage.
If you look at powerful communicators, they are very calculated with where they are on stage, but it does not look forced -- they’ve planned these steps, and have learned to utilize them to support their speech.
10. Speak into the mic
If you are not familiar with using microphones, you may find yourself making some rookie mistakes on the stage. Often times, people who are using handheld mics talk with their hands and move the microphone far away from their mouths at various times. This creates an unpleasant and varied volume for the audience that is very distracting.
If you are using a handheld mic, keep that microphone close to your mouth the entire time.
You should be able to hear your voice amplified in the space, and if you don't feel like you're loud enough, move the microphone closer to your mouth.
This seems like simple advice, but I see entrepreneurs mess it up all the time!
If possible, it is a good idea to have a mic check or sound check before your pitch. This will give you a feel for the microphone, and will allow for technical adjustments, if necessary. If you are not heard by the audience, it doesn't matter how brilliant your ideas are -- it will not resonate because they will not be able to hear you.
On the other hand, if you feel that your voice is too loud for the microphone, move the microphone away from your mouth. If you are using a lapel mic, it is that much more important to make sure you have a sound test before you go on stage.
Control the mic and don’t let it ruin all of the hard work you did to put your perfect pitch together.
The winning company at AngelHack's Global Demo Day was Goin. They had the perfect pitch of the day, and used many of the above tips to craft their winning pitch!
These top 10 tips will help you engineer a pitch that will wow the judges in your next competition.
But these tips are just a starting point. If you are serious about taking your idea to the next level, you need to invest time and effort into how you are going to pitch it.
I believe in you, but that does not do anything if you don’t put in the time to get good at pitching.
You need to believe in yourself and you need to do the work.
Remember, you can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t "engineer" a way to communicate how awesome it is, then the reality is that it might not be that awesome.