Journalists use the phrase “bury the lead” when they don’t hook the reader in the first line with the most interesting fact or insight. The same is true for your pitch—don’t bury the lead. The first 30 seconds of your presentation is your chance to hook the audience. The way you handle the opening will set you up for a smashing success or a painful flop. You’ve already won half the battle if you can immediately grab the audience’s attention.
There are many ways to make your opening attention-getting and memorable, but a story is the most common. To do this effectively, tell an emotionally charged story about your history, your mission, or your product. Your story should make the audience say either “wow” or “me too.” Stun them with your story of struggle and triumph that pulls at their heart strings, blow them away with your technology, or get them to relate to the frustrating pain that you solve.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t bury the lead. Make your opening exciting, captivating, and memorable.
Why do we always overcomplicate things? Especially when it comes to presentations, big words and dazzling animations are more likely to confuse and distract your audience than gain their confidence. Follow the K.I.S.S. rule—keep it simple, stupid. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leave the esoteric, sophisticated language to academics and keep your audience engaged. In business, it’s a thousand times better to be simple and understood than complex and confusing. That’s why top businesspeople—Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, among others—have a knack for taking complex issues and explaining them in a way that even a fifth grader can understand. An audience’s attention span is notoriously short, so don’t make them try to figure out what you’re saying. Simplify and make sure you’re understood.
Simplicity is the objective, but don’t just dumb it down. The difference between dumbing it down and distilling complexity into simplicity is like night and day. You get to simplicity through complexity. Once you have your arms wrapped around the issues, simplify. Less is more. Focus on the core ideas. Use graphics instead of text, and avoid slideshow animations. Tell stories, employ use cases, and use everyday language.
As an entrepreneur, you will be out of your element often. At the beginning, when you have to do everything yourself, you will always feel like you’re behind the eight ball. You will have to learn how to do so many things along the way—talk to customers, build technology, handle suppliers, conform to industry norms, manufacture your products, and everything in-between. A hallmark of the serial entrepreneur is the ability to exude confidence, even in moments of extreme uncertainty. Often, successful entrepreneurs’ favorite war stories are about these moments of extreme uncertainty when a bluff paid off. Take risks and be bold, but don’t make promises you can’t keep—you won’t get a second chance.
Acting the part is especially important when pitching your startup to investors or prospective employees. For example, you might be asked to predict where the market is going over the next two years, when you might not feel comfortable predicting what will happen in the next two weeks. It’s important to reassure your audience, and convince them that you have the special insight required to build a winner. Be certain about what you don’t know, and fake it ‘til you make it.
Long gone are the hard-sell days of scripted, uninterrupted presentations. Face-to-face selling today requires a consultative approach. Rather than steamrolling your audience, you need to probe in order to uncover needs. Salespeople call these needs or problems hot buttons. On a sales call, your mission is to find the hot buttons, and then demonstrate how your product fixes them. For example, let’s say that your plan is to present five problems that your product addresses. In probing, you discover that only one of the five areas is a hot button. Realizing this, focus all of your efforts on the hot button and forget the other four talking points. Above all, engage with your audience, understand what motivates them, and respond to those hot buttons.
This agile approach to presentations works with all kinds of audiences, even investors. In the meeting, rather than barreling through your pitch, pause frequently and ask probing questions. Find the investors’ hot buttons, and then leverage this information to lead them to the conclusion that your company belongs in their portfolio.
How can you convey your idea in three seconds or less? One tried-and-true way is to relate your business to a concept or company that is already well-known. Rather than trying to explain that you sell coupons for a limited time at deep discounts for extreme sports and outdoor adventures, you can simply say you’re the “Groupon of extreme sports.” Instead of trying to explain that you’re building a directory of all nonprofit organizations that volunteers can use to find, rate, and review nonprofits, you can simply say that you are “Yelp for nonprofits.” If your comparison is a good one, it will take a few seconds for your audience to understand what you do.
There are a few formats you can use to frame your concept properly. You can say “X for Y,” where X is the comparable company and Y is the new category or space. Alternatively, you can say “X meets Y,” where you are combining services of both X and Y companies. To elaborate, you can say “X for Y,” but with Z, where Z is your special sauce.
As effective as this tactic can be, it can also go horribly wrong. Choose your comparison carefully, and pay attention to whether it helps or hurts your cause. If you find yourself failing, then reframe and try again, or don’t frame it at all. It won’t work for every company.