Perfect the art of the pitch

Matthew Stafford, project leader specialising in technology start-ups and equity investment at Pembridge Partnership, says most pitches for funding or investment are poor, but there are ways for businesses to improve.

With the amount of buzz around London and the ‘Silicon Roundabout’ this year, I get to see a lot of pitches from tech start-ups. If so inclined, one could go to a tech start-up networking/pitching event two or three times a day, six days a week. And I get the impression that some do.

Sadly, the vast majority of the pitches pitched are very poor. In like of this fact, I offer a few examples of how entrepreneurs get pitches wrong, together with some suggested solutions to make you stand out. Although directed at mostly new companies, these points can be applied to all businesses that are pitching to seek finance, secure new clients or market their brand.

To begin with, generally, the frustrating thing is that it’s the simplest of things that go wrong.

1. You clearly haven’t rehearsed. You rehearse everything else, so why not the pitch? The slides have no spelling mistakes, the screenshots are the right ones, the font isn’t too big or small, there isn’t too much text on each slide, there’s a big shot of an iPhone, even a bit (but not too much) of Prezi – all looks fine. So why aren’t the words spoken rehearsed?

2. I can’t hear you. If the acoustics are bad, if the PA system has horrible feedback (and if you don’t pitch first you’ll find this out) or if the audience just aren’t paying attention then stop. When you are pitching you are in control. You are the boss and you have to take command of the situation. There are many such pitching events so if this one just isn’t going to work out for you then don’t do it. If the organiser should have done a better job then say so and pitch at another event. This has a certain boldness to it, don’t you think?

3. I don’t know what you’re pitching for. Outline what you want or you won’t get the stuff you don’t ask for.

4. I don’t know what you do. Amazing how many entrepreneurs can’t answer the question, ‘so; what do you do?’. The related, ‘what’s your sustainable competitive advantage?’ question that asks how easy it is for another company to offer exactly the same product or service as yours is equally, but unnecessarily, all too often too difficult or complicated for the entrepreneur to answer.

5. You have far too many slides. Pitches are generally around two to 10 minutes long. For two to five minute pitches have two slides, maybe three. For pitches of five-minute pitches or more have five slides. I’ve seen two-minute pitches with 20-plus slides – this was because the entrepreneur had done a longer pitch earlier in the day. So why stick to the same slides that I bet he knew they were inappropriate? Not through laziness I hope…?

6. Your confidence level is wrong. I know this is a tough one, as opposed to the simple fixes above, because you don’t want to come across as arrogant, but worse still is to spend half the pitch apologising for a lack of knowledge, a poor slide, the text being to small (or large). Again, who’s in charge here? Anything that you think you’ll have to apologise for must be changed before you start pitching. Practice will solve this one too.

Be bold, be likeable, have confidence, stay true to your values, stop moaning and toughen up. And if you practice, practice, practice, then it’s really not that difficult, is it?

Related: Pitching your way to business growth

Todd Cardy

Todd Cardy

Todd was Editor of between 2010 and 2011 as well as being responsible for publishing our digital and printed magazines focusing on private equity and venture capital. Connect with...

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