Great Stories Are Practiced
The first thing to know is that no pitch is static. It evolves based on who you’re talking to, where you are, what you need to get across. You must have a one-minute version, a 10-minute version, an hour-long version. This does not mean having the same story edited to different lengths – there’s no way to compress an hour of material into a minute and still speak with the same passion. You have to have a new approach for each one of those situations. In addition, your pitch has to accommodate constant learning. Every day you have new information to work with, such as a better sense of your market, new hires with new capabilities, ideas that have only just now bubbled to the surface. Your pitch has to be as dynamic as your startup itself.
A Pitch is a Live Performance
You can’t just practice your one-minute, or ten-minute or hour-long pitch over and over and over again. You have to consider what it will be like to read a room, to read investors’ body language, absorb the truth of the moment and adjust accordingly. Your pitch must be infused with humanity – the best stand-up comedians practice their routine for a year, so many times that they can work a crowd back and forth, move the routine wherever they need to. If someone yells out something random, they handle it and move on. You’re at your most human when you can respond well off-the-cuff. Recommendations for perfecting a pitch include:
Practice in front of someone who gets your enthusiasm but knows only a little about the actual technical, financial or business details of your company, e.g. spouse or a close friend who’s not involved.
Start your pitch and tell them that, by slide 2, they have to interrupt and ask a question that pertains to slide 12.
Have them continue to pepper you with questions out of order so you can practice moving the conversation in and out of the various points that you want and need to make.
It’s only by working the transitions in and out of your key points that you’ll actually get a real handle on the various bridges you can use to get to where you need to be in the conversation. One of the trickiest things an entrepreneur can face in a fundraising meeting is getting stuck midway through a conversation.
One of the investors in the room asks a question, and you find yourself down a rabbit hole without a clear route back to your narrative. In this situation, you really have to very firmly say, ‘Hey, I have two more minutes to spend talking about this, but I can get back to you with more information,’. You have to be outside your head enough to recognize that the conversation is getting away from you and know where you need to be. If you’ve practiced enough, you should be able to check-in with yourself and make live edits. Don’t just cram everything in.
Great Stories Have Structure
You need to take the whole room on a journey together. This means there has to be a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end. When you’re in command of your material, creating this structure is in your control. The best meetings are the ones where the VCs in the room want to take this journey with you — and to ensure this, you have to hit all the stops they’re anticipating. Lay out the map for them at the beginning: ‘I am going to talk about engagement; I am going to talk about monetization; I am going to talk about our team and features and potential competitors.” You may walk into a meeting with 12 slides with the plan to touch on each of them sequentially. But more often than not, an investor will ask to skip slide two or jump ahead to slide eight. You might be in control of how to tell your story, but you also need to read the room. If they are trying to pull you toward one topic, listen to them and adjust accordingly but keep the story’s structure intact. You have designed the story to build toward the conclusion that they have to invest in you. You have to build that case no matter what. Most stories start off with 60 to 70 slides, and painfully and thoughtfully mold to fit 12. If you’re having trouble cutting your presentation down, go home and deliver it to the mirror. If you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll hit that slide that doesn’t really work. You’ll see better how you can set up your conclusion without including a slide or a section.
Never Read Your Slides
When you design your presentation, you want to make sure to emphasize the points that will drive people to the conviction that they should back your idea. If you believe the market opportunity is the most compelling thing you have to share, spend more time on it. If you believe the strength of your team is unmatched, take the time to dive into their bios and experience. You want to build your presentation and slides so that your argument only gets stronger and gains momentum as you go along. You might have 10 slides of nerdy graphs in the appendix that you can use to answer questions, but your story should be condensed to the point that you’re never even reading your slides.
Great Stories Have Context
Tactically it’s critical to not plan a full hour of material. You should be able to tell your whole story, in a compelling and detailed fashion, in just 20 minutes. This will almost always expand to fill the hour – you’ll be interrupted, you’ll answer questions. You’ll decide in that moment to flesh something out a bit more or add more detail to something. You’ll get the sense that someone in the room wants to dwell more on one or other item. You don’t want to end up running out of time. At the same time, you want to have hours and hours of nerdy details squirreled away in your head. Through practicing you can feel better and better about leaving those details out, but should the conversation go that way, you can bring them to the forefront if necessary. Have some well-known short stories as examples — a user who loves what you’re doing, for example. Those can be useful answers to general questions. When you tell stories like that you can find ways to move the conversation to other points you want to hit. The important thing is to make the words your own. You should be able to give your pitch with no slides – cold Hit every key point you want, un-rushed in 20 minutes. Practice as if the projector bulb blew out several times and make sure you can still do it — don’t wait until the night before. Be able to recreate any idea you have on a white board in less than one minute. Label the axes and call out the three to four critical points on the graph that characterize the point you are trying to make.
Great Stories Have Inspiring Protagonists
“Humans have an innate desire for relationships they can trust. They grow and evolve over time, but that’s what you want with an investor. It’s a serious commitment, and when you’re forging a bond like that, you want investors to know they are placing bets on talented, competent, compelling protagonists in a story where everyone is rooting for them to win. That’s why crafting an intriguing and confidence-inspiring team story is so important,By far, the most important slide is the one that says ‘Hi, we’re XXXX, this is our first round, and this is what we’re doing.’” The team must be a direct match to the challenge at hand, so that there is resonance and an obvious passion.
Great Stories Are Unexpected
The best stories take a bunch of familiar puzzle pieces and combine them into something new and valuable. When you shuffle them in different ways, you can end up with something very unique. You have to make them believe how much you believe in it, and how much you want to go on that journey with them — even if neither of you knows how big it can get. When you’re in pitches you should make your case not to raise money but because you’re so excited about what you could possibly accomplish.