From the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

At some point, that great idea of yours must come out of hiding. If you're ever going to get it to market, you must communicate your idea to others who can help you. It may be a manufacturer who will make your product, it may be investors who will finance it for you or it may be potential buyers. Whoever it is, it's crucial that you have a well-thought-out presentation that quickly communicates your idea, grabs your listeners' attention, and excites them enough to want to take part in your plans.

Your presentation can be made two ways: in writing or verbally. It's important to have both types of presentations prepared and ready at a moment's notice. What if you're at a networking event and you realize the person you're speaking with might be a potential investor? If you've taken the time to prepare an oral presentation, you can take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to make a pitch. Or if a friend knows someone who can help you, a formal written proposal that's ready to be delivered overnight can provide an instant presentation of your idea while it's still fresh in the prospect's mind.

The old adage that you only get one chance to make a first impression rings particularly true with ideas. It's almost impossible to change the mind of someone who's already formed a bad impression of your idea. Many times you only get one chance to impress an important contact. A well-prepared pitch lets you take maximum advantage of the situation.


Tomima Edmark is the inventor of the TopsyTail and several other products and is author of The American Dream Fact Pack ($49.95), available by calling (800) 558-6779. Questions regarding inventions and patents may be sent to "Bright Ideas," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

Get The Message

The first step in preparing a presentation of your idea is to have a quick, exciting and understandable explanation of it. Try to get your message across in 25 words or less. Brevity is key because if you can't communicate the essence of your idea immediately, you'll lose your listeners.

Not sure how to start? A great place to look for succinct descriptions is in catalogs. A catalog must quickly explain what the product is and, at the same time, sell you on buying it. Thumb through several catalogs, and pick well-written descriptions that grab your attention. Then modify the text to describe your idea. This exercise forces you to edit your description down to its most essential elements. If you can't describe your idea in 25 words or less, this could be a sign that it needs further refinement.

When working on your de-scription, come up with a great opening catch phrase. When I presented my TopsyTail idea to people, I always began with, "This tool can create a totally unique hairstyle in less than three seconds." Make the listener want to hear more.

After hearing a concise description of your idea, a listener will want to hear the answers to five questions:

1.Is your idea unique?

2.Is it patentable?

3.Is there a market for it?

4.How much will it cost to manufacture?

5.Does it fit with the other products in the company's line?

Answering these basic questions should be the cornerstones of any presentation, written or oral.

Something Special

How unique is your idea? The best way to show off the originality of your product is to present a working prototype of it. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a great prototype is worth a million. Your prototype should resemble the finished product as closely as possible. You may be able to look beyond that duct tape or bad paint job, but your audience won't.

If your idea is a service or is something intangible, such as software, show storyboards or make a computerized presentation. You can even present a well-drawn model of your idea as long as it easily communicates your concept. The quality of your prototype or rendering speaks volumes about you. It's your silent salesperson, telling prospects you're professional, detail-oriented and prepared.

Patent Power

With your audience hooked on your great idea, the next question you need to answer is whether the idea is patentable. Companies typically won't pay someone for an idea that can't be patented. If you have a patent, give them the patent number and a copy of your patent. If your patent is pending, have your patent attorney write a patentability evaluation letter. Never divulge your patent application filing date in a presentation. Sharing this information before you receive your patent can greatly compromise your idea's protection.

If you haven't filed for a patent but know your idea is patentable, get a confidentiality agreement signed before disclosing your idea. If your idea isn't patentable, you can still present your idea; however, you run the risk of someone stealing it without giving you any compensation. And unfortunately, this type of "theft" is perfectly legal.

Market Matters

Who cares if your family and friends love it--your audience wants to know if there are thousands of potential buyers for your idea. You can really shine in a presentation if you've done your market research. Show the listeners competing products, then explain why your idea is better. Have independent market research done on your idea, and share the results. And get experts in the market to evaluate your idea. The more market research you do, the fewer excuses listeners will have to turn down your idea.

You should also present documentation regarding the potential market size. If your idea is a daily planner for moms, for example, saying the market is 50 mil-lion strong because that's how many mothers there are in the United States is weak because that figure is too general. Pointing out that 7 million mothers have children between the ages of 5 and 15 makes a stronger case.

Got It Made

Being able to quote the manufacturing costs of your idea to prospective buyers is a necessity. If they know how much something will cost to make, they can calculate price points. It also tells them you've figured out the best way to make your product. Again, this will help you walk away from the presentation looking like an expert in your field.

A Perfect Fit

Ask yourself: Does the idea fit in with what the company already makes or what the investor is currently interested in? If you had a new idea for a novelty athletic shoe, pitching it to Levi Strauss wouldn't be your best bet--they don't make shoes. However, Nike or Stride Rite might be interested. If they are, it's because they see your product fitting in with their core business and current product line.

If a company sees a good fit, you'll have its attention and an excellent shot at selling your idea. Along these lines, it might be a good idea to mock up your idea in some of the company's packaging. For instance, if you designed a new power tool, you'd go to the hardware store, see how the company's power tools were packaged, then create similar packaging and place your prototype in it. This attention to detail looks very good in a presentation and demonstrates that you've researched the market.

Presentations are key to communicating and selling someone your idea. They also tell people what kind of person you are. Because they're so important to the future of your idea, think like a Boy Scout: Be prepared.

Dos And Don'ts:

  • Don't be a pest. Give the company time to respond before contacting it again.
  • Don't argue. If someone tells you your product doesn't fit their product line, don't get belligerent. You may offer some further information, but if the company is firm, accept its decision.
  • Do listen to what people say. Consider their input valuable and constructive.
  • Don't wax poetic about your idea. Rather than saying "Everybody loves it," provide facts, such as 75 percent of a focus group gave the product a rating of 8 out of 10.
  • Do be brief, punctual and professional. If the listener asks you to send samples or call by a certain date, do it.

Source: Turning Your Great Idea Into a Great Success (Peterson's) by Judy Ryder

Before The Big Day

  • Have extra copies of your handouts with you in case someone arrives unexpectedly.
  • Place all materials in a notebook.
  • Make sure everything is typewritten or computer-generated--no handwritten documents.
  • Customize everything to your audience; don't use form letters.
  • Edit your presentation so you give listeners what they want yet leave them wanting more.
  • Have no more than 12 pages in any handout.
  • Bring backup materials in support of any claims you make.
  • Bring your business cards and collect business cards from everyone at the meeting.

Source: Tomima Edmark's The American Dream Fact Pack (self-published)

Next Step

Having your idea independently evaluated shows your audience you take your product seriously. Two good sources: Debra Malewicki at the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center in Whitewater (414-472-1365) and Stuart Leidner at the Washington Small Business Development Center in Pullman (509-335-1576).

Check List

What to bring to your presentation:

  • Someone who can be a witness
  • An idea of what kind of deal you'd like; e.g. royalty or front-end payment
  • A good working model
  • An understanding of the market for the invention
  • A written outline of research results
  • A careful estimate of tooling costs
  • A notepad or tape recorder to take careful notes of the meeting

Source: Inventing Small Products (Crisp Publications) by Stanley I. Mason