"Are you okay?" my friend asks. "Your face is white and you're shaking all over."
My body had gone into shock. "This can't be happening," I think. "I've only been in business school for two months." My jaw trembled as I explained that I just received an e-mail asking me to pitch my business idea in front of the celebrity investors from ABC's hit show, Shark Tank.
It didn't occur to me at the time, but I had been preparing for this challenge since I started at Babson College two and a half months prior. Not unexpectedly, entrepreneurship is a required course at Babson. My first major assignment was to create an opportunity storyboard for a business idea, which was to be limited to a single PowerPoint slide.
A little over a week later, that storyboard was expanded into a rocket pitch: a three minute, three slide, live pitch in front of my professor and classmates in the entrepreneurship class. After a month, every student was encouraged to enter the annual school-wide Babson Rocket Pitch event, where hundreds of students pitch their ideas in front of investors, professors, members of the community and the Babson student body.
Then, the following week, my team entered the Big Idea Competition. This required us to upload a three-minute pitch video to YouTube, garner the most "likes" and move on to the finalist round to pitch on stage in front three judges at the Babson Entrepreneurship Forum.
Not even a week had passed after being named one of two winning teams at the Babson Big Idea Competition that I received an e-mail from the director of the entrepreneurship center at Babson. Daymond John and Mark Cuban would be visiting the school, and my team had been selected to pitch in front of them. The event would be held in a large auditorium on campus and streamed live online.
Although I was terrified of failing in front of entrepreneur celebrities and all of Babson, I committed to participate and the pitch went great. My partner and I stumbled a couple of times during the Q&A session, but that's okay. You make mistakes, learn from them, and improve -- that's the essence of the startup journey. After the event, Cuban mentioned to us that he believed if we could get the marketing down, we would kill it.
While I continue to work on the business, I have learned a few key lessons about creating a dynamic pitch:
- Be visual. Please, no slides full of bullet points. Use simple and clean images that clarify and complement what you're saying -- not complicate it. When slides are cluttered and busy, the audience will be focused on deciphering them instead of focusing on you. Don't forget that for most investors, the entrepreneur is more important than the product or idea being pitched.
- Tell a story. Storytelling lies at the heart of who we are as humans. Remember, you are not a court lawyer trying to amass evidence for the jury as to why your idea is destined to make millions. If your pitch is just a crowd of facts, figures and pie charts, you may lose your audience.
- Practice, practice, practice. Get in front of others and pitch -- a lot. Don't worry about your pitch being bad the first few times you do it. It most definitely will be. As you practice, though, you will learn which parts your audience is responding to and which parts need to be adjusted. Over time, your confidence and delivery will improve.