As a young entrepreneur I spend much of my life out of the office pitching to investors and potential customers. Despite spending countless hours practicing my presentation, I always get feedback on how I can improve.
This past month, I presented my startup Alumnify -- an alumni-engagement platform -- at the University of San Diego's V2 Pitch Competition and walked away with first place and a $40,000 cash prize. Not bad for a day's work but don’t think I didn't prepare for it.
Leading up to the competition, I did A/B testing on the presentations I would practice. I then analyzed what aspects of my pitch led to the best results and determined how much practice I needed to deliver a top-notch presentation.
Luckily, I have traced patterns in what the greatest triggers are to wow an audience and win that next customer, investor or employee.
1. Show off your customer discovery. When you’re an early-stage venture, people will always look to knock you for lack of traction. One of the reasons the audience loves to hear traction is it validates that the problem you are solving is worthwhile. If you don’t yet have proof in customers or revenue, use the customer interviews, beta tests and feedback you’ve been receiving.
For Alumnify, I always mention that we cold called more than 850 universities in my pitch. It not only shows that our team has taken the time to understand who are customers are but it also gives our company credit that we highly value the needs of our customers.
2. Keep them guessing. We all know that the best stories are ones with amazing endings, right? After all, it’s what your audience cares about the most, they all want to know how the story is going to end.
While the ending may be what everyone wants to see, I have learned how important it is to end your pitch right before the climax. Be open about your progress, struggles and how far you’ve come, but set your pitch up in a way that makes it tell your audience the best it yet to come. By doing this investors or clients are more likely to track the progress of your company to see how the climax plays out .(People hate only seeing half of the movie.) Give your audience the perception that they can help become part your story's amazing ending by buying your product or investing in your company.
3. Practice, refine and repeat. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Two weeks before my competition, I began rehearsing my pitch. In total, I practiced more than 300 times to the point where I could recite my pitch word for word in the shower or if someone woke me up in the middle of the night. To prepare for the Q&A portion of the contest, I reached out to fifteen angel investors and asked them to give me a list of questions I should expect. I then made over 150 notecards with all the questions the judges could possibly ask me. By the time of the contest, I had left nothing up to chance.
As I have pitched more and more, I have learned that the best way to guarantee success is to over prepare for your pitch. Practice so much that you don’t need a pitch deck and still can nail down your presentation perfectly. Once you can pitch anytime, anywhere (under even the worst conditions), you’ll be so confident when you speak that your enthusiasm and message will rub off on your audience.