Why do great startups fail to get funding? Often, it’s not because of a business shortcoming or how the entrepreneur presents the company. A wrinkled shirt or a poorly received joke make subliminal impressions. Sometimes, a minor flaw can derail the most well-rehearsed pitch.
To avoid killing your pitch and your growing enterprise, make sure you’re not committing these seven fatal errors:
Not Making Eye Contact. Most entrepreneurs spend a lot of time rehearsing what they’re going to say but don’t actually look at investors when they say it. Make direct eye contact to project confidence, openness, and credibility. When do you stop looking? When the investor acknowledges your gaze.
Related: Why VCs Don't Care About Your Pitch
Not Dressing the Part. Many young CEOs think their own brilliance is enough to carry them. Maybe they watched “The Social Network” and think they can get away with wearing hoodies. I admit I used to be in this camp — after all, if I come as I am, isn’t that authentic? It took coaching to realize I wasn’t dressing for my comfort, but for the comfort of my audience and clients. That often means something a bit boring — but unremarkable clothes allow them to look past your wardrobe.
Sloppy presentation can imply you’re a sloppy business owner — or that you were up all night fixing a major bug. Either way, investors think you lack the discipline to manage multiple priorities with aplomb or tailor yourself to your audience, a skill they know you’ll need as the business develops.
Using Crowded Slides. The most interesting part of a pitch should not be the deck — it should be your expertise. Busy PowerPoints force investors to ignore your words while they translate your slides. Only use text or visuals that enhance your verbal delivery. Rehearse without your slides so the focal point is you — and you are used to carrying the delivery.
Telling Your Story from the Wrong Perspective. Investors are interviewing you for the role of money manager; they want a plan told in a story-like format they can remember. You may choose to tell the story of a client or your industry, but tailor your pitch to the investor’s perspective of cash flow and scale potential.
Making a Joke at the Investors’ Expense. Feeling nervous or awkward about asking for funding is no excuse for an inappropriate joke or a cocky attitude. I’ve seen entrepreneur say things like, “If you don’t have $5 million for me, don’t bother.” Sure, it’s bravado, but there’s a big difference between straight talk and insulting your audience.
Leaving Your Audience Behind. Both the substance and delivery of your pitch must be easy for anyone to grasp. I recently saw one smart engineer race through dazzling information at a deadly speed. No one in the room doubted her insights, but nobody thought she would be able to get a team of non-engineers to understand her, either. To build a business, you must be able to speak up and down the ladder appropriately.
Making an Over-the-Top Entrance. Entrepreneurs are frequently coached to “get the room’s attention” in their pitch with a loud “Good morning!” or audience participation shtick. However, anything staged usually comes across as unnatural or desperate.
The very fact that investors are in front of you means they’re interested in hearing your pitch. You already have their attention; the trick is keeping it. While your pitch shouldn’t be boring, the goal is to inform — not entertain.
The best thing you can do to improve your pitch is to get out of your own way. Allow your passion and vision to command the investors’ full attention.