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Now in its seventh year, the SXSW Accelerator competition brings together companies and entrepreneurs from all over the world to pitch their products to industry experts.
Entrepreneur caught up with some of the judges to find out what works, and what doesn’t so your next pitch goes off without a hitch.
Keep it simple.
Explain your vision succinctly. ISXSW producer Chris Valentine, who has overseen all seven consecutive Accelerator events, actually begs for pitches that are easier to comprehend. "I can't tell you how many times I hear a pitch that is so complex that I have to tell them to say it like they're talking to their 80-year old mom." hSoftTech VC partner Charles Hudson says effective pitches explain what the product does, who would buy it and why people should care. "If you can cover those things," he says, "I will want to know more and will ask additional questions to fill in the gaps."
Know the bigger picture.
To impress, show that you understand your product’s wider implications. For instance, relaying an understanding of how your product will integrate with social media and generate demand shows you understand exactly how your company will find success once the two-minute pitch is over and reality sets in. Contestants are getting savvier about this, according Kleiner Perkins partner Mood Rowghani, so soon you’ll need to establish this just to keep pace. "There's now a much better understanding of how things fit into an ecosystem," he says.
Find your hook.
A strong start that grabs attention quickly is key. Grabbing interest is essential to rising above the noise and making your vision memorable to judges. "With a two-minute pitch, you have about thirty seconds to grab my attention and make me want to listen," Hudson says.
After multiple presentations you might think you’ve got your pitch down pat. But don’t take anything for granted. "Oftentimes, you've got [presenters] who are too casual," Valentine says, "It comes across as cockiness." Those who fail to prepare seriously aren’t ready for tough questions and waste their opportunity. These are the presenters who stumble out into the hall later in a daze.
Nerves can undermine a strong product and scare away potential investors. Some of this year's Accelerator participants set off alarm bells for GGV Capital managing partner Hany Nada. "I saw a lot of pacing, a lot of nervousness," he says. "A lot of lack of breathing." Even if you have an exceptional product, every pitch is also about selling yourself and prove you are the best person to execute your idea. "As an investor, it's very uncomfortable to get behind somebody who is not confident," Nada says.
Address your faults
Judges want to know that you know what could go wrong – and where you and your team falls short. "We always say that you should not only look at the hole in one, but know where the sand traps are," Rowghani says. Knowing what could go wrong allows you to showcase a keen understanding of your company and your market. "In a normal pitch, you want to make sure that [everyone] is mindful of the counter-thesis," he says.