The Submissions We Received for Our Video Pitch Competition Were Terrible -- Don't Make the Same Mistakes

We had to cancel the competition because the videos were so bad.

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By Sandy Sheerin

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Six months ago, I set up a digital business competition to find the best video pitches from entrepreneurs across multiple regions. The concept was simple: to discover which startups could produce a world-class pitch based on their new business idea, using the medium of video to creatively tell viewers about it.

Related: The 10 Things You Should Cover in Every Investment Pitch (Infographic)

Our rules were flexible so that startups could be imaginative and original in putting their content together. The only restrictive criteria we had was for the length of the video to be one minute long, to feature the founder(s) and to ensure it was a legal, original business idea not patented or trademarked elsewhere. After that, it was an open field for all players to take part in.

I was feeling really excited about what was going to be sent in to us, imagining all of the hidden gems we would uncover and how those talented founders would share their new business ideas with us in a skillful and clever way.

To say the submissions we received were disappointing is an understatement. While some of the startup ideas were rather innovative, unfortunately the form in which entrepreneurs put them forward in their videos was uninspiring and lacking any professional style that would instill confidence from investors.

Dead head pitching

The most common form of videos sent to us was from individuals speaking directly into a camera against a white background. We called it "dead head" pitching. There was no product, no images and no visual aids. Just a face on a screen, rattling off a vague idea to the viewer. I was bored after the very first one of those.

Related: 8 of the Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Presenting to Investors

Shock value

We named the next group of videos our "shock value" ones from overly animated entrepreneurs who thought that by using big, dramatic gestures and a booming loud voice we would be more interested in their idea. One founder went as far as appearing with a logo cutout of his brand neatly placed over his private parts to get our attention. It's entertaining for a reality television show, but no investor would ever have taken them seriously.

Read out loud

The "too much text" videos came a close third on our list. These videos were created on PowerPoint, with lines and lines of long sentences that we had to read through while a monotone voice narrated it to us. I just about managed to get through a couple of those.

Imitation versus innovation

The worst offenders, of course, are the founders who claim to be the only ones out there who created their product or service. There is such a demand for innovation that nearly every new entrepreneur claimed that his or her idea was the most groundbreaking or disruptive in the field. This wore thin by the second one.

Interestingly, the Harvard Business Review tackled the innovation versus imitation debate as far back as 1966, arriving at the conclusion that imitation was the winner. Article author Theodore Levitt, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, rightly pointed out that IBM, Holiday Inn and Dyson were all imitation companies that went on to be extremely successful. He wrote, "Imitation is not only more abundant than innovation, but actually a more prevalent road to business growth and profits."

Related: This Entrepreneur-Turned-VC Explains What Makes a Perfect Pitch

Almost but not quite

Of course, there were some videos that were not so bad. One pitch featured a founder in a field of 20 cows showing us a unique range of new age dairy products. A wise choice to show investors where the products come from. The only problem was that two of his cows relieved themselves on video and no one edited it out or re-filmed the shot. It was distracting and not a pleasant sight to witness while trying to listen to the speaker's words.

Most videos just didn't hit that sweet spot where a viewer (or rather a potential investor) could fully understand what the actual business idea was, how big the market was that it would sit within and who would be part of the customer group to use it.

What makes a good pitch

Nearing toward the final submission date, we made a decision to cancel the competition on behalf of the investors who were behind it. It was unfortunate, but necessary as they were not going to invest in any of these entrepreneurs or their startup ideas based on the poor quality of pitches received.

Over the past 15 years, I have worked with entrepreneurs from all over the world in helping them create investor-friendly pitches to highlight the best parts of their business ideas. Here are some of my top tips on digital video pitching:

  • Ensure a strong fact or product demo is on screen in the first three seconds of the video. This will engage investors immediately. As serial entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec said, "You have 90 seconds, if you're lucky. If you can't make your point persuasively in that time, you've lost the chance for impact."
  • Have strong visual aids to clearly show investors the product or idea (and how it works). If investors understand it, they are more willing to get behind it.
  • Insert text over the most important parts of the video to help investors remember the key points. It is the same as inserting a memory stick into the viewers' brains to allow them to recall data when remembering the pitch.
Sandy Sheerin

Founder of VidPitch

Sandy Sheerin is an international pitch expert and owner of VidPitch. Sheerin has worked with over 500 clients such as Accenture, European Innovation Council, EU Commission and more.

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