Master Your Message Blog

Perfect Pitch: Persuasive Presentations for Start-ups

This past week, I attended a “pitch” competition called “The Doghouse” at the Global Petroleum Show, in Calgary. It was for start-up companies to try their pitches in front of potential investors.

Five different companies on two consecutive days pitched their product or service to five potential investors. They were each evaluated and one winner was picked from each group. But here’s the kicker—each presentation could only be three minutes in length. They really had to have their acts together!

It was gratifying for me to see that the ones that followed the “tried and true” persuasive presentation structure won. They had done their homework and had specifically targeted their presentations to that particular investor audience. The others—not so much.

As I’ve helped take a number of well-known Canadian companies public (some of them are listed here), I sat in the audience, taking notes. I sent a short evaluation to each of the presenters afterwards by email to let them know what I thought they had done well and what they might do to improve their message.

It’s really is all about the message.

Here’s my short video on how to start developing a persuasive presentation of any type:

Investor presentations are a bit different from the norm in that they take the traditional structure of “Problem, Solution, Why” and add another wrapper around it. What do I mean by that?

A traditional persuasive presentation should be structured this way:

  1. State the problem (this is typically the problem the audience is experiencing – the reason you’re here)
  2. State the solution (your solution to the problem)
  3. Talk about why this solution is the best solution to solve the problem.
  4. In the body of your presentation, develop your points to address audience concerns, one-by-one
  5. Summarize your key points.
  6. Ask for the order.

Here’s the difference in a start-up company presentation:

You actually have to work with two different problems and solutions.

First of all, you have to communicate the problem your product or service is solving. This is REALLY important, because if don’t communicate the immensity of the problem properly, it diminishes the perceived need for your product or service. You don’t want to be perceived as having a solution looking for a problem. Yikes!

So … the core of your presentation should follow the five steps above—in that order. BUT … your audience is investors, and they have a much different interest in your product or service. They see lots of pitches, so you have to stand out.

In fact, they’re mostly interested in why you’re different. What makes my investment in your company less risky than your competitors? Your competitor is ANY OTHER start-up company looking for money!

Think about the message in the video above:  They have to believe that your product or service is the best investment value on the block today. That’s what your presentation is really all about. Within it must be a description of the market problem and solution (the depth of the need and how you’ve solved it with your product or service) but on top of that, you need to differentiate your implementation of the solution from others out there.

As well as outlining the product/service marketing problem and your specific solution, you also need to include:

  • Who’s the competition and what’s your strategy to beat them?
  • What are your comparative costs and revenues (your projected margins)?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How are you presently funded and what’s the structure?
  • Where are you now in your plan and where are you going next?

Finally, you need to ask for the order. What do you want of your investor audience? Be specific. In this case, have a one-page handout with a summary of the need, the solution, contact information, and any key board members or industry partners.

A note about your slides: Make them simple! I saw lots of sentences that were hard to read, or not even up long enough to be read. Here’s what important to understand: As an audience, we can’t read sentences on the screen and listen to you at the same time. It’s impossible.

Sentences reduce the clarity of your message. Use phrases at the very most, and say those phrases out loud as part of your presentation so that they’re reinforced. (Here’s one post on this and there are lots more if you sign up for my Convince and Close series).

One more thing:  Remember, these are hard-nosed business people who are looking for a similar-type leader, so get right to the point. This situation is about as tough as it gets in pitches. You’ll know how you did by the quality of the questions you get afterwards!

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