4 Secrets To Acing A Business Pitch
January 29, 2015 | Business and Careers
By Sonya Stinson
Nothing ruins a Saturday morning sleep-in like the deafening drone of a leaf blower or the ear-splitting wail of a car alarm. Thankfully, you’ve invented a clever little device that attaches to the inside of a window and reduces outside noises to a whisper. You created a prototype, and a focus group gave the product rave reviews. Now you want to turn your idea into a business. Catch is, you need some money.
So, like many entrepreneurs before you, you’ve decided to enter a pitch contest where thousands of dollars in prize money—not to mention invaluable professional mentoring and technical assistance—are up for grabs. Or maybe you’ve secured a meeting with an individual or group of investors willing to listen to your brilliant idea, with potentially millions of dollars at stake. You’ve got just minutes to convince these backers that your business brainchild can grow into a money maker. Go!
If just imagining that scenario makes you sweat, don’t panic. In addition to doing your basic legwork—like studying the market and competitive landscape for your product and practicing answers to likely questions from investors—these four insider tips will help build your confidence and give you an edge when the time comes to pitch your big idea.
1. Get their attention from the get-go. That’s what Michael Luchies always advised students who were entering the National Elevator Pitch competition, the country’s largest, hosted every October by the Collegiate Entrepreneur’s Organization (CEO). Come out with a startling quote or an unexpected statistic about the problem your business proposal will solve, he recommended. Shock your audience with your offbeat fix.
“We deal with 90-second pitches. You don’t have a lot of time, and you really want to get the judge and the audience to want more after you’re done with the pitch,” said Luchies, who until recently was growth and programs manager for CEO. “Starting strong is extremely important.”
2. Don’t do a data dump. Your quick pitch will usually be followed by a Q&A session, so it’s a good idea to throw out a few hints about the points you’d be happy to expand on if you had more time, said Luchies.
“But don’t think you have to fit everything into those 90 seconds,” he advised. “It’s really important not to push your time and not to try to ram through everything as fast as you can.”
3. Keep your speech plain. In her blog post for PitchBurner.com—a company that provides event management software for business competitions—Ellen Peterson writes that you need to nix the jargon when talking to the judges or potential investors about your business idea. “You don’t want anyone to lose interest in your product or service based on the fact that they simply can’t understand what you’re talking about,” Peterson writes.
4. Show some traction. Having a prototype to display and a few sales already on the books will give you a definite edge over competitors whose product ideas live merely on paper. Have your revenue model figured out and a plan for how you’re going to scale the business before you make your pitch.
“You have to show some momentum,” Luchies said. “If you just have a good idea, people really don’t care. Anybody can have an idea, but if you haven’t done anything with it, it’s worthless.”
Emory University student Kaeya Majmundar is a great example of a pitch contestant who wowed the judges by showcasing a working product, not just talking about it. She presented her invention of the BZ box, a reusable, collapsible packing box, at CEO’s 2012 National Elevator Pitch contest and swept the competition.
“She was passionate, prepared and had a visual aid: the first version of her no-assembly-required cardboard box,” Luchies said. “The combination of those three made her too tough to beat.”
In fact, Majmundar’s presentation made such a splash that she landed a spot on ABC’s Shark Tank. In an appearance that aired in May 2014, she won a $50,000 investment deal from QVC host and Shark Tank judge Lori Greiner, who will get a 40 percent share of the business.
Ultimately, whether you’re pitching to a group of judges on national TV or to a single investor in a quiet meeting room, you’ll need this crucial blend of preparation and passion to make it to the next round. You’ll never convince anyone else to believe in your business idea unless you can show how much you believe in it yourself. Using these tips may just be the key to demonstrating that winning confidence.
Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.
This article originally appeared on Northwestern Mutual Voice on Forbes.com.