Preparing and Delivering Great Pitches and Presentations.

(Hint: it’s not about the slides).

Adapted from a webinar by Bret Waters and Daniel Brown, delivered 30 July 2020.

1. General public speaking tips

Here are some tips to think about, with regard to any speaking opportunity:

  • Don’t try to fill every moment with talking. If you’ve ever been around someone who can’t stop talking, this is what that feels like to an audience. If you have been allotted 3-minutes for your pitch, don’t think that the goal is to see how many words you can fit into 3 minutes. Slow down, pace yourself, and learn the power of the pause.
  • Props can be awesome. In our last accelerator cohort, we had a former semi-pro football player who had founded a new startup developing sports technology. He began his pitch by holding up his helmet. It made his pitch memorable and made him seem credible.
  • Know your audience — and the outcome you want. It’s so important to know who you are talking to so that you don’t embarrass yourself. If it’s a larger group, make sure you ask the organizer about the background of the people in the audience. If it’s a small group of individuals, look them up on LinkedIn. Also, ask yourself “What do I want the outcome to be? What do I want the audience to remember?” If you take the time to learn about your audience in advance, and are clear on what your desired outcome is, you will find your presentation to be 100x more effective.
Don’t make slides that look like this. Please.
  • Engage the audience. We started this webinar today by asking you all what sort of beverage you had in front of you. It was a simple way to get you a little more engaged than a typical one-way webinar lecture. Think about ways you can engage your audience. Perhaps you have an idea for a way to donate to charity when you turn off a lightswitch. You might begin your pitch by saying, “How many lightswitches do you have in your home?” (Also an opportunity for a pause.) Then you can give them an answer relevant to your pitch — “Enough to generate $300 per year for charity.” Engage your audience and you will find they are more receptive to your presentation.

2. Discussion of fundraising pitch decks.

New entrepreneurs are always asking me about pitch decks. They want to know the secret things to put into a pitch deck that will make venture capitalists throw money at you. I honestly think that anyone that tells you they know the secret to a successful pitch deck is full of shit. Investors don’t invest in slides — they invest in people. But having said that, here are some thoughts from my many years of pitching to VC’s, and now receiving pitches from entrepreneurs.

Look, no slides.

3. Discussion of Zoom pitch tips.

As we sit here, in the summer of 2020, COVID has forced almost all pitches and presentations online, which adds an additional layer to think about as you prepare a presentation — how do you optimize it for Zoom? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Lighting matters. Is there a window behind you, making you look like a shadow figure in a witness protection program? That’s not so good. Turn around so that the light is coming at you, not behind you.
  • Keep your background simple and shallow. You don’t want people looking at the pile of dirty laundry next to you, or trying to read the titles of the books on your shelves. People’s natural tendency is to assess new surroundings, even over Zoom — don’t give them things to look at that will distract them from your awesome presentation. Virtual backgrounds are fine, but keep them simple and static.
  • It’s all about the audio quality. You could have beautiful slides and a compelling pitch but if the audio is crappy none of that will matter. Don’t use the built-in mic on your laptop — go invest in a decent external microphone. Don’t thump the table, don’t drag your coffee cup across your desk, don’t play with your fidget spinner. All of those sounds will get picked-up by your microphone and broadcast to the world. Keep your audio feed crisp and clean, and your Zoom presentation will be remembered as a winner.

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.