When a founder messes up a pitch, it’s because they lose their audience. And that isn’t an outcome reserved for first timers.
So how do you avoid this?
Between our training workshops, running the Fundraise With Confidence program, and taking coaching calls, I’ve seen hundreds of founders pitch from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of experience. Even with their wide range of experiences as founders and fundraisers, they run into incredibly similar challenges. Even if you’ve raised $50 million, you can still fall into some traps when pitching.
What I’ve come to realize is that people have different styles but they can all learn how to effectively pitch. The recipe to avoid losing an audience might change for different situations but here are a few of my favorite lessons to share with founders working on perfecting their pitch.
Before COVID-19, the majority of initial pitches were done face-to-face. In my experience, around 98% of initial conversations occur over Zoom now.
Founders need to realize that when you’re pitching over Zoom, you should strive to mimic the feel and the experience of an in-person conversation.
The dynamic of delivering a pitch in person — sitting across from or next to a venture capitalist — promoted a more conversational environment. Now I see founders approaching Zoom pitches as if they are preparing to present on stage, when instead you should still treat the call as a back-and-forth conversation.
With the camera and ring light shining on you, the mic hot, and the pressure to give a compelling presentation, people tend to become a lot more nervous than they would be just sitting on a couch for a conversation. This nervous energy often translates into endless rambling, especially when questions come up. When you feel like you’re on stage, questions tend to stimulate a feeling of "They're doubting my validity as a founder. They're questioning the validity of the company." Instead of having confident, short answers, founders will jam in as much information as they can to prove their knowledge and competence.
Remember, every interaction should be a conversation. Don’t hesitate to take a breath and slow down. You should never feel afraid to pause if you need to. Deliberation can often come across as thoughtful and engaged, as opposed to rushing into an answer and filling the time with whatever comes to mind.
There's also an emotional element to a pitch. Before you hit that ‘Join Meeting’ button, conjure up the excitement that you have for your company and the problem you’re solving. Remind yourself why you’re thrilled to be working on your company and ensure it seeps into the pitch.
You might have heard advice to avoid using decks during Zoom pitches in an effort to make it even more conversational. However, I want to remind you how the best fundraisers used decks pre-Zoom - the most effective pitches didn't feel like presentations. They felt like conversations where you had access to visual materials that could highlight or accentuate points that you wanted to make, as well as organize the way people consumed your message.
And that should be exactly the same way you think about decks when pitching over Zoom. Yes, his should be a conversation. But having a deck handy that you can share slides when needed and that investors can have access to beforehand, can make for a much more concise and focused pitch. Think of your slides as visual aids that bolster your narrative and structure your message. Having a deck prepared can help direct the conversation, ease your nerves, and drive the conversation in the direction that would most excite an investor.
Let me paint a picture for you. If you were to go for your first in-person pitch at a venture capital firm, you would go to their office and likely be met by a receptionist. You would sit in their lobby or waiting room, and wait for the investor to greet you, then they’d walk you to where you would do the pitch. You wouldn’t start pitching your company the moment you meet them. During the moments where you’re walking around and they’re asking you if you’re comfortable or if you’d like some water, there are opportunities for small talk like "Beautiful office you have. I noticed this on the wall." You might talk about the weather, ask how their recent holiday was, etc. before gradually transition to your pitch.
Replicate this natural progression in your Zoom pitch. When the call connects, think about it as getting settled and walking to the room where you’re going to pitch. Don’t rush into pitching your company. Let rapport build naturally before getting down to business.
The best pitches happen when a VC is asking questions and excited about getting answers, leaning in to learn more. If you can sense yourself talking with the VC just staring blankly ahead, you're losing them. Keep track of how much you're talking and don't be afraid to stop and make space for questions. And instead of just saying "Let me pause there. Do you have any questions about this?" Actually ask a specific question to try to pull them into the conversation. If they're not taking the bait around asking their own question, see if you could ask them about their experience in the space or how they think about x__ because engagement is what you’re looking for here. Make sure the investor is participating and not just passively listening to your monologue.
To recap, make sure to breathe and slow down. Pause if you need to. Don't answer questions that weren't asked. Avoid rambling. Convey your excitement. Make it a conversation. And remember the deck is there to enhance a conversation, not something that you need present every detail of.