Ideas are great. Ideas change both the direction and the face of our world. They’re where new realities are made. Printing presses, the internet, bleach-free recyclable fast-food containers, electronic dog-treat dispensers, iPods, Nike’s Pump shoes, self-drive wheelchairs, Trump’s self-tan: all of these were once an epiphany in someone’s brain. But ideas without execution are useless. And execution requires investment – time or money. But, in order to get that investment, others need to buy into the ideas, understand them and, most importantly, realise why they’re a big deal. That’s what a pitch is – the 5 minutes that will decide your future.
At LaunchLab we’re exposed to a smorgasbord of ideas, from which we have to pick the most important. This isn’t easy. And it’s especially difficult when the pitcher doesn’t help us, the audience, realise their value. Based on our experience, and the experience of thousands of experts, here are our suggestions to make your next pitch a bang, and not a whimper.
1. Solve for x
Context is really important when making decisions. But, as an outsider to your company or idea, they don’t immediately understand your context. Why is your idea so valuable?
Far, far too often, pitchers go straight into their solution, without first establishing what it’s solving. What’s a band-aid without a cut? Who needs a parachute when their feet are on the ground? First establish some form of problem, and then tell us how you’re solving it. If you’re not solving some sort of an issue, there’s a chance you have problems of your own.
2. Feel the pain
As an expansion of point 1, the more you can help the audience identify with the problem you’re solving, the more likely they are to need a solution. Who needs a bandage more? Someone who pricked their finger, or someone with a bullet wound? Make them feel like they’ve been shot. The more I don’t want the problem, the more I will demand the solution.
This is also critical because people still make decisions emotionally – believe it or not. We don’t buy our cars for fuel economy, and we don’t buy clothes for their utility (unless you have a loyalty card with Cape Union Mart).
3. Keystone message
What is the ONE thing your idea does (or does better than existing competitors)? Got it? Good. Now stick to it. A pitch isn’t the time or place to get lost in the details – and that’s exactly what will happen. The more information you try and present, the more it muddies up the key (read: defining) point, and dilutes your argument.
People need to buy-in vertically. First, we need to buy in at the top – the big idea. If we’re sold here, we’re happy to move down and hear about the details that help make that big idea possible. (Detail is better for a conversation, just so you know). Keep this in mind the next time your audience’s eyes get a little glassy.
4. It’s not about you
This is critical. Your pitch has very little to do with you, and everything to do with the people you’re talking to. They’re the ones with the pens hovering over their cheque books… What do they need to hear – and how do they need to hear it – in order to decide? Even if they’re in bright pink heels, try and put yourselves in their shoes and ask yourself, at every step of your preparation, “Would I care about this if I was them?” If the answer is no, or even ‘not sure’ – drop it, or reframe it.
5. People do business with…
… people they like. Every single investor I’ve spoken to (VCs, angels, even the guys on Dragon’s Den and SharkTank) agree that they’ll invest in people over product. Good people will make a plan, and make things happen. You can bank on people. As we said above, a great idea with lackluster execution will still fail and choosing people who we believe won’t settle for mediocre is a much safer bet.
Don’t be arrogant. Praise your team (where relevant). Humanise your business. Be passionate! Make me like you, and you’ll get my money.
6. A lick o’ paint
It’s 2016. There’s no excuse for ugly, Times New Roman, clip-art, Microsoft template presentations. They’re offensive! And they won’t do you any favours… With the amount of free designer templates, stock photos (heck, Google Image search will often net you what you need) and royalty-free icons, it’s easy to make your message look good.
You wouldn’t wear a burlap sack and your Crocs to a business meeting would you? Help your presentation to look as professional as you do.
Pitching opens doors. Pitching is power! The life of your business is dangling on a string and every time you hear ‘no’ or ‘we’ll think about it’, that string frays a little more. We really hope these tips help you in your next pitch because, if you’re reading this, the chance is you’re trying to change the world, and you have an idea that’ll do just that.
The LaunchLab provides access to a unique community of campus-based entrepreneurs as well as an environment where start-ups can test new technologies and business models without corporate restrictions. We bi-annually run a programme called our Ideas Programme which extends across all universities in the Western Cape, tapping into student and non-student entrepreneurs as well as communities of innovative thinkers and creators.
For further insight on our ideas programme, have a look at the programmes that were previously run: www.launchlab.co.za/breakthroughinnovation
About the author: Gizelle joined the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab team in June 2016. She is responsible for the marketing of the LaunchLab and the LaunchLab companies within. Gizelle previously worked as an Account Executive for Hatch Communication, a PR and social media agency in Stellenbosch, where she managed various wine-industry related accounts.