The do's and don'ts of perfecting your pitch
Khalid is the Founder and CEO of AlGooru, a tutoring network marketplace that matches students with qualified tutors on a mobile app.
Driven by his passion for tutoring, he founded AlGooru in 2017 right after graduating from university, and has been relentlessly working on creating new opportunities for the youths between Saudi and Lebanon, as well as empowering entrepreneurship within emerging ecosystems ever since.
Early-stage entrepreneurship is far from being a piece of cake, rather an ocean of overwhelming feelings where the entrepreneur is obliged to impersonate a multitasking eight-legged octopus; a metaphor far more concrete than the dreamy unicorn.
With the multitude of tasks and never-ending responsibilities, founders find themselves too overcrowded to allocate time to small yet necessary and impactful duties. Practicing our elevator pitch by heart, or preparing an appealing presentation for what we do might seem secondary, when it should actually be primary.
I recently realized that I’ve done a horrible job doing the aforementioned, and only came to apprehend this fact a few weeks before pitching our startup in front of 40 of the most notable investors from our ecosystem in an accelerator competition.
The moment I realized my focus was off, was when an entrepreneur colleague of mine unexpectedly asked me to give him a quick pitch on our way to the co-working space. I mumbled! Something I am not in the habit of doing. I rewrote my pitch script more than 20 times after that incident, and edited the presentation at least 30 times, trying to perfect how I will present my startup. Overnights became my inevitable companions.
This required patience, and a handful of it. Iterating the script and slides endless times was mind-draining, time-consuming but necessary and inescapable.
Perfecting your pitch
I’m not here to share the basics, like following the general outline of a deck presentation (problem, solution, product, etc.), or timing yourself. Rather, I prefer shedding the light on what you really should and shouldn’t do when practicing your pitch before presenting it. Your startup won’t ever be evaluated on just how appealing your presentation looks, but on the valuable information you’re sharing and on how you’re delivering it.
An article published by TIME Magazine in 2015 quoted research from Microsoft implying that humans now have an attention span of just 8 seconds – which is allegedly less than that of a goldfish. So, this brings one to ask, “How on earth will I share a compelling story and grab my audience’s attention in a matter of seconds?”
Hopefully, these tips will help you crack that question; they worked for me!
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Pitch deck do's:
1. Use a minimalistic design – Don’t overcrowd your presentation with useless content. Follow what I like to call “Azzouny’s 3-Facts Rule” – as in, don’t put more than 3 elements on your slide, and make sure it's 1) complementary to what you’re saying (I will specify that the market is huge, and I will let the market slide tell you the size in $), and 2) it visualizes what you’re saying (as in I will add a chart to show you how big it is).
2. Use illustrations – Don’t design ones yourself. Google has plenty. Search for relevant illustrations, and if you have a good graphic designer, ask them to recolor them to make them match your brand identity.
3. Use big numbers – Investors want to see how fruitful this opportunity is for them. This is attainable when you display captivating numbers related to market facts, market size, traction, growth, and opportunity costs.
4. Practice, practice, and practice again – If you’re relying on magically improvising or presenting what you know, then grit your teeth for an expected flunk. I’ve shared a few practice suggestions below, you can use them to practice your pitch.
5. Finish earlier – Practice completing your pitch in 75% of your given time (i.e. you’re given 3 minutes, practice finishing in 2:30). Leave 25% as a margin for unforeseen glitches (yes, they do happen).
6. Pitch with confidence! – I genuinely believe this is the most important piece of advice in this article. You own the product, the market know-hows, and the vision, make sure your audience knows and feels this. Don’t overact it. Be you. But be you with a tone that makes me want to yell “TAKE MY MONEY!” even before you pitch is over – FACT: 90% of people believe that a strong narrative in a presentation is critical for engagement.
Pitch exercise tips:
• Shuffle mode – Divide your pitch script into 4 sections (1-2-3-4), have someone throw random sequences (give me 4213), and pitch in the requested order.
• Reverse mode – Recite your script following a bottom-up approach. Start with the last paragraph and move up to close it with the first paragraph.
• Distraction mode – Have a friend or two distract the hell out of you. My ‘distraction friends’ started a stand-up show when I was exercising.
• Presentationless mode – Recite your script without referring, or viewing the slides to learn the flow of your script by heart.
• Fastened mode – Rehearse your script at a 2x speed. You have 3 minutes? Finish it in 1.5 minutes. This will be fun, kind of breathless, but still fun…
Demo pitch tips:
• With your mirror – This is the classic. Stand in front of a mirror, look at yourself, and present.
• With founder friends – Don’t do it before mastering the pitch. They will share very valuable feedback.
• With your team – You definitely want them to tell you how well you’re presenting the startup.
• With a pioneer from the ecosystem – You don’t need to know them personally. Reach out on LinkedIn. They’re friendly and supportive. Plus, you’ll be telling them more about your startup (exposure).
• With your family – Because why wouldn’t you pitch in front of your first support system?
Pitch deck don’ts:
1. Don’t waste time looking up the judges – Instead, focus on giving them a pitch that stands out, a pitch that would work no matter the audience.
2. Don’t exhaust yourself with iterations – Bear with the continuous feedbacks from the audience you’re rehearsing your pitch with, but don’t take everything by heart. ‘Make feedback normal, not a performance review’, as quoted by Ed Batista.
3. Don’t oversell – Judges don’t need to know about your tagline, or about your 5-year plan, especially if you’re only given 3 minutes to pitch. Give them your startup’s crux. Stick to short and straight-to-the-point jargonless sentences.
4. Don’t neglect tonality – Your audience needs to feel 3 tones when you’re presenting: 1) persuasiveness, 2) optimism and 3) assertiveness.
Remember, you’re sharing your startup’s story, make it worth listening to!
If you're a founder looking to practice your pitch presentations, I'd be happy to give feedback on your decks correspondingly, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re as confused now as I was when I started revising my slides.
Don’t forget, your story matters to you, and you can make it matter to others.
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