Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner. There are a lot of uncertainties in the startup game. But one thing is for sure: When it comes to presenting your product to potential investors, customers and partners, you're always on stage.
We first unveiled our platform at USC Annenberg's pioneering Program for Online Communities in the fall of 2009. Nearly three years -- and probably a hundred presentations later -- we're still showing off our wares.
Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I had any tips for startups regarding making a memorable -- strike that -- making a killer presentation.
A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I'd share some key takeaways with you here:
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Every startup starts with a vision. You need to sell that vision. But before you even think about climbing on stage, you need to remember who you're talking to is just as important as what you're talking about. In other words, you need to know your audience.
If you're talking to investors, for example, talk about the investment. How big is the market? What percentage do you plan to capture? How long will it take to become profitable? How much money will it take to get there? How do you plan to spend that money? And perhaps the most anticipated question of all for any investor: "When will I get my money back?"
Market assessment, product placement and ROI -- that's what's on the mind of any Angel or VC during an investor pitch. Make sure you speak to those issues.
If it's a demo, show the product; don't talk about it. The focus of a product demonstration is different from an investor pitch. And so is the audience. A good way to structure a demo of your product is to address these three questions: 1) What's the market like now; 2) What does your product do (this is where you show the product if you have a prototype); and 3) How will the market/consumer behavior change (presumably for the better) when your product goes live?
Let's face it-- product demos are much sexier than investor pitches. They're also better attended. Investors, potential business partners, future employees, unsuspecting customers, the press -- all are typically in attendance. Which brings us to point two...
SPEAK IN BITE-SIZE CHUNKS
The easier it is for your presentation to be digested by your audience, the better. So you need to condense your message to as few words as possible. And if you plan to use slides, put those words -- and only those words -- on your slides.
People tend to read the slides, not listen to you anyway. So why not give them a "tweetable" moment, and get the focus back on you. How, you ask? Limit the text on your slides to 140 characters. That's right, actually write the tweet on the slide.
Think about it. You've just killed two birds with one stone. You've given the people in the room your pitch in a way they can remember it, and you've gotten them to push it out across the social web for you.
TELL A STORY THROUGH A NARRATIVE
I've talked about this in a previous post entitled "Lessons for Digital Entrepreneurs from the Entertainment Industry," but it's worth repeating. When you're presenting, all you are really doing is telling a story. And stories are composed of three parts: a beginning, a middle and an end.
The beginning is the setup. This is where you talk about the marketplace pain and how your product plans to assuage it.
The middle is the solution. This is where you actually show off your product in a demo. But be careful. Many presenters tend to get sidetracked here talking about the nuances of the product. Your audience is more interested in what problem your product is going to solve, not the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of how it works.
The end is your salvo. This is your final parting shot, your big finish. This is where you want to talk about the upcoming launch, make the financial "ask," wow your audience with your long-term vision.
Of course, every good story needs a villain. And if you have one -- maybe it's a competitor, a really big problem in the marketplace that has yet to be addressed, a previously insurmountable technical obstacle you've overcome -- my advice is to play it up. Don't skirt the big obstacles before you.
You're David; they're Goliath. So tell your audience how you're going to slay the giant. Whether it's a special tool set you've created, or a unique knowledge of the market that gives you an unfair advantage, you are the one who will solve this problem and save the day. Because at the end of the day, you are the hero of your story.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Don't fall into the trap that just because you know more than anyone else in the room about your business that you can wing it when you get up there. That's a recipe for disaster.
Even the most gifted actors have to know their lines. It's out of that constraint that confidence and comfort emerge. It's what makes their performance seem so natural and effortless. Knowing your "lines" can make you come off the same way. But the only way that's going to happen is if you practice.
DON'T RELY ON TECHNOLOGY
It will fail.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Don't worry, I'm not going to leave you with a hanging dongle (sorry, PC aficionados -- that's a Mac joke). Giving a killer presentation is within your grasp.
Just remember these five things and you'll knock 'em dead every time: 1) Know your audience; 2) have a compelling story; 3) tell that story succinctly; 4) tell it with the confidence that comes from practice; and 5) don't rely on bells and whistles.
Because in the end, you are the presentation, not what's on the screen behind you.
This article is the fifth of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by Docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.