Successful Entrepreneurs Find the Soul of the Pitch

You can have all the stats and charts you want, but if you fail to connect on a human level, your pitch will fall flat.

Let’s talk about pitching. Usually pep talks about pitching start with advice about how to build a killer deck or how to blast out an elevator pitch in less than a minute. Let’s throw all of that advice out the window, at least for a moment. Later, I promise that we will go outside together and retrieve some of the good stuff.

Those experienced at pitching will tell you that spouting revenue numbers and market stats will open an angel’s door, but listeners truly listen and take ownership in an idea when you go behind the numbers. You need to make a human connection for your pitch to succeed.

Get Yourself a Story

People love stories. We are all creatures of narrative. We use stories to make connection. That’s why the best pitches begin with the personal. They don’t “sound like pitches” at all. They sound like stories. As an angel, you’re going to sync in faster when hearing a story about kids if the product involves kids or about health if the founder is pitching a medical app.

When pitching, we call stories use cases. Use cases—the success stories of how an app or product is used—form a summary in the listener’s mind and stick there, if they are well told.

If you do not include a narrative in your pitch, listeners will struggle to build one anyway. The narrative impulse is unstoppable. One simple and effective way to tell and sell a pitch is to offer a story tuned to the life experience of the angel you are pitching.

Let’s say you are a founder pitching an education startup. Do you know if your angel has kids in school? Speak to that. If you’re pitching a medical technology startup, perhaps one of your listeners has personally worked through a pain point that relates to your pitch in a very specific way. Does their narrative include an illness, a close call, even a brush with death? You don’t always have to be literal, but put the idea in your pitch narrative.

You can see just how much research matters: You’ll want to know as much about your angel as you can, so that you can make your pitch as specific as you can.

Consider these questions and the best times to ask them:

· When did you do your last deal?

· Who do you ask to find out about investment opportunities?

· What sectors/verticals do you like to invest in?

Experienced angels know that if the founder is asking those questions at the first meeting, they are asking them too late. The prepared founder walks into the room with those questions already answered. Those bullet points inform your pitch points.

Taking time to investigate an angel’s profiles on AngelList and Crunchbase[1] is worth it. Listen to their podcasts, check out panels they’ve participated in or courses they’ve taught. It seems obvious to say that if they posted something on Twitter, you might mention it when you meet. Twitter is a good resource for top-of-mind positions and up-to-the-moment thoughts. If they wrote a “lessons learned” blog recently, you might show how you have absorbed that lesson yourself.

Final decisions to invest always turn on data points. But an angel’s initial commitment to a founder or venture springs from an emotional engine—a sense that the founder is trustworthy, a real person, and able to deliver on promises made during the pitch. It’s easy to fall back on data and become a numbers machine, but that will rarely win the day. A founder may present their most impressive, world-changing numbers in the pitch but should save the details for a slide deck, PDF, or leave behind. As Oren Klaff points out in his book Pitch Anything, when you get your audience into an analytical frame of mind, you will often lose the deal. It takes them off message and gets them focused on externals, not on connection.

Pitch Deck Analysis: Tell a Story Using Visuals

Don’t let your pitch deck destroy the emotional experience of your pitch. A successful pitch is deeply rooted in storytelling, and so is your pitch deck. According to Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, a venture capitalist who has heard a lot of pitches, you need to hook your audience with a story. That is Khosla’s best piece of advice, echoed by many others. Founders focus on the battle cry “We need to communicate data!” They obsess about being a “fact-based business.” But it is a big vision that sells investors. Even if you already have a big vision, you have to go bigger. Certainly, you want to communicate your metrics, but let your story line rule. Even better, research your audience and tell a story that connects with something personal in the mind of the person or group you are pitching.

That is the big picture. Now down to the details. Experts like Khosla say the ideal in-person pitch deck has from thirty to sixty slides. If you can cover your presentation points with twenty to twenty-five slides, even better. The key to keeping your slide count down and your story glued to the essentials is simple. Don’t be tempted to tell the whole story of your startup in one pitch. Just tell three to five strong points.

· State the problem you’re solving right away.

· Address your mission.

· Address reasons to invest.

· Be honest about risks.

· Address fear.

· Talk about your team.

· Have backup slides to address questions.

You must address fear. Every investor will be running an internal dialogue loop around these words: “What are the reasons I should not invest?” Your job in the pitch is to address the reasons they might not, and reassure them that you will minimize risk. Part of this is being honest about the risks involved.

Look past superlatives. I’ve mentioned often in this playbook how most startups do not have real metrics or market data, and the worst thing you can do is try to fake either of them. This applies to your pitch deck as well. We all need to tell a deeper story than “We are the best” or “We are the first,” although these ideas will often get you into the room to pitch. Closing means showing real financials and reasonable projections about uptake and user adoption as well as realistic market and competitor analysis.

What is most powerful is showing that you have built an audience and have fans. “We are growing fast” is music to any investor’s ears, but it has to be true and you must prove it. If it is proven wrong in the pitch, or you can’t substantiate it, you will lose the deal instantly.

Represent your team in your deck because they are uniquely qualified to build the company. Ideas are easy, but execution is hard, and proving you have the right team will be a way forward for investors to participate in your vision.

Including a few backup slides to address questions just makes sense, doesn’t it?

As far as design is concerned, be a minimalist. Remember that your viewer will try to take in each slide’s message in five seconds. Yes, just five seconds. Make it easy for them to do that. Try for ten words per slide. Get a sense of how your eye moves around the slide. Do you know where to look? Can you easily grasp the information you want to get across? Will you allow the viewer’s eye to wander? Keep each slide focused, and build your narrative from slide to slide. That’s the key to a winning pitch deck. Master these steps and you are well on your way to finding the soul of your pitch.

This post is adapted from The Angel Playbook: An Essential Guide for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors. Download a free sample on Amazon.

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