Pitch tips for (female) entrepreneurs

Our October Entrepreneur Academe session was all about pitching. Each one of our entrepreneurs practiced the pitch that they’ll be presenting at our final event next month. We were, to be blunt, blown away by how far everyone’s come since they first presented to us in April.

During the session, a carefully selected group of mentors with investment, pitching and public speaking experience gave individual feedback to our entrepreneurs. But some broad themes and observations emerged that we thought we’d share more widely. So, with the clock ticking, take a deep breath and…

1. Now is not the time to apologise or to be self-deprecating. Seriously, this is an almost ubiquitous tendency among female presenters and is really not helpful. Self-deprecation might be charming in an Oscars acceptance speech (and even then it’s borderline), but it has no place in a pitch. Now’s the time to be big, bold and assertive.

2. Practice, practice, practice. Out loud and over and over again and in front of someone you trust to give honest feedback. For those of us lacking lacking thespian tendencies, this can be really awkward, but simply going through your presentation in your head isn’t enough. And when your presentation is time-restricted, understanding its length is vital. We’re limiting pitches at our event to a strict 5 minutes, but we’ve all been to events where people are given 2 minutes, 3 minutes or 10 minutes, so it’s important to be able to stick to time so you don’t get cut off mid-flow. But more than that: repeatedly practicing your presentation will give you chance to hone it – and to own it.

3. Have an over-arching narrative. This has become a cliché, but for good reason. Whether you like it or not, you’re telling a story, not expounding a concept. A simple, clearly articulated narrative will bring your audience in. In particular, clearly talk through the the business problem you’re addressing and why it’s big problem, your solution and why your solution is the solution and convince us that you have the team to deliver it. You don’t have time to go into all the details, and many of them are best dealt with in a follow-up conversation or meeting anyway.

4. Breathe…and smile. There are many reasons why inexperienced presenters tend to rush, from nerves to not really owning the presentation (see above). But you need to take your time and give both yourself and your presentation time to breathe. Remember, too, that nothing is as powerful as a … pause … Use it to your advantage. A pause might feel like hours to you on stage, but in truth it’ll just give your audience time to catch up. And while you’re pausing, smile.

5. Think about your audience. Who are they? What do they need to know? What will make them want to know more about my business? How can I tell my story in the clearest and most engaging way possible? All these questions are vital as they make you step into the shoes of your audience – something that’s not only best practice for presenting but is a powerful tool in developing your business too.

6. Five minutes is plenty, it really is. It might seem like your business is so complex, groundbreaking and truly unique that you can’t possibly talk it though in such a short period of time. But get this: no-one wants you to! Your audience wants a snapshot of your business and its potential, but most of all they want to get a sense of you. If they need to know more, they’ll follow up. Which leads us on to…

7. Less is more. This is a general principle, but is particularly true of your slide deck. Your slides shouldn’t distract attention from you or be your script – they should be an accompaniment. For a 5 minute presentation, consider a maximum of 5 slides and don’t fill each one with lots of small text which people may not be able to read from the back of the room. if you need to use a slide deck as a “takeaway”, then it should be a different document.

8. Humour: tread carefully. A tricky one this. Some people are naturally very funny; if you’re one of these lucky few then go for your life, although never let your gags undermine your seriousness. For the rest of us, the precautionary principle should apply: unless you’re absolutely confident you can “land” a gag, leave well alone. Remember: a “tumbleweed moment” can kill a good pitch stone dead.

9. Use props. If you’re a business with physical products, devices, or whatnot – bring them along. Props can seriously engage an audience that might otherwise be spending two hours staring at Powerpoint decks, so use them to your advantage.

10. Ask yourself: what are you trying to achieve? It may be that you’re looking for investment, but equally, you may be looking to recruit smart collaborators and team members, customers and partners, or simply gauging public readiness for your work. It could be a combination of these and more, but check that your slides address your objectives.