The Pitching Checklist
That important pitch is coming up, are you all set?
Here's a checklist with all the factors worth considering, so that you can knock it out of the park.
Is our pitch interesting?
The three rules of public speaking: Be interesting, be interesting, be interesting.
As soon as you’re at the front of the room, you have to earn the audience’s attention. Attention is not a given, especially when everyone has a phone and a stack of emails to think about.
Why would you want to present a dull pitch to a room of glazed-over eyes?
Have we practised and timed ourselves?
If you have 10 minutes, plan for 8.
If you have 20 minutes, plan for 16.
It takes longer to say the lines out loud than it does in your read-through. By building in a buffer, you avoid getting flustered or being cut off.
Have a few timed run-throughs, and practice using fewer and fewer notes.
Do we know who is in the room?
Your pitch should change depending on your audience. The content might not change, but the emphasis and proportions should be tailored. If you have investors, focus on market validation and the financials. For customers, focus on the value proposition. For partners, focus on growth and mutual benefits.
By knowing who is in the room, you avoid putting your foot in it, or wasting an opportunity.
Do we have a clear, specific ask?
Why are you talking to these people?
What’s your desired outcome?
Investment? An order? A partnership? Advice? A grant?
Once you’re all clear as to what you’re looking for, make sure your final slide/point sets up the next conversation. End with a request/suggestion to your audience, giving them a prompt.
Have we thought about what questions will be asked?
You’re going to get questions, and that’s good.
No questions = the audience zoned out.
Start thinking about what the logical/common questions will be, and construct some responses.
You don’t want to be surprised by a basic question, and you’ll give a much better answer if you’ve thought about it before.
There are three types of questions:
1. Questions about the idea, because the audience didn’t understand the model. These might be your fault, especially if they keep coming up.
2. What-If questions about the future, competitors, opportunities and ideas. These are sometimes useful, and can spark new ideas or partnerships.
3. Statements from your audience poorly disguised as questions. The worst. Don’t be one of those people, clumsily weaving a brag into a question that shows how much you know. Try to brush these off.
You also may decide to bake the common questions into the rest of the pitch, and address them as part of your talk.
Do we clearly articulate our offer, our customer and our impact at the start?
Your audience want to understand what business you’re in, who you’re selling to, and what social problem you’re addressing. If they can’t work it out, they’ll either tune out or get frustrated.
Both are bad. Do your audience a favour and be hyper-clear up front, so that the audience’s attention can move to the rest of your pitch.
Do we look competent?
There isn’t a strict dress code for pitching (e.g. ties, jackets, skirts, heels).
There is one overall principle: Look the part.
Wear whatever you like, so long as it fits the context, and identifies you as being competent in your field. Financial services probably involves a collar, tech may not.
If you don’t own a good suit, do not wear a suit. If it’s boxy, ugly, and clearly not yours, it will look silly.
You also won’t be comfortable, and it will show.
Instead, wear pants or a skirt and a plain dress shirt that fits well, and start your pitch with something bold and confident, which puts your audience’s fears at ease.
Finally, watch out for shoes – the best indicator of someone’s comfort in formal clothes.
(Side note: get good shoes. Good means comfortable and elegant. This also means they’ll be expensive - worth every cent.)
Have we got a prototype, or at least photos?
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings – IDEO
Give your audience a visual – and a hi res one at that.
Show off your product or service, as well as the beneficiary. It paints a much clearer picture, and answers most of your audience’s questions.
Do we know our margins?
My word… the amount of presenters who don’t know how much margin they make on a sale is frightening.
You should know your numbers, even if they aren’t amazing. Be ready for the questions, so that you can answer quickly and accurately.
Have we researched our competitors?
One of the worst pitches I saw was at uni – the team spent a semester on their idea (an app that recommended recipes based on what was in your pantry).
This was VERY early in the days of apps. They presented (terribly) during their allocated time, then asked for questions.
“Have you heard of Big Oven?” said a girl in the front row
“Because they do everything you just described and more, plus their app is free”
Deathly silence. At no point in the semester did any of their team ask if the product already existed.
Make sure you know your competitors, and understand the differences between each of the players – your audience is likely to view you as all being the same.
Are our slides minimalistic, and predominantly images?
Guy Kawasaki has the 10-20-30 rule: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point font.
It’s a good structure.
Steve Jobs used predominantly images, plus 1-6 words that set the tone for what he was about to say.
Try and use the slides to back up your points, not to make your points.
Once again, use hi-res images, and ones that demonstrate your value proposition.
Do we have a clear, visual example of how we make money?
Your idea is probably confusing for your audience. They don’t understand where you fit in the value chain, who you buy from and who you sell to.
By using a value chain diagram, you quickly remove all doubts about how you fit in the industry, and who/what you are replacing.
The simpler the better.
Can we explain why we’ll succeed where others have failed?
This is a delicate balance.
If your idea sounds too hard, the audience will either lose focus or openly question your capability.
If your idea sounds too easy, the audience will assume that someone cleverer/more powerful will quickly overtake you.
Your aim is to simultaneously explain why your offer doesn’t already exist, your unfair advantage, and why a copycat couldn’t launch a better version of your business next week.
Have we got a great opener and a great closer?
Start strong and end strong, it’s the two parts that the audience will remember.
By crafting a powerful opener, you build momentum, credibility, and wake up your audience. By creating a definitive closer, you set the tone for the questions, and confirm your professionalism.
There’s not much worse that seeing a good presenter dwindle off with a “So, um, yeah?”
Are we prepared for a tech failure?
Assume the tech will break, and you won’t be devastated when it happens.
Build a pitch that isn’t 100% reliant on slides, so that you can deliver it in a room without a screen (like an office or an elevator).
If you’re using a video, for goodness sake do not stream it through YouTube. Download the damn thing in advance, and have it on at least one USB (plus VLC media player).
You are the presentation.
You are the interesting bit.
Design the pitch so that you’re not reliant on cables and screens, and treat them as a bonus.
Good luck out there, you'll be great!