Humans are innate storytellers. We use stories to relay understanding. Whether it’s a caffeinated conversation, a business networking event, dinner with friends, or on-stage in front of others, entrepreneurs must be able to translate the story of their business to anyone.

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Pitches are built to impress. Presentations are meant to share. One size does not fit all. Consider the environment, audience, and format to cater how your story is told. Preparation that includes thoughtful awareness will optimize engagement.

Startup founders and small business owners should be able to pitch in any situation, on the spot, and without props. There are many templates that highlight key areas to include within a pitch, but the overall objective is to deliver a lasting impact in the least amount of time. Honest enthusiasm, transparent vulnerability, and concise simplicity are great ways to accomplish this. To prepare for any audience, it’s wise to craft a few different versions of your story. Here’s a collection to consider:

1 sentence – Sharp conversation starter.
42 seconds – Ideal for concise intros in a group setting.
6 minutes – Time to deliver enough detail needed to support valuable Q&A.
10 minutes – Room for more details, but be careful not to numb the audience.
1 hour – A talk meant to deliver value, with details of your business included.

Slide Deck Design

When a slide deck is part of the equation, take full advantage of this opportunity. Building a slide deck establishes the cadence of your performance. Slide decks should create flow while supporting your verbal presentation with clear and impactful visuals. Slides should not include full sentences or too many bullet points for you to read aloud. Titles or short phrases may help guide the audience, but great slide decks use very few words. When it comes to slide deck design, keep transitions between each slide simple, but consider how content comes and goes on each slide. Subtle animations and thoughtful hints of movement will help you stand out without being too distracting.

With a remarkable slide deck in place, practice your presentation and sync it to the timing of each slide. Whether you use animated content or not, it’s best to have a single click to move between each slide. On stage, your attention should be on connecting with the audience, not the slide deck or the clicker.

If questions are allowed after your speak, consider including supportive back slides. Back slides are placed after the final slide. They are used to highlight material not included in the main presentation. Handy back slides include detailed pricing, competitive analysis, marketing strategies, research data, and intricate financial information. People who understand what they’re talking about can use fewer words, and back slides allow you to deliver a strategically simplified presentation. For the audience, this reduces the numbing effect of information overload. With back slides ready, you can indulge in clarifying conciseness. This makes for a more impactful tone. It can even be good to purposefully leave out a curious topic from the main presentation. When the inevitable question pops, you can use the sneaky back slide to share a more focused response. Memorize the order of your back slides and you’ll soon be leading a more authoritative exchange. In short, back slides prove you’re a pro.

To complete your slide deck preparation, export everything into one PDF and create a JPG file for each slide. The richest presentation will always come directly from the software (I prefer Keynote) a slide deck was built from. The PDF and JPG formats can be used as shareable marketing materials. More important, they are quick substitutes to counter any sort of last minute technical issues. Deliver the digital assets on time and organizing everything on a flash drive, just in case.

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Business pitch competitions and grant programs are a good way to financially supplement your business without diluting the equity structure. For example, when we were first building FliteBrite, we won a $10K pitch competition and earned a $25K grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Being prepared is obviously important when all eyes are on you. Memorize the order of your slides, but not what you plan to say. Memorizing a pitch word-for-word is safe for some, but a more genuine tone comes from the heart. We’ve all seen people lose their place in a memorized script or fumble through notecards. Avoid this embarrassment by practicing what you plan to say out loud. The mirror at home is a fine place to start, but nothing compares to a live audience. The sentiment of your pitch should remain consistent, but it won’t sound the same each time. As you tell your story, feedback from people you don’t know will sharpen the business and help you continuously evolve your transmission.


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