By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer
It all looks so easy on the TV shows, doesnt it? The giant doors swing open and the pitch man or woman strides confidently toward a nicely staged set with products ready to demo and samples ready to serve. That, my friends, is called the magic of television.
In almost any other real-world pitch situation, there are no set decorators or retakes. Preparation, then, is everything.
To help you get ready, we gathered insights from real investors. Use their advice to prepare for your moment in the spotlight.
Sufficient background information: Know your data and your potential investors.
- Key data. It seems obvious, but too many people arrive at a pitch without a solid enough understanding of business fundamentals and key data points. Know the data in your pitch inside-out and backwards, counsels Robbie Hardy, founder and chief confidence builder at The Invisible Brain Trust in Napa, CA. Get someone to play devils advocate before the pitch and dig deep into all those annoying questions. Bring your partners to provide a deeper knowledge of finance, manufacturing or technology to answer tough questions.
- Reconnaissance. Understanding what interests investors is key to connecting and engaging. Do your homework before you enter the room and take a seat at the table, counsels Hardy, herself a serial entrepreneur and seasoned investor. Do not pitch what you think they want to hear. Instead, pitch your passions and align those with their investment focus.
Printed matter: Create professional presentation graphics and other marketing materials.
- Business cards. Despite the digital revolution, business cards are still expected. Personalized business cards are crucial to meeting individuals and handing out prior to your presentation, says C'pher Gresham, director of entrepreneur initiatives for SEED SPOT, a Phoenix-based incubator supporting early-stage social entrepreneurs. They help everyone remember your name and associate you with your company. Order extras a couple of weeks before the presentation and immediately stash a few in your briefcase, computer bag, wallet anywhere, really so you always have a few within reach.
- One-page executive summary. Your pitch should be memorable, but make it easier for investors to remember the specifics of your business with a one-page (front-and-back is OK) summary. Entrepreneurs focus too much on product, laments Peter Adams, executive director of the Rockies Venture Club in Denver. When pitching investors, youre selling equity in the company, not the product. For some valuation methods, product falls a distant third in priority behind team and size of market. The executive summary isnt a sales sheet highlighting features and benefits of your company, though you can have some of those on hand; it focuses on key features of your business model. The Lean Canvas, which captures fundamental aspects of your business model in an easy-to-scan one-page grid, is a popular format.
Digital assets: Ensure access to web-based and mobile technology.
- Slide deck. Nothing tanks a pitch like technical difficulties, so be prepared to present without a web connection and without your deck (worst-case scenario). First, print a few hard copies of your presentation with presenter notes in case you cant access your deck, and to share with investors. Then create a fully functioning version of your pitch that you can run without an Internet connection. Store it in the cloud, on your own computer, on a thumb drive and on a tablet. That seems like overkill until something goes wrong and it will.
- Your calendar. Update your online calendar before every pitch, and consider printing a hard copy to bring with you, too. Investor pitch events almost never include investing at the event, Adams says. The goal of the pitch is to get the follow-up meeting. And you dont want any scheduling snafus when it comes to funding your business.
Intangibles: Look and act like a great investment.
- Attitude & appearance. You want to do business with people who are confident, who listen and who are interested in collaborating, and so do investors. Coming in with a cocky, know-it-all swagger may do more harm than good, especially if the fundamentals of your pitch are equal to others. Treat investors with the same respect you give to your peers, Hardy says. Your clothing also counts. Logod shirts are appropriate for some pitch competitions, while others require a more traditional business look. Ask the organizers before you plan your wardrobe.
- Resilience. Though you dont want to tempt fate by thinking about it, know what youll do to recover from a bad pitch. Gresham says no matter what happens, Walk it off. People probably loved you, and even if they didnt, there will be plenty of other opportunities to wow them. And everyone loves a good comeback story.
Proper preparation takes some of the stress out of pitching to investors and gives you the confidence to effectively sell yourself and your business idea.