Seven Tips for Pitching your Startup

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By Praveen Loganathan, University of Michigan student and entrepreneur

Over the past two years, I’ve learned that a pitch can make or break a connection, so I use these 7 quick and easy steps to pitch my startup and myself.

I used this checklist to produce a winning pitch for the Center for Entrepreneurship’s The StartUp, a game changing (and fun!) mentorship-focused pitch competition. (Check out my pitch for The Startup here. It starts at the 8 minute mark). The more you pitch the easier it should be to cover each of these points for better results, every time.

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Set Goals

Creating goals can help create a vision for the speech. I like to  think about what I’m trying to accomplish. Who is my audience? And how will I define and measure success? If I am trying to win a pitch contest I may have different goals than if I were to pitch to a venture capitalist or Michigan alum.

Setting goals was first on my list when getting ready for the Center for Entrepreneurship’s competition, The Startup. My goal for the pitch was to persuade one of the four judges, and to be memorable for the 300 students who would be voting in the future stages. And I had to do all of this in under 60 seconds! Knowing this, I planned my pitch with buzzwords that were both accurate and would win over the judges and the audience. Some of these included, “revenue generating startup,” “multidisciplinary team,” and I also noted past competitions InFusion (my startup) won.

Be Solution Focused

Being solution focused can help entrepreneurs be concise in their presentations. Since entrepreneurs are passionate about solving the world’s largest problems, we focus more on the problem than the solution in the pitch. For example, if I have a 5 minute pitch I will spend about 25 percent of allotted time explaining the problem, while the rest of time I explain my company’s solution and scalability.

With only sixty seconds on the clock for The Startup, I did not have much time to talk about the problem. I only spent 10 seconds on the problem and then used the buzzwords to show how InFusion’s solution and revenue generating base demonstrated our accomplished work and ability to scale.

Engage the Audience

What’s your hook? Keeping the audience engaged is key.. I try to get their attention by connecting with them emotionally, economically, or comically. Making the crowd laugh, cry, or ponder what you say can make your pitch more attractive and it can make you feel more comfortable on stage.

For my pitch at The Startup, I started off with a hook to catch the audience’s attention. I wanted to connect emotionally and talk about saving the planet. So I asked the question, “What if the difference between my home and your home is the difference between saving the planet and destroying it?” It was bold. And it sure got their attention!

Be Authentic

This all about the age old advice that never fails. I’ve found my most successful pitches happen when I just be myself. Tell the story the way it happened and make sure to have some fun. For me, I like to be energetic on stage. I get loud and excited. Although my high energy presenting style seems ideal, it is not the best way to present for every person. My presentation style represents my character: full of energy and not afraid to make a fool of myself. But for others screaming on stage does not represent who they are. Being Authentic is all about finding out who you are and not being afraid to show your true colors on stage. It’s ok to fake it until you make it, but just make sure not to embellish who you are or what you are doing.

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I tried to have fun on stage with my team members during The Startup. We used different vocal inflection and just had a good time.

Be Quick on Your Feet

A good pitch peaks the interest of the audience and results in follow up questions or comments. An uninterested audience member may end the conversation with “that’s nice” or “good luck.” This is usually a good sign to move on to the next audience. However, in most cases a successful pitch leads to follow up questions where the audience will investigate further into your business. Being quick on your feet is all about answering questions, even those that seem like curve ball. Having concrete facts or numbers on hand can be in your favor when persuading the audience on Q&A. Most VCs and contest judges tend to ask the same questions, so the more you put yourself out there, the more experience you will have in answering entrepreneurial questions.

Being quick on your feet also applies to improv on stage. Something U-M students at the School of Music, Theatre and Dance can probably do in their sleep! Problems can always arise before and during a pitch. Whether they are technical difficulties or a personal error it is import to be calm and find ways to finish strong.

Have you ever tried to ‘power pose’ before a speech?This little trick can help you gain the confidence to be calm and alert for your pitch.  Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk here.

After my pitch at The Startup, I had to prepare to answer questions from the judges and decide which judge to pick. My hardest decision to make was deciding between which judge to choose. I also ran into an issue delivering my speech when I noticed I still had 30 seconds on the clock! So I improvised and started listing out the majors of my team members to add emphasis on the multidisciplinary strength of my team.

Follow Up with Your Audience

The Follow Up is key! Make sure you take the time to thank the audience at the end of the pitch. In large auditoriums sharing social media  and contact information allows the audience to connect in the future. When it comes to pitching your startup in a 1:1 scenario, thank them and connect via email. By connecting, people are more likely to remember your story and recommend resources to you for the future.

Right after the presentation I thanked the audience and posted on InFusion’s twitter and Facebook account about our success in The Startup. This was beneficial for the future because it connected us to the students in the crowd and it led to an University of Michigan alumni finding us through Twitter.

Reflect and Grow

No pitch is ever perfect, so there is always room to grow. After taking some time to celebrate success (remember public speaking can be scary, so getting up on stage is something to celebrate even if it doesn’t lead to an award!) it is important to reflect. If possible, watch videos of your pitch and learn from audience feedback. Some important things to look at are rate, tone, stage presence, persuasiveness, and clarity of message.

After The Startup pitch, I took some time to gain audience feedback from the CFE team. Tom Frank, Matt Gibson, and Sarah Bachleda gave me great advice that supported and challenged my growth. I also used the recorded video to create my own notes of personal improvement for the next pitch.

At the end of the day, public speaking can be scary. But I realized early on in my pitching career that the hardest critic tends to be me. So it is important to not let one little setback hold you from making the next great pitch.

Practice makes perfect! I hope these 7 steps help you and please leave a comment below to share success stories or any other points that have worked for you.

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship.

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