Ever stand up on a stage and pitch your product or service?
It’s not easy.
I admire people who do it, especially those who either don’t enjoy it or who actively fear it, yet do it anyway.
The other day I saw a few folks like that – plus a couple of more seasoned pros – pitch their products from a stage as part of a startup pitch event.
I went because I spend A LOT of time studying online sales and written messaging, but don’t get to see it done in person too much.
So I decided to put that right.
Plus I’m interested in how small businesses grow, and how entrepreneurs and founders turn their ideas into reality – and you can learn a helluva lot about selling online from watching people talk about their stuff offline.
So I’m signing up for more of these pitch nights. I work in a large, startup-focused co-work space so there are plenty of these things happening.
But boy oh boy did I see some mistakes made that night.
And I don’t want you making ’em…
So here’s 5 absolute no-no’s I witnessed at a recent pitch night that will help you sell unique in your pitches and presentations:
1 – Don’t expect attention. Earn it.
At the event I attended, there were half a dozen startup founders speaking for 15 minutes each.
After the first couple, you could sense attention spans wavering. A lot of phones found their way out of a lot of pockets…
(I actually thought that was kinda rude, especially at an event where everyone’s in the same boat – but as a barometer of how the room feels about your message, it’s a pretty useful, if brutal, indicator.)
So it’s important to get people to listen up right from the first moment. And if they’ve already heard a lot of polite summary intros, yours is just gonna blend in.
The best intro I heard all night was this:
“I’m going to tell you a story…”
You could literally see heads lifting up from the phone-scrolling position.
When people catch on that others are catching on, attention actually snowballs (it’s the same the other way around too!)
Stories are Sales Copy 101, sure – but it was surprising how few people opened with an intriguing statement designed to draw the listener in.
The founder who used that line probably got more attention on the rest of their talk than anyone else all night.
2 – Never forget ‘WIIFM?’
Don’t assume your audience knows as much about your product or market as you do. Or cares as much.
My event was a 5G tech meetup, so a lot of people were switched-on to the language used, and interested in how other businesses were using 5G…
But not everyone was able to join the dots between what a product did and what that actually meant for users – let alone what each feature, widget and doodah was for.
The most successful talks I saw both used simple connecting statements to bring home the all-important ‘WIIFM?’ factor:
“What’s in it for me?”
They did it by repeatedly using “That means…” or “So you get…” and even “Here’s what we’re not” to explain key points.
Simple and effective.
When they wanted to explain something in more detail, they gave specific use cases too, which helped the audience visualise some of the concepts.
When you do this in a pitch, you’re not ‘dumbing-down’ – you’re giving your message more relevance so it’s better understood.
3 – Don’t talk like somebody you’re not
Just because you’re up on stage doesn’t mean you have to stop talking like YOU.
You’re still a person talking to other people – not a business.
Sometimes it’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers when a normal, conversational communicator steps onto a platform.
Suddenly there’s this ‘Presentation Guy’ in charge, or ‘PowerPoint Lady’ takes over…
Words get longer, more formal and less connection happens.
The most easy-to-follow pitch came from a founder who frequently said “Right?” after important points, keeping his audience’s attention by involving them just a little more.
He also used a few cultural references – one feature was “like the Holodeck from Star Trek”, pretty appropriate for a room full of tech startups (know your audience!) – creating shortcuts to understanding that helped people digest new information.
Remember, your goal is to communicate the unique value of your product or service clearly and effectively…
…NOT to impress your high school English teacher or anyone else who advocates formality over conversational clarity.
4 – Don’t try to tell the whole story
It’s tempting to cram as much information into a presentation as possible, believing that if you batter your audience with as many AWESOME FEATURES as possible, they won’t be able to resist.
Steady on there Tolstoy!
Trying to explain too many features actually weakens your connection.
Your listener’s brain needs something clear to hold onto…
So when you skip over your core message in favour of a whole spider’s web of features, clauses, subplots and other distractions, they’ll get distracted and eventually give up.
A couple of presentations I saw even used overcomplicated slides that were practically unreadable, and there was no way someone more than 6 feet away would see anything other than a mishmash of random features.
5 – Don’t forget to check your references (and your tech!)
It’s ok to re-use content across different pitches.
Chances are, this won’t be your last pitch. You may have to do this 100 times. If you re-use content, you’ll get better at it.
While you’re keeping it consistent, the world is changing around you.
So make sure your references and info are up to date, and relevant to your audience today.
At my event, probably the best speaker all night ended up raising some unintentional laughs when he pointed to a slide with a picture of him and his co-founder receiving an endorsement from UK Prime Minister Theresa May…
…on literally one of the most catastrophic Brexit news days of the year.
(May had just had her Prime Ministerial butt kicked all over Europe by world leaders who’d rejected her deal, and the press was particularly savage that day.)
To a roomful of European startups, poor old Tezza May was something of a bogeywoman. And the guy on stage could have saved face just by ripping that slide out of there before Queen Brexit stunk up his cred.
That goes for checking your tech, too…
One founder lost all the flow and attention he’d worked so hard to build up, because he tried to open a link to show a demo video for his product, and all hell broke loose.
The moderator had to hop on stage to help figure out the browser restrictions, and even then the sound didn’t work and the screen size was off.
You could literally feel the awks in the room, as people brought their phones out again and looked anywhere but at the stage.
To sum up:
Your goal is to get ONE important point across as effectively as you can.
Don’t over-reach or clutter your pitch.
Of the half-dozen talks I saw, the ones that made an impression all tried to communicate ONE key message.
Either about how the technology they used was already becoming ‘the norm’ – and it was time to get on board an already-moving train…
Or how one super-specific use case was about to be revolutionised by their product…
With all the supporting points backing up that main claim, rather than distracting from it.
It’s good to be ambitious, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your core message.
Your goal isn’t to show how wide-ranging your product or service is – that’s ok, but it should come later, for those who want to dig deeper…
It’s to communicate your most unique value effectively.
When that point is strong enough, you can use it as a thread throughout ALL your messaging, to start Selling Unique offline or online.
If you need help with that, I’m over here.
Ok, what have you learned from pitching your products or services?
Hit me up in the comments below, I’d love to get your take on this.