Entrepreneurship: The Art of Pitching

Entrepreneurship: The Art of Pitching

This article first appeared in the print edition of Life in Québec Magazine.

You can read the magazine in full here:

Life in Québec Magazine – March to June 2013

By Cynthia A. Sheehan

An important part of launching your business is being able to convince others to join you in your adventure. No one can make it on their own. You’ll need partners, financing, help with accounting and maybe your website. People will be much more willing to help if you are able to convey your project clearly and convincingly. Presentations skills are very important for any entrepreneur. It will often make the difference between starting your business or just dreaming about it. These are my top 10 do’s and don’ts for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone who needs to convince someone that a certain idea has merit.

1. Know your audience

Presentations are like marketing strategies, they need to be adapted to their target audience. When preparing for a presentation, you should always think of whom you are addressing and adapt your message to their particular interests and concerns. What are these people like? What are their interests? What keeps them up at night? Trying to convince your banker to approve a loan will require quite a different approach than getting Uncle John to become your financial partner.

2. Know your “pain”

When trying to convince someone of doing something it is always better to focus on what is in it for them. It is true when trying to convince a client to buy your product, an employer to give you a promotion, an investor to buy shares in your company. This is what we call the “pain”. It is the particular itch that will lead people to hand over their hard earned money for a payoff. It is not always about money. Anyway, if you are promising a 150% return, your venture is most probably very risky.  Sometimes it is about helping others or the community, offering a service that will improve daily life, giving bragging rights, or establishing a reputation. If you are able to convince someone that you can meet their needs, they will gladly give you money, time or support for it.

3. Tell your audience what you want from them

I am always surprised to sit through conferences where the presenter lists facts and numbers and explains various notions without ever saying what they want us to do with this information. Be clear about what you expect from your audience. Do you want money? Support? Contacts? Information? Try to be precise. You are looking for $10,000, not just “money”. You need a 5,000 sq ft loft, not just “a place to run your business”. The more precise your demand, the more likely you are of getting a positive response. It is the first thing they tell us when raising money for charity: “Don’t ask for a donation, ask for $50 that will be used to buy 25 life-saving vaccines.”

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4. Always have a 2-minute pitch ready

Opportunity may knock at the most inopportune moment. Defining moments don’t always happen in the conference room. Chance encounters at the local coffee house, a business cocktail, or on the sidelines of junior’s soccer game will offer you very few minutes to make an impression. You need to be able to summarise your project quickly and clearly. This is harder than it looks. Your pitch must include what your business will do/produce, how it is different from what already exists, and why you are the person to lead this project. Always end with an invitation to a second meeting were you will be able to better explain how this project is of interest to them.

5. Don’t think you are the smartest person in the room

Entrepreneurs are known to be overly confident. They need to be to survive the many obstacles they face. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to cockiness. Inventors especially tend to think that they are actually doing investors a favour by allowing them to get in on their magnificent project. Remember that if you are pitching your project to someone, it is because you need their help. Accepting that you are not the smartest person in the room reminds you that others may have something of importance to contribute.

6. Don’t ask bankers to take risks for you

Remember what I said about pain? Well risk is one of the banker’s pains. That’s why we pay interest. If you want your banker to collaborate with you, show him that you have minimized the risk and that you will be shouldering most of what is left. Bankers are not lending their own money; they are lending money that has been deposited by their clients (that’s you and me). If you want risk-takers, you will need to turn to private investors, but be ready to pay higher interest rates or to hand over part of your shares in the company.

7. Don’t drown your visual support in text

I could write a whole article just about this item. If you have been given 30 minutes to an hour to present your project officially, you will most probably use a PowerPoint presentation. The problem is that people often use PowerPoint slides as cue-cards or as information documents. They are neither. Visual support is meant to be just that: a visual support to your presentation. It should contain only a few words and some eye-catching pictures. If you need to remember the things you need to say, make yourself cue-cards. If you need to give your audience detailed information, print it on a paper document. I always recommend a one-page summary of the project with financial predictions and key facts from the marketing study.

8. Choose your investors wisely

Investment partnerships are like marriages, you need to choose your partner wisely. Don’t say yes to just anyone willing to give you money. A true financial partner will bring more than money to the table. He will bring expertise and a list of valuable contacts as well. Make sure to investigate your potential partner before accepting. Ask former partners what this person is like.

9. Know how to wrap it up

Don’t leave your audience hanging. Most people will remember one or two things from a presentation. Make sure you are the one to tell them what these two things are. Your conclusion is your last chance to make an impression. If you think you will run out of time, skip to the conclusion, but never skip the conclusion!

10. Be clear, concise, and convincing

My colleague Simon Chartier always says that good business presentations follow three simple rules: clear, concise and convincing. What more is there to say?

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About Author

Cynthia A. Sheehan

Cynthia A. Sheehan grew up in a bilingual family in Quebec City. She teaches entrepreneurship and management at FSA Laval and is working on many projects including a book on entrepreneurship and the organisation of the TEDxQuébec. You can follow Cynthia on Twitter @SheehanCyn.

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