Pitch types: from 1 to 30 minutes, what changes?

We define pitch as a single presentation structure… but in reality, you will need to prepare different presentations, depending on the type of pitch you’re giving. To make matter worse, a 7-minute pitch is not just a summary of a 30-minute one. It’s a totally different “beast”.

In summary, you will need to prepare the following types of pitch:

1) Elevator pitch (1′):

That’s where it all started; writers in Hollywood wanted to sell their scripts to producers/ studios and would take any opportunity to sell their ideas, including riding along with people in charge in the elevators. All they had was until reaching the destination’s floor, which took from 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Simply put, a 1′ minute pitch is what you say when people ask what you do; the pitch must be simple and clear enough so even your relatives understand. 

You will be using this type of pitch a lot in networking/ social events and, as such, don’t be pushy; don’t try to sell something or get that so desired funding. Instead, your focus must be on explaining what you do and trigger curiosity around it. Your goal here is to get a follow up question or an invitation to grab a coffee with him/ her; only that.

2) Competition pitch (7′ + 2′):

Startup competitions usually work with 6′-7′ pitches. When you’re presenting to a large audience, dynamics is different. You need to focus on the problem and how you solve it, business model and your team. On this post I go through the topics that you should cover in a pitch.

Competition pitches usually happen on a large stage, so your slides should be clean, with large elements, and one information per page. Make sure that someone sitting on the last row should be able to (comfortably) read the content. In a later post I’ll explore slide structures and give other tips.

Time management is also crucial. When time is up organizers will cut your mic. A (much) shorter presentation will give the idea that you don’t have much to say; you should have problems summarizing everything rather than filling in time. Some tips on time management:

  1. Record yourself on video to an exhaustion, until you find the proper content and pace of the presentation. Also, you should be wary of your issues when speaking in public; some people will talk faster, others slower. Knowing what type you are will help you to better manage your pace.
  2. Define two time milestones on the presentation and ask someone in the audience to raise a small piece of paper when those milestones are reached. By doing this you will be able to know when you need to speak faster/ slower. I usually leave one of those milestones for the last minute, so I’m comfortable with the final presentation sprint.
  3. Have a “Plan B” to correct time. Many things can happen during the presentation that might disturb your pace plane: you might need a glass of water, you can have problems switching slides, you might forget to say something… possibilities are countless. I plan myself ahead so I know what I wouldn’t say (or slide I’d jump) in case time is running out. I also plan myself for the other scenario, and prepare how I could fill in 30 seconds of pitch time in case I go too fast. Check Preemadona’s pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 20015; she does exactly that around 5’25”.

Usually, together with the presentation itself there’s a Q&A session of 1′-2′. It’s as important as the presentation itself. We will dedicate an entire article for the Q&A, but you must anticipate what questions judges might ask and be prepared for them. On 43North, the last competition I participated with AgendaPet, my pitch had 24 slides and I had 60 others just for Q&A. When judges asked me a question and I opened a slide to answer, they got impressed. We will talk about Q&A and the difference of a “good question” and a “great question” in another article.

I also recommend watching as many pitches as possible. This way you will be able to develop a better understanding of which style suits you better. Just search pitch competition finals on TechCrunch Disrupt, The Next Web, Web Summit, etc.

3) Investor Pitch (30′ + 30′):

Investor Pitch

It’s a good sign being called to a face-to-face pitch with investors. You called their attention, and now you’re close to hitting a home run. But it’s a totally different game now…

An investor pitch is much more detailed and will demand both control and flexibility from you. The problem is that they rarely allow you go through a “sanitized” presentation flow; They will interrupt you and ask questions that will force you to adjust the sequence. That’s the tricky part. For this issue, I recommend 3 things:

  1. Set the presentation expectations before you start: before start I like to ask how much time I have, and to share with them my game plan for the meeting: what topics I’ll cover, how long it will take, how much time I plan to leave for Q&A etc. I also like to start by asking how much they know about the business (they might have analyzed a competitor already, read an executive summary…) and whether there are specific points they would like me to give an special attention. By doing that, in on hand you will be able to have a much deeper understanding of the expectations, which topics to give more emphasis etc. On the other hand, you will be reducing their anxiety by acknowledging their expectations.
  2. Answer on the spot: standard presentation techniques would tell you to “write down” the question and tell the audience you will get back to that later into the presentation. I advise you the completely opposite; answer on the spot. An investor pitch should be more of a “guided conversation”, and having this back and forth dynamics is actually a good sign; it means they’re interested! Thus, jump to the slide answering the question and try to come back to your sequence.
  3. Feel the audience: on these types of pitches people give a lot of indicators on when you’re loosing their attention or on which part they want you to focus. You need feel the audience and adapt; go with the flow. investors are time managing your presentation when they give you cues on what they would like you to explore. Use those cues! Remember: your goal is not to go through all slides; it’s to make sure they know what cool aspects your business can bring to the table. Having said that, if you feel they’re a missing one crucial point in the presentation, do impose yourself and make sure to cover that point.

To have this sort of flexibility, you will need much more complete presentation deck. If on competition pitches people are more interested with the problem + solution + business model, on investor pitches they (supposedly) know that already. The focus will be more on the execution capability/ history your company has. They will go through detailed financials, go to market strategy and numbers (acquisition costs, conversion, lifetime value), team composition (including cap table and contract details), legal/ financial contingencies and liabilities, and cash requirements and use.

Notice also that slide structure will be different from competition pitches. As you will be presenting to a only a few people, in a room, slides can be more dense and contain more information (they will work also as handouts). We will talk about that in a dedicated article.

If they’re interested, they will ask you to share the presentation package, including excel spreadsheets etc. Assuming you will have to share your materials will save you time later; do things well organized on the first time already. Don’t forget the usual M&A documents, such as NDA and LOI (Letter of Intent).

Finally, whatever you do, avoid answering about expected valuation. They will ask the question but you should only get to it when they’re completely “sold” on your company; until that happens, stall, divert from the issue. Just say: “that’s not critical now; we’re looking for a long term partner who’s going to offer us more than money, and who wants to make a fair deal.”

Yes, that’s a lot of work. In pitches, “one size fits all” never happens. However, understanding the purpose of those 3 pitch types is crucial; it will help you tailoring the message to that audience, taking you one step closer to success.

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