Written By: Kelly Bryant
The team and I were invited to lead a workshop at a tech conference in NYC last weekend (shoutout to the NextGen family!). Part of the agenda included a live pitch competition where the three finalists from the weekend’s festivities pitched to a room full of fellow founders. As an attendee, I was reminded of all the differences there can be in pitching your business to an investor via Zoom vs. getting up on stage in front of hundreds of people for 5 minutes. In fact, the preparation, presentation and follow up looks entirely different.
With that being said, here are 5 tips to help you crush your next pitch competition!
#1 – Know Your Audience
Every pitch competition is a little different. Some are organized by stage, founder type, industry…the list goes on and on. Make sure you’ve done your research ahead of time to know who will be judging you and (more importantly) what they’ll be judging you on. This allows you to tailor your pitch to their areas of expertise and focus on the elements of your business that they’ll be looking for.
#2 – Keep it Tight
Most pitch competitions have strict guidelines for how long you’re allowed to be speaking on stage. For most of the events I’ve attended, this has fallen somewhere between 5-8 minutes. I would highly recommend keeping your pitch deck no more than 10-12 slides with as little text as possible (think Problem, Solution, Traction, Team, etc.). You really want the audience focused on you and not trying to read the fine print on the screen.
#3 – Practice, Practice, Practice
As an audience member, there’s nothing more painful than watching a founder who you know didn’t prepare properly. By no means am I saying perfection is the expectation, but you certainly need to invest the time and energy into putting together a creative presentation with dialogue that is rehearsed, yet feels natural. My favorite pitches are the ones where you can feel the founders passion and excitement around what they’re building. They become storytellers and really captivate the audience with a beginning, middle and an end. As my dance teacher used to say, “be so confident they wouldn’t know if you made a mistake anyway.”
#4 – Don’t Flop on Q+A
It’s not enough to just have a great pitch rehearsed. In fact, I would argue the Q+A portion might be more important than the pitch through the lens of a judge. Being able to address questions on the fly concisely and with composure is a true testament to a founder’s character. As point 3 suggested, practice is really important here. Start by thinking of the worst questions you could get asked by a judge and go from there.
#5 – Be Memorable
If you’ve ever made it into the top 3 at a pitch competition, you’ve likely got this one down. At last weekend’s conference, 20 founders pitched their business to a panel of industry experts, who had to select the top 3 finalists. You have to go into the competition thinking, “how do I get these people to remember me?” Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and do or say something on stage that leaves a judge thinking about you even after they’ve moved on to the next pitch.
Although it’s not our recommended fundraising strategy for all businesses, there can be a lot of perks to competing in pitch competitions. You’re getting exposure for your brand, practicing telling your company story and – hopefully – winning some cash for your biz! Whether it’s through a university, accelerator or some other startup organization, it’s great to receive feedback from experts and get outside of your comfort zone. Oh, and feel free to send us a selfie with your first place medal after you nail your next competition. 🙂
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