On Presenting

I listen to a lot of business pitches in my role of Assistant Director at Northwestern’s Farley Entrepreneurship Center. We run a series of classes titled NUvention in Web, Energy & Medical Innovation where varied groups of students come together to go from idea or concept to actual product and business. The Web course pushes it the furthest because you can actually launch a web product & get significant feedback in the matter of months. After spending this past week listening to a plethora of startup pitches I found similar presenting gripes across all groups. And so I wanted to summarize some pointers that will make any pitch better:

  1. Do NOT talk to the screen. The screen may be bright & glowing but it is definitely not your audience. Neither is the empty spot at the back of the room or the floor. Your audience feels left out like they’re interrupting a private conversation. So, for the love of the interwebz, please engage your audience by talking directly to them .
  2. Have one single person give the entire presentation. The narrator, if he/she is any good, should be taking the audience on a journey so handing it off to someone else irrevocably cuts the flow. You don’t want the protagonist to suddenly change in the middle of the movie, so why should a presentation be any different?
  3. Less is seriously more. Don’t have slides that require the consumption of half a dozen caffeinated drinks to merely read let alone understand and digest. The slides are meant to reinforce what you’re saying and not act as the focal point or a crutch.
  4. Proof read your slides. Even a single typo will seriously make the audience doubt your capability. It’s not the fairest thing in the world – you spent all this time and hard work turning an idea into a business and then you’re being knocked for have one single typo?! Well the devil is in the details and people will extrapolate your typo (sometimes unfairly) into incompetence.
  5. Tell a story. Entertain the audience. Everyone has at least a mild dose of ADHD thanks to our excessively digital lifestyles and so having a compelling narrative that flows will only help your product/service stick better in everyone’s minds.
  6. Your pitch is not a live theatrical performance. Entertain and engage the audience but don’t make it a dramatic production. Make it too dramatic or funny and then your entire pitch will be reduced to mindless entertainment.
  7. Show passion and unbridled energy. Have the rest of your team seem interested. If you don’t have the energy to talk about your business, how are you ever going to have the energy to run it?
  8. Don’t lay out an agenda at the beginning. Investor and entrepreneur audiences will know where you’re going. Let the presentation flow naturally so that one slide logically leads to another in the audience’s mind. Going back to the movie analogy, the director does not tell you the story arc when he starts the movie and this holds water for business pitches as well.
  9. Talk in a normal voice just loud enough to be heard. Give your pitch in a normal decibel to make the presentation more compelling. This is not a school play where you’re yelling your lines out. Talk don’t yell. Yelling will make your audience wince and lower credibility.
  10. Know your audience & don’t assume that they’re dumb. Basing assumptions for an entire solar power plant on one third-party report when your audience has investors whose portfolio includes multiple solar investments is just asking to ripped apart after your pitch.
  11. During Q & A, answer the question that you are actually being asked. Don’t give a schmucky car salesman response to genuine questions. Check with the person if your response really answered the question. Also make sure to differentiate between comments/feedback and questions.
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