Over the past few weeks, the StartupYard teams worked hard on perfecting their pitches for Demo Day. There were a fair share of investors, corporate representatives, mentors, and industry members of all stripes in attendance. Needless to say, the pressure was on. But, every one of the teams pitched really well.
A week before the big day, we invited Jeanne Trojan, an Executive Presentation Trainer & Coach and long-time pitch mentor for StartupYard, to TechSquare to help the teams prepare for their Demo Day pitches. Here are a few of the tips that she shared with us.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Counter-intuitively, the best way to appear natural in front of a group of people is to meticulously plan your pitch and practice until it has a natural flow. You know how an athlete can make an amazingly difficult move look easy? That’s your goal when you present. You want the audience to get the impression that you’re just talking with them. That’s takes loads of practice.
But, that’s not to say that Jeanne advocates memorizing your presentation. That can be dangerous and will not give a natural impression. You shouldn’t be concentrating on the words, but on the stories that make up your pitch. Every slide should represent a ‘story’ for you that you can remember.
However, you should memorize one part of your talk. Your opening. When you get up to speak, you’ll be nervous and you’ll have a bit of a ‘deer in the headlights’ moment. Make sure you know the first few sentences of your talk by heart so you can do it on ‘auto-pilot’.
Find Your Allies
Audience engagement in person is achieved in many ways. But Jeanne emphasized simple, easy, and repeatable tricks for connecting. For example, she advised us to look for ‘audience allies’. They are the people nodding, smiling and really engaged in your talk. Find these people in every part of the room so that when you’re feeling nervous, looking at them can help you to calm down and you can still give the impression that you’re looking at everyone. Instead of a sea of faces looking back at you, judging you, look at the few you feel you can trust, and talk to them.
Share Your Enthusiasm
This is your project. If you’re excited about it, you need to be able to share that energy with your audience. If you’re not, there’s a bigger problem than your pitch. There is no excuse for acting ‘cool’ or being stiff when you’re sharing your big idea. Your pitch should appear important and urgent. Your audience should be thinking – ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? This is something that needs to happen!’ Constructing your pitch to give this impression is vital to your success.
Even some of the best presenters still have nervous habits to break. For example, nervous speakers often seem to have little control over their legs, skipping around the stage, not even aware that they’re doing it. Once speakers have an awareness of what they’re doing with their bodies and how they can control their movements, it makes for a much more relaxed and easy-to-watch presentation. Jeanne shared some tips on how to move with a purpose and to cure that ‘shaky voice’ that always accompanies nervous situations.
Don’t Be Slide-Driven
“ You and your message are your presentation. NOT your slides. Too often, slides drive a talk and the speaker’s and audience’s focus is on them.’ “
A lot of presenters get stuck reading the headlines of each slide and then following the information as it pops up on the screen. This is a comfortable, but boring way of getting through a presentation, and it puts the material ahead of the presenter themselves. When you give your pitch at a demo day or a conference, you are presenting *yourself* as much as you are presenting your ideas, your team, and your work so far. A sure way of failing to inspire anyone, is to take yourself out of the loop, and show a set of slides that attendees could have read through on their own in 2 minutes.
Make sure that slide creation is one of the last in your preparation steps. And, focus on creating visual, eye catching slides that will attract the audience’s attention and turn to you to learn more.
Jeanne was a vital part of our teams’ pitch success on Demo Day and we’d like to thank her for working with them so passionately. If you’d like to make a successful presentation or pitch, we can definitely recommend Jeanne’s work.