The keys to delivering a killer pitch

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By Martin Soorjoo

This is a guest post from investment coach Martin Soorjoo. We welcome your comments.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

- Benjamin Franklin

There are three undisputed truths:

  1. Delivering a winning pitch will often determine the survival and success of a business.
  2. People create their best work when they have time, space, and silence.
  3. Proper rehearsal is critical to delivering a professional, persuasive performance.

Yet despite these truths, most sales and investor pitch preparation takes place at the 11th hour, amid constant distraction and noise with minimal, if any, rehearsal. It’s a small wonder that most pitches are weak and ineffective and consequently fail.

The first draft of anything is shit.

- Ernest Hemingway

There are two phases to all pitch preparation. The first is the creative process where you create your presentation and prepare your delivery. The second phase is rehearsal. Both take a considerable investment of time – days, weeks, and months, rather than seconds, minutes, and hours. This is not easy for time-strapped entrepreneurs working in cash-starved startups; but it is essential.

10,000 hours to mastery

The greatest performers, athletes and world-class experts from every field are not “naturals.” They reached the top of their game through using effective techniques and investing thousands of hours in preparation.

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, in “This is your brain on music,” talks about 10,000 hours of practice being the magic number to achieve mastery:

… 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or 20 hours per week, of practice over 10 years … But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

Steve Jobs, wrongly perceived by many to have been a naturally gifted performer, was reported in Businessweek to spend “grueling hours of practice” when preparing his Macworld keynote speeches, a process Jobs began weeks ahead, even though he had been delivering spectacular keynote speeches for years. Jobs made presenting look easy because he worked so hard at it.

Starting your preparation well in advance of a pitch allows you time to research, reflect, and revise. Time gives you the opportunity to step back and look at the big picture and develop and refine your pitch so that you avoid the pitfall that Hemingway highlights in the quote in this post.

Time for revision is critical

Revision is essential to cut the unnecessary fat from your pitch and streamline your delivery of information. Most investors are time crunched, overrun with pitches and often have short attention spans. Delivering your message and information in a concise and attention grabbing way is critical.

This means your pitch arsenal should be comprised of a 10 to 15-slide pitch deck with minimal text and a 1 or 2-page executive summary, along with effective use of elevator and high-concept pitches.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that shorter is easier. As a general rule, it’s always more difficult to tell a story in a concise, effective manner than it is to tell it in a lengthier fashion.

A famous exchange between Mark Twain and his publisher illustrates the point well. Twain’s publisher contacted him, asking for a two-page short story in two days.

“No can do two pages, two days,” Twain replied. “Can do 30 pages, two days. Need 30 days to do two pages.”

Time strapped entrepreneurs often underestimate how long the creation process takes. Being concise and clear is one of the hardest communications skills to master. Be prepared to set aside days and weeks creating and perfecting your pitch and you’ll be following a path well-trodden by the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton and other world-class presenters.

Your choice is simple. If you want to create a forgettable, boring pitch that fails, simply spend a few hours at the last minute rehashing a pitch you delivered previously. If, however, you want to create a pitch that motivates your audience to take action, start your preparation weeks in advance of your meeting, and be prepared to invest days, if not weeks, in its creation.

Before founding The Investor Pitch Clinic, Martin Soorjoo was a highflying, award-winning attorney for more than 15 years. Martin has worked in and with startups, as well as on projects with a number of investors, including investment bankers, venture capitalists and angel investors. During this period he raised several million dollars, including negotiating one deal worth $75 million. He now coaches startup entrepreneurs on how to do the same.

Image: LIVErtising

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