When my co-founder Tim and I started our business, Presentr, we knew a big part of our jobs would include pitching to investors. Understanding that historically men had better outcomes with venture capitalists, our plan was to have Tim do the bulk of the pitches. Since he was more polished and had many more years of experience than me as a professional trainer and public speaker, we thought we had it in the bag. However, we soon learned that when you are raising money, the name of the game is volume. We employed a divide and conquer strategy, enabling us to pitch to as many investors as possible.
Looking in the rear-view mirror after hundreds of pitches, we recognize how ill-prepared we were when we started out. It was easy to assume that we went into these meetings with an advantage. After all, we were public speaking experts. Nailing a presentation was our business. It didn’t take long before we figured out that the skills we had worked hard to master were actually working against us. The expectations were always higher when we walked into the room and our ability to be compelling, engaging and influential was a reflection of our business. If we couldn’t crush the presentation, what business did we have teaching others how to present?
The truth is, the traditional rules we apply to presentations fly out the window when you are in a pitch session with investors. Inside those rooms there is a different set of standards, and you are dealing with a very atypical audience. So, after doing this for a couple of years, we thought we’d compile some best practices that have proven successful for us and won over investors.
1. Content is King (Sort of)
We are always fighting the notion that content is what makes a presentation. The nonverbal messages we communicate in a presentation are often more critical than the actual words coming out of your mouth or the slides in your deck. When pitching to investors, this is still true but there is a construct that must be followed. Your slide deck matters and you have certain content that you MUST deliver in that meeting. Forgetting your financials or not understanding your business model can’t be covered up by great eye contact. Here’s a great example of a pitch deck template we love.
2. Investors Fall in Love with People
Even though the structure of the deck and content is critical, investors are still humans and, especially with early-stage companies, they are investing in people. Being human (and, as we learned, not too polished) is important. Several years ago, Babson Professor Lakshmi Balachandra conducted a study where she looked at 185 venture capital presentations to understand why some were successful raising money and others were not. What she found is that those who ended up with a check demonstrated confidence, comfort and coachability. As important as the content might be, those attributes can only be communicated through your nonverbal skills.
3. No Memorization
While the traditional structure of a pitch allows 5-10 minutes for the entrepreneur to present, followed by questions from the investors, many times investors like to mix it up and start asking questions after the initial slides are shared. If you try to memorize your presentation and can’t fluidly move around in your deck, you might get sidelined by a rogue investor who doesn’t subscribe to the typical approach. Sometimes investors like to switch it up just to see how well you know your business. Your ability to easily and confidently guide the investor through your deck, answering their questions and still telling your story will likely land you closer to a deal than having your pitch committed to memory.
Most of all, be yourself and let your passion shine through. If you believe in what you are doing and can share your story effectively, you’re much more likely to get an investor to come along for the ride.