Pitching to VC’s… Gone in 60 seconds

by John Furgurson on October 22, 2008

It didn’t take long to get through the wildcard round at the Bend Venture Conference on Friday. Each presenter had exactly 60 seconds to win a chance to do a 10-minute presentation later in the day. The ultimate prize: $110,000 cash.

Nothing tests an entrepreneur like a one-minute limit, and conference co-founder Karen Fast was right there, enforcing the 60-second rule with her wind-up kitchen timer. Low tech, but highly effective.

It was fun to watch, especially from a marketing communications standpoint. Presenters had to hone their elevator pitches to a short little spiel, and they had no PowerPoint to use as a crutch. Clearly, some were out of their element. A couple blew it completely. And everyone was seriously challenged.

So here are a few tips for next year’s wildcard presenters, or for anyone who’s trying to convey a big idea in a really small amount of time.

• It’s not what you say that makes a difference, it’s what choose NOT to say. The objective of the one-minute pitch isn’t to close the sale, it’s to open your audience up and leave them wanting more. Don’t educate them, just tease them.

• Don’t try to condense your 20-minute slide deck into one minute. About half of the wildcard presenters did this… they just cherry-picked what they thought were the most important bullet points from their 10-minute PowerPoint presentations. But a one-minute elevator pitch is a completely different animal. You need a script that’s conceived, written and honed down specifically for the purpose or dramatizing your big idea.

• Tell your story, starting with the problem and solution. It shouldn’t be that hard… In radio, 60-seconds is enough time to establish a plot, develop memorable characters and introduce a touch of humor. You should be able to convey the gist of your idea in one or two sentences — less than half the time allowed.

• Don’t start with numbers. It doesn’t matter that your market is 39 zillion dollars, launching into your pitch with a big number will not differentiate you from all the other presenters. Besides, the stats just won’t resonate with 99% of the people in the audience. It’s actually more powerful to show how your product will solve one person’s problem. You can address the market size later, if you make it to the next round.

• Get the right guy up on stage. A tightly edited script is crucial, but you also need a good, credible pitchman. The best presenters engage the audience with some charisma and deliver the message with passion and clarity. They have just the right balance of bravado and business sense, so they don’t come off sounding like a used car salesman, on one hand, or an engineering geek on the other. It’s not always the CEO or the person with the most experience. One of the presenters on Friday had a good script, but his demeanor was just too laid back to get people’s attention. Another, who had an impressive track record of start-ups, bumbled it completely.

• Forget about introducing yourself. You don’t have time to be cordial. In his book, The Art Of The Start, Guy Kawasaki puts it this way: “ Unfortunately, entrepreneurs still believe a pitch is a narrative with an opening chapter that must always be autobiographical.” Don’t talk about yourself or the management team. That can come later. Instead, get to the gist of your idea right away.

• Remember, the voting audience is judging the presentation as well as the idea. If your business idea has a major WOW factor you won’t need the most polished 60-second spiel because the idea will carry you. But you still need to verbalize the idea in a compelling way. For instance, there was a company at the Bend Venture Conference that has potential to cure Malaria. Imagine that! Unfortunately, the presenter completely missed it. They may have had the best business idea, but they got beat out on style points.

• Step out of the businessman mode for a minute, and think like an advertising guy. How would you dramatize your idea in a 30-second spot?

• Don’t underestimate the power of a good, old-fashioned product demonstration. Guess who won the wildcard round… The one guy who could demonstrate his product right then and there. He showed the audience what his product does, and didn’t waste one second explaining how it does it. Now that’s the right idea!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

gery vander meer October 22, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Dear Mr Furgurson, Thanks for sharing your suggestions for more impactful 60 second presentations. I was curious what you had thought of the 60 second presentation done by Hydra Cool the refrigeration company? Any insights would be appreciated. Gery at automan@nu-world.com

Susan November 13, 2008 at 4:29 am

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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