I live in a college town where I’m lucky enough to attend an amazing array of presentations, lectures, panels and other interesting events. Learning opportunities are unlimited and I’m in awe of very smart people who live and work here. I heard the best and brightest speak at a recent showcase introducing emerging business ventures. Their presentations stood out in two ways: 1) The good news – brilliant scientists in local research labs have hatched exciting, impressive ideas that will improve lives; 2) The bad news – few presenters connected effectively with the audience in their five-minute pitches to prospective investors or partners.
Overall, I noticed an over-reliance on cookie-cutter content, acronyms, jargon and reading from or pointing to PowerPoint slides. None of this is new, especially in the academic environment where scholar-inventors are trained to prove expertise through such measures as number of peer-reviewed publications or prestigious research grants. Let me be clear: I respect and admire these people. I’ve loved working with physicians, esteemed research scientists, professors and technical/R&D experts over the years. I expect them to analyze and understand every detail when they are teaching a graduate seminar, performing surgery or creating a drug that may or may not make me feel better. However, there is a time and place for simple, clear communication.
I’ve coached hundreds of entrepreneurs, investment bankers, CEOs and others on pitching their businesses or services in highly competitive environments. It’s imperative to make the most of brief, valuable “face time” in front of interested people. This means telling the story of your new venture in a compelling, natural way, i.e., being conversational and innovative instead of scripted and predictable.
It’s appropriate to inform the audience – BRIEFLY – that you’ve done your homework and have earned advanced degrees. Let them review 30 years of research another time, if they desire. The goal during a pitch is to capture attention and imagination, to invite or enroll the listener into inquiring further. Paradoxically, people will want to learn more about your work because you have shared less. This requires paring down the content of your pitch, even when convinced you must include several components. Be smart about what you say. Focus on a few memorable, positive points about the potential of your business, delivered with enthusiasm. Slides or visual aids should be used minimally, only when they enhance or clarify a point in a way the audience can grasp immediately.
Unfortunately, poor presentation practices are taught at many business schools and reinforced in too many organizations. Perhaps the folks I heard were coached by well-meaning mentors to use lots of slides or to cover specific criteria — throwing in financial, legal or scientific jargon — in their five-minute spiels. However I could literally see and hear relief in the audience when speakers got off script. The best presenters connected with listeners by telling and showing what they had to offer in concise, clear terms. They tried something other than referring to excruciatingly detailed slides that make little sense when trying to make the most of limited time with audience members who may be in a position to help launch a business.
Remember: to maximize your business pitch opportunity, keep it simple. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Stand out by making your remarks more real and less complicated. Brilliant ideas deserve to be heard in the best light!