Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes


Pitching your business? Keep it simple and break the rules.


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!

Author: Julie Mitchell

Julie Mitchell is an executive coach, facilitator, professional speaker and senior consultant who can help you create more positive working relationships, improve your performance, and achieve goals through understanding and practicing effective communication on every level.

3 thoughts on “Pitching your business? Keep it simple and break the rules.

  1. Now trashing PowerPoint is all the rage, and I largely agree with its critics. This week’s New York Times weighs in as the military finally admits its overuse of this tool. It is amazing how many bright people use PP as a crutch.

    I highly recommend reading Edward Tufte’s monograph on it, as well as all of his brilliant, beautifully illustrated books on how to communicate quantitative (and qualitative) information. Start with The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

    I also recommend When Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes, by Andy Goodman and Cause Communications.


  2. Thanks, Aneil! I did seminars on “the trouble with PowerPoint” way back in the 1990s and typically fight a losing battle when I try to persuade clients of better ways to communicate. I trust and appreciate your recommendations.

  3. Pingback: Listening, leadership and respect « Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s