Discover the entrepreneur in you (Part 3a): How to make the pitch

I earlier wrote about the importance of making a good elevator pitch.

Today, I was at a Tech Start-up event. There was a good mix of some 30 booths with start-ups from Singapore and other countries. It has been a while since I went for such events. Most of the booths I visited would have someone enthusiastically present their ideas and products to me. One caught my attention, for the wrong reason. After 5 minutes, I was still not clear what their product was about, so I moved on to avoid wasting more of each other’s time.

Since I had shared the importance of an elevator pitch, I should also share some thoughts on how to make a good elevator pitch.

  1. A good first-liner. Today, someone said to me, “What can I do for you?” That’s a bad opener for such an occasion. I wouldn’t even say, “Can I help you?” I did not walk into a provision shop where there was a range of products to buy. As a start-up, you should be having a single main concept, and you should go straight to the point, such as “Good morning. Can I introduce you to our application which allows you to ….”
  2. Be enthusiastic. At several booths today, I had to prompt the presenter to tell me more. I was given short replies that were incomplete explanation of the concept. It’s easy to tell if someone is enthusiastic or just there to fill the time. An enthusiastic person would have a sparkle in the eyes and a belief in the product that would show through. An unenthusiastic person would be stating facts plainly and often insufficiently to allow the listener to fully appreciate the concept. Make sure you add something about what’s good or unique about the product / idea. Use suitable adjectives to spice up the explanation. Let your conviction come through.
  3. Where possible, use concrete examples or compare your concept against some established ideas so it is easier for someone to visualise. Examples:
    1. “You may have used a job portal like A common challenge an employer using such a portal may face is … (describe a problem). Our solution is to build an alternative job portal that allows … (describe your solution to the problem).” In this example, one would immediately know yours is a job portal but with a solution to some challenges faced by job advertisers to make it possibly more attractive to use.
    2. “Our solution allows you to gather lots of special deals information that other users have tagged over Google maps.”
    3. “Our application will help you aggregate information from various search sites such as Google, Yahoo, … and classify them by ….”.
  4. If you have it, flaunt it. If you have some specific advantage over others, be sure you tell it. Do not wait for your listeners to ask you for it. For example, if you are running a portal selling unique asian art pieces and you have a renowned art connoisseur backing the project to classify the pieces, say it. Or if you are doing a medical products portal with a well-known doctor or organisation ensuring proper sourcing, state it.

One start-up that presented to me today was smart enough to state that it is incubated by a well-known portal that has a large existing subscriber base. That immediately gave me confidence that this is not a wannabe. Seasoned investors or partners often look at how you can operationalise your ideas. If you have experienced industry people running the business or a large network of users to tap on, it gives confidence that the idea has a better chance than its peers.

I recall when I started ASKnLearn in the face of other dotcoms, we threw up whatever advantages we had, such as having a higher learning institution as one of our shareholders and credible board members in the education circle. When we had some top schools as our clients, we flaunted these.

To different audiences, we played different cards. When schools were skeptical who would support the system if we closed down, I could state that the polytechnic had developed the system and was using it themselves, so the system would still be around if we are not. When I presented to investors, I would cite credible people that have already supported us. That would give confidence to the listener that some due diligence had been done on us already.

5. Look out for visual and verbal cues from your listener. By all means, do an impactful opener and crisp explanation. As you do, watch for body language and interrupting questions from your listener. Be flexible to adjust your presentation depending on the response. A mistake is to keep going on when your listener is obviously confused or may have a pressing point to clarify but you are ignoring it.

6. Be sensitive to who your audience is. He/she could be one of several likely roles – potential investor, partner, distributor, user or even competitor.  It is not easy to tell and may be rude to ask who the person is before you present. However, I would at a suitable point after a brief pitch enough to provide the overview of the concept, pause a while and see if there’s a question (but don’t ask if he/she has a question, just have a short pause) or sense the body language.  You could ask questions like (depending which is appropriate for your concept), “Have you used a similar product before?”, “How do you see this as being relevant in your work?”, “What do you think of the concept?”, etc. It is however best to let the listener ask the questions so you can gauge his/her level of understanding to determine who likely role the person may be.

7. Finally, have a takeaway. Ask for a namecard, ask if there can be a suitable date for you to make a more formal presentation, or referral, or if he/she would like to sign up as a user, etc. Or you could ask for a feedback to see what improvements can be made.

Making good pitches takes practice. Constantly practice and be sensitive to responses. Have fun!


3 comments on “Discover the entrepreneur in you (Part 3a): How to make the pitch

    • Yeap. Interviewing a bit different though cos it is a more interactive 2-way process. Elevator pitch needs to be more initiaitve from the presenter, and in a situation like an exhibition, you have to process each visitor fast and effectively, so need to be precise.

  1. Dear JJ,
    I used to have an elevator speech to really present what I do & what I believe in. That was 2 years ago when I still had a job. It seems like trying to find a job at 45 is really. my elevator speech these days seem to be : “Hi, I am a double degree graduate from NUS, have experience in high-level sales, P&L responsibilities, had previously held positions like GM, Director, responsible for headcount of over 70. Been looking high & low for the last 24 months trying to get a job. Don’t know whether to upgrade or downgrade, to fit into the job description.
    Since the release of the unemployment rate recently, I really feel that I have been left behind, if the figures are correct, I am probably the only few 45 year old in this situation. After so many interviews, I am just confused is it my experience, qualification, salary or my age that is working against me, or am I just plain “suay”.
    Being a hard nut that I am, I am still trying & looking, but it seems utterly hopeless…….

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