Pitching advice for early-stage startups

Nearly every entrepreneur stumbles through their first few pitches — it’s a fact of life. Simply put, the process of putting yourself in the spotlight and convincing an audience to believe in you can be incredibly difficult, and feel entirely unnatural.

Over time, after you’ve stumbled and honed your skills, you’ll find that pitching becomes increasingly easier.

Now, as a cheat sheet to help you even out the steep learning curve of pitching, take a look these seven bits of advice, all of which are written with first-time founders in mind.

Listen to yourself pitch

You may not know it, but you have a “pitching voice” that’s different from how you normally speak. For some, this is great. For everyone else, you will likely sound un-conversational, condescending, or robotic. Recording your pitches can help.

Watch yourself pitch

Are you alone in your living room pitching to a couch full of stuffed animals? I’ve been there… but your stuffed animals won’t give you the valuable feedback you need to refine your message.

Nothing replaces practicing in front of real people. However, if you truly don’t feel ready to present to friends and family, film yourself pitching with a phone or laptop. Your expressions and movements are just as important as what you say.

Decide to whom you’re pitching

Investors? Customers? These pitches should have different messaging. For example, depending on your product, you may have to dumb down your vocabulary for customers.

Start out with a very clear message

Think: “This is what we do and why we do it.” You don’t need to explain every detail of your product at the beginning of your pitch. Just offer up enough details so your audience understands the basic concept. This early message prepares your audience for the rest of your speech.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with comparing yourself to a larger, more familiar company; it’s okay to say, “We’re the LinkedIn for teachers.” But only do this with purpose. It’s not worth mentioning competition that no one else has heard of before. You’ll just give your competition free publicity.

Define your customer

Be specific. Walking through a case study can help. Using the “LinkedIn for teachers” example above, your case study might be a third grade teacher who needs help finding a job. What are their problems, and how does your idea solve their problems?

Make yourself credible

Prove you’re the person to carry this forward and you’ll execute this idea better than anyone else. Your professional and life experiences prove credibility. Also, show that you know your sector by answering these questions: What’s the size of your opportunity? What are the metrics that prove your product will stand out in your space?

Don’t over explain the problem

This is an error I see all the time. Entrepreneurs often mistakenly diminish the value of their idea by taking up their pitch time to explain the problem. Remember: People care most about your solution.

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