Q. Dear Zenagos,
I have to create a presentation for a pitch competition. There are lots of templates and ideas for what slides to make. Are there common mistakes that I should be careful to avoid?
Entrepreneurs are usually passionate about their business idea, but they can have a hard time inspiring that excitement in others. You have been thinking about your idea for months, or maybe even years. It all makes sense to you. However, your audience has probably never thought about it at all. The most important thing is that you tell a compelling story, so your audience understands the problem you are solving and gets why your solution is awesome.
Here are five of the most common mistakes that presenters make when preparing for a pitch competition:
#5 Going Over the Time Limit
Some pitch competitions are very strict about the time limit and will cut you off, regardless of where you are in your pitch. So, it’s very important that you prepare a pitch that will be comfortably under the time limit. That way, you will be certain that your audience will hear your full story and your most important messages. If you happen to get judges who are very casual and take extra time to ask questions, you will be able to cover your supporting points as a bonus.
#4 Not Preparing for Questions
Many entrepreneurs don’t prepare for questions. They feel like the judges could ask anything, so they will either know the answer or not. Don’t make this mistake! You can anticipate the most likely questions – make sure that you have strong answers to these high probability questions. Once you have your answers prepared, ask some friends or mentors to listen to your pitch and then ask tough questions. The more you practice, the smoother your answers will become.
#3 Failing to Say What You Would Do with the Money
The judges get to choose who gets the prize money. Give them a compelling reason to choose you. Explain what you will do with the money, if you win it. For example, tell them how many more customers you can impact positively or how you will be able to add an innovation to your product. Give them confidence that if they give the money to you, they will be making a big impact on their community.
#2 Too Many Slides
Judges in a pitch competition are going to see several presentations. They will only give you a few minutes to make your pitch, and then maybe add a few minutes for questions. If you can’t explain your idea in seven or eight slides, your session isn’t going to get better if you expand it to ten or more slides. Ten slides is considered fairly standard for an investor pitch. For a pitch competition, consider shortening it to eight or fewer, or at least put your best slides up front, so you will not be at a disadvantage if the judges derail your presentation with questions on the early slides.
#1 Not Considering the Audience
The key to success in any presentation is to research your audience and make sure that you present the information that will be most compelling to them. See what you can learn about past winners of the contest. Can you detect any themes in the winners? Can you watch videos of their winning pitches? Investigate every angle you can to understand what makes this group tick. What the criteria will the judges use to choose a winner? Based on what you learn about your audience, what is the best story, and what are your top messages? Don’t make the mistake of just making slides, instead of creating a story that will be compelling to your audience.
Every pitch contest and judging audience is different, so there’s no such thing as a perfect story. Be flexible about how you tell your story, and really listen to the feedback you are given. And, be persistent. The history of entrepreneurship is full of stories of entrepreneurs who initially had trouble attracting investment, but persisted until they found the right audience. If you are passionate about your idea, fight for it!
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