How to nail the five-minute pitch

by Chuck Dietrich for

CEOs wear many hats. None, perhaps, is more important than that of “company pitchman.”

In today’s competitive funding and deal making climate, CEOs often present at events like Under the Radar, South by Southwest, and DEMO –- where they have five minutes on stage to ‘sell’ their company to potential investors, partners, and customers. Getting these presentations right leads to financing, buzz and growth; getting them wrong doesn’t.

In my role as CEO of SlideRocket, I view hundreds of presentations a week and thousands over the course of the year. I’m frequently surprised by how many presentations don’t convey a clear story. A great “company pitch” presentation leaves venture capitalists, prospects, and judges inspired. The audience should walk away with the ability to restate your company’s vision, a clear picture of how you will achieve that vision, and the economic ramifications of attaining it. If the audience is inspired and can accurately re-tell your story, then your presentation was effective.

So how do you make a great startup presentation? Having recently viewed all of the company pitch presentations at SXSW 2010’s Start-Up Accelerator competition – the good and the bad – I’ve pulled together some key observations on what works and what doesn’t. These tips should apply to most any presentation, but they apply especially to startup CEOs, who need to make their point fast, elegantly, and succinctly.

1. Know thyself. Before you create your presentation, take stock of the company vision, goals and roadmap. If you are still working on the exact vision and goals, then choose a story and stick to it. Be honest with yourself. Is your company unique? Does it have big barriers to entry, a unique technology, or patentable intellectual property? You can make a great and compelling presentation to influencers and VCs even if your company isn’t a “one and only.” Be clear and candid about how your company will achieve success in the face of competition. Too often, presenters try to glaze over issues of concern. Your audience is bright and it’s best to proactively address foreseeable roadblocks your company may face. By doing so, you gain trust and build credibility.

Critical questions to answer during your presentation include:

  • What is the company vision? It’s great if you can convey your five-year plan. However, at the very least, focus on communicating a concise, concrete vision for the immediate future and why it’s crucial for the current market.
  • What is the problem being addressed? Without your product, how are people operating today and what’s wrong with the status quo? Use real world examples and sound bites that make your product memorable – such as “our technology takes the headache out of version control”.
  • Where does your company fit in the market? Regardless of whether you offer a physical product, a software feature, application, or platform, you should candidly define that market reality, and present sales and marketing plans to back up your model. Why will you win versus the competition? If you win, who loses or what changes?

2. Present the facts. The following facts are crucial to include in your presentation: The overall market size for your product today; a list of competitors and differentiators; your basic business model (licensing fee, subscription, one-time fees, revenue share etc.); how much funding you’ve raised (if any); names of key team members and their micro-bios.

3. Be passionate. The most important thing you can convey to your audience is passion. Don’t lecture to them or read off of slides –- tell your story with emotion and energy. Passion is palpable and will engage a room from the start.

The Basic Pitch Outline

Following is a sample outline that I have seen many successful startup presentations follow. Believe it or not, you can fit all of this into five minutes or less – especially if you use short video clips, images, graphics, and minimal text. You should mostly speak to each of the points below, using graphics to reinforce your spoken words.

  • Headline (your vision)
  • Company Purpose (short and sweet)
  • Problem (customer pain)
  • Solution (value prop to customer – great to add real customer stories)
  • Why Now (history and evolution)
  • Market Size (who are your target customers)
  • Competition (honest list)
  • Product (description and road map)
  • Business Model (revenue, pricing etc.)
  • Customer Acquisition plan (marketing and sales)
  • Team (founders & management)

At pitch events, you have just five minutes to stand out from the other presenting companies. Take advantage of your short window of fame by telling a memorable story with passion. The best company pitchmen aren’t salespeople. They’re great storytellers.


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