A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.
I was invited to lead a Techstars LA workshop, focused on honing their elevator pitches. In my UCSB classes, my students practice their Personal Pitch in front of their peers, who give them constructive feedback. I decided to tweak this exercise for the Techstars entrepreneurs, using the format described below.
90-Second Is Long Enough
There were twenty four Founders present, representing nine startups. We began the exercise by asking each venture to select two executives, one technical and the other non-technical, to cover Techstar’s pitch rubric (shown below), in 90-seconds.
One and half minutes may seem too brief to adequately cover these topics. However, Techstars requires its entrepreneurs to narrow down their pitch to twenty seconds. Thus, it’s not surprising that during our workshop, only one Techstar entrepreneur went significantly over their time allotment and several finished with 30, or more, seconds to spare.
At the outset of each company’s pitch, I asked one of the entrepreneurs to exit, so they couldn’t hear their compatriot. After the first pitch, the second Founder returned and shared their version of the pitch. We then had a spirited conversation with the group, pointing out inconsistencies between the Founders’ respective pitches and offering constructive feedback.
Some of the common points of feedback cited by the group included:
Who – mention the backgrounds of Co-founders and emphasize any prior working relationships among your core team
Credibility – focus on experiences relevant to your current venture
Vision – express this at a high level, this is not your mission statement, e.g., “We are in the business of making other entrepreneurs successful”
What – if your venture involves deep technology, provide a laypersons’ example of “how” your technology works
Traction – emphasize revenue, don’t fake this, be honest as to your venture’s current maturation, don’t oversell potential partnerships
Other – use simple, straightforward words and avoid jargon and acronyms, speak with confidence, don’t apologize, don’t say “we’re trying” or “we hope to”
Everyone Should Pitch
Replicate this exercise at your startup, to ensure that everyone is an effective company ambassador. When conducting the pitches, consider the following:
Lunch & Learn – Have all of your employees, not just the executives, practice the company’s pitch in lunch-and-learn sessions. This will give your employees public speaking practice and help them better understand the company’s origin and mission.
Roleplaying, Not Presenting – Rather than have the Techstar entrepreneurs present to the group, I gave each of them an empty wine glass and we roleplayed a cocktail discussion at a networking event, facing each other and not the crowd. This resulted in a more conversational pitch, and in some cases, the Founders noted that this format caused them to be less nervous and thus more focused on the content of their pitch.
Video – Several of the teams shot cellphone video of their company’s pitches. This technique allows the people pitching an opportunity to assess their body language and contemplate their word choice, after the fact.
Cherry Pick – As your team is pitching, have someone document phrases which particularly resonate with the group. Once everyone has pitched, review the captured phrases and cobble together an amalgamation of the most effective utterances to create a “best of” pitch.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.
Image credit: Anna Barber