How to Pitch Investors: Introducing the Startup Pitch Breakdown

As part of Dashboard's goal of providing valuable resources for startups and investors, we’d like to introduce an ongoing training series on the art of the pitch, presented by public speaking and pitch coach Mike Pacchione. Below, you’ll have the opportunity to submit your pitch for a future breakdown.

Mike Breaks-down Glider

First up is a breakdown of Portland-based Glider’s TechCrunch Disrupt NY pitch.

Overall this is a nice pitch. You hear the panel say as much afterwards. In the interest of continual improvement, let’s take a look at what we can learn.

In general there are three major facets of a pitch:

  1. Story/Content
  2. Slides
  3. Delivery

As I've worked with Glider on a mix of their content, this critique will focus on both delivery and slides. There is some crossover with his overarching story, of course, but for the most part we will focus on speaking patterns, energy and all the other vitals some TA taught you poorly back when you took your college public speaking class.

Overall this is a polished, effective pitch. In the interest of learning, I am dissecting three main pieces below.

A Formal Cadence

Eli's cadence is one of formality and confidence. He's never searching for a word and he uses pauses so the audience can digest what he's saying. For example, at the 4:05 mark he poses a rhetorical question. Rather than asking the question, then quickly moving past it the way so many speakers do, he pauses to allow the question to hang for a silent second.

I also didn't notice a single "um". His stage movements look natural and in general he comes off as confident, controlled and well-rehearsed. He knows the script. I have no trouble trusting him. Whether in a pitch or in real life, trust is of significant importance.

There's a downside to the way he speaks, too. None of his personality comes out. No smiling. No joking. No particular energy.

Here are examples of places where I'd advise Eli to add personality to his pitch:

  • Opening narrative: Intricate parts of the pitch require more of a staid demeanor. However, Eli's beginning is an opportunity to present with a bit of personality. He should make this opening narrative more conversational, almost as if he's telling a joke to friends.

  • When announcing big news - the $1M in funding and that audience members can now sign up to use Glider - it’s not enough to say “I’m excited.” We need to hear it in his voice. Inflect the voice accordingly. Smile. Add energy.

  • He should also show personality at the very end of the formal pitch, when he's leaving us with "happy gliding." Obviously this isn't a statement meant to be taken ultra seriously. Smile and give a light laugh. Doing so would invite us in on the joke.

Don't be afraid to show investors your personality. It's okay - and in fact, good - to be excited about your pitch.

It's also a fine line to walk. Have a goofy grin on your face the whole time, laugh too much and you may paint yourself as naive. That said, you miss out on a key opportunity if you spend the entirety of the pitch in Serious Guy mode. We'll touch on this in a minute when we talk about Eli's Q&A.

Nice, clean slides. Maybe too clean...

I like to advise companies that everytime someone visits your site, it's like going on a blind date with you. You never want to be the one showing up for dinner in sweatpants. Same thing goes for your slides.

Thankfully, Glider's slide design is top notch. They're looking good for the blind date. They're crisp. They're clear. You can immediately glean meaning without having to ignore the speaker. I wish every deck was this clean.

In one case, however, the stellar slide design is actually too clean. Look at the “contract process” slide (1:05 mark)

This is meant to be a "pain" slide - one where the audience has a visceral negative emotion. As Eli narrates a nails-on-the-chalkboard type moment - the painful, convoluted process of having contracts signed. The slide, however, is too clean. That's not the chaotic, bass ackwards process Eli is describing. I'd like to see a much messier design here - almost to the point of one of those 1990s screen savers where the coils keep wrapping around themselves.

Later, Eli references what happens when several contracts are on your plate at once. This is meant to be the moment where audience members take a deep breath and say "oh God, that sounds terrible." The audience might still say that - Eli explains the pain well - but again the clean pain slide is used, this time replicated again and again on top of itself.

We want to be visually communicating a world where contracts are everywhere and it's impossible to keep track of them all. The emotional equivalent of walking into a child's messy room. Because the slide is so clean, however, the child's room doesn't look messy. It looks more like a couple piles of paper that need to be organized. At a glance it screams "minor inconvenience" far more than it does "pain".

Here’s the deal: Generally we want the whole deck to follow the same color pattern, same look, etc. I’d break the rules here. Ditch the Glider blue that’s on every other slide in the deck. Put it in a different color or use a different font or somehow make this slide pop because of how painful and different it is.

This is especially significant because of how the pitch wraps up. With about ten seconds left (5:44 mark), Eli tells us to sign up if we want to move from this:

But because the allegedly messy slide looks clean, the contrast between pain and pleasure isn’t visually obvious.

Revealing the Conversational You

The Q&A reveals a different, more conversational Eli - and the one I'd suggest he embrace at all times. Without a memorized script, Eli speaks more deliberately*. His energy shoots up, as does his pace.

Same thing happens with his gestures. During his base presentation, his gestures are slow and not particularly noticeable. Once he hits the Q&A (6:01 mark), everything changes. Notice how his gestures speed up when he's more excited. Even though there are a few "ums" - which your college speech professor taught you were evil - his excitement level was such that they didn't really matter. I'll take an excited speaker with filler words over a dry speaker without them.

Think about it from the perspective of an investor: At some point, things are going to be hard. As such, what they want to see is a CEO who is passionate enough to persevere through those times, while also maintaining confidence. What most presenters do is focus only on the latter.

So, you'll find yourself worrying about memorizing numbers, perfect wordings and so on. That's understandable but somewhat misguided. You're allowed to show emotion, too. Don't wait for the audience to give you permission. You are the one who is the leader. As I like to tell people, if you're not excited about your presentation (or product), it's highly unlikely your audience is going to be.

To be clear, you don't need to be a cheerleader. But a confident speaker who is excited by his/her product? That will grab our attention every time - and investors' too.

*Granted, there are also tactical reasons for this. When you're presenting with slides, you should pause slightly to allow the audience to digest what's on your slides. Without slides, there's no need to pause during the Q&A. Still, the point remains: he seems far more comfortable and personable in his Q&A.

Submit Your Pitch

That concludes this edition of startup pitch breakdown. Want to have your pitch reviewed and receive advice from Dashboard's resident pitch expert, Mike Pacchione? Interested in learning what you should say, what investors pay attention to, and how you should prepare to deliver a presentation that maximizes impact and increases your chances of funding?