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8 rules to standing out at a pitch event

Congrats! You were selected to pitch at an upcoming event. Even if you’ve pitched in front of investors before, speaking on a stage at an event with both investors and a general audience is likely going to feel like a different experience.

Whether a winner will be chosen at the end of the event or not, you should be trying to stand out from all the other start-ups in the room. But how? Follow these 8 steps to shine.

  • Know your audience and set your goals accordingly. This is public speaking 101 and it’s no different when it comes to pitch events. Ask in advance which investors will be in the room and look them up so you know if there are any specific connections you should highlights (subtly) or calls to action to make. If you can find out from the organizers more about the makeup of the audience in general, that’s even better.

  • Be different. While you know how special and different your start-up is, the audience is likely skeptical and needs to be convinced. What’s more, watching one pitch after the next can make them all blend together in the audience’s memories, so if the three people before you started with a question and you were planning on that too, be ready with a backup opener – just to stand out.

  • Pay attention to time. Speaking of “time is short,” practice in advance according to the time limit you’ve been given. There is nothing more painful as an audience member than seeing the look of surprise on someone’s face as they get the “time’s up” signal, and nothing more annoying than watching a founder ignore it and just keep going.

  • Know what you'll skip. If you notice that time is running out and you’re behind, you should know in advance what you’re shortening to keep going. There is no need to say out loud, “I only have two slides left,” or to mumble, “I’ll just skip this one” as you click quickly through your deck. Just do it deliberately and quickly so as to disturb the flow for the audience as little as possible.

  • Engage the audience. Ask a question that involves people raising their hands is good. Asking a question that you know will get most hands in the air is better. Tying your pitch up by coming back to it at the end will get the energy up even more.

  • Test the tech in advance. You might have designed the best pitch in the world, but if the microphone is echoey or the clicker is finicky, it can throw you and your whole presentation off kilter. Arrive early and ask if you can run through your pitch (or at least click through the slides and say something into the microphone) before the event begins. And bring your own backup clicker, just in case (I always have one in my backpack).

  • Tell a story. It’s no secret that stories stick in people’s memories. Use a specific name, a specific date, a specific location. Use descriptive language (“he smiled” instead of “he was happy”). The more details you include, the more the audience will feel connected to you. If you can be mysterious – start to describe someone and only reveal at the end who it was, that will make it stick in the minds even more.

  • Be animated, but speak slowly and clearly. The more people are in the room, the more energy you’ll need to expend to fill the hall with your presence. Shoulders back, head up, square hips. And while you should give your 110% on that stage, it doesn’t mean you should speed up and start to mumble. Don’t forget that sound carries differently from a stage than when sitting around a conference table. Last though: pauses get people’s attention. Don’t be afraid of the silence.

The bottom line is – be tight, be different, and you’ll be memorable. If you follow these 8 rules, you’ll connect with your audience while setting yourself apart from the other presenters. At a pitch event, that’s the ultimate goal.


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