Comprehensive Guide to Pitching Your Business

Table of Contents

Anatomy of a standard business pitch:

All entrepreneurs should be able to explain the following elements of your business:

  • Intro: 1-sentence that details your value proposition. Your value proposition is a statement that summarizes what your company has to offer and how you solve/improve your customer’s problem.

  • The problem you are solving and the customer profile

    • Start with an easy-to-explain scenario that outlines the market problem you’re solving. What is the problem? Who has this problem? Why do they have this problem?

  • Your solution to the problem

    • How does your specific technology address the pain points described in the problem, for the specific users/customers who have that problem?

    • Demo/a walkthrough of your technology/solution. How does it work? How would someone use it?

  • How does your company make money?

  • Who are your competitors and how is your solution different and better than their solution? 

    • What are the current other solutions for addressing this problem and how is your solution ”better”? 

    • Why would a customer buy your solution over your competitors’?

  • Traction/accomplishment to date

    • What have you been able to accomplish? Things to include: 1) patents filed or issued, 2) major grants or awards received to develop this technology, 3) any commercial interest or collaborations, 4) promising results that demonstrate this technology is ready to be used in real-world commercial settings

  • How big is the market? 

    • How big is the market that your technology could target? How many people have this problem? What are all the different sectors/industry verticals that have this problem?

  • What is your exit strategy?

    • How/when do you know when you’ve succeeded?

    • How will you help your investors make a big return on their investment?

    • How much time/money will you need to get to an exit?

  • What is your ask for the people you’re presenting to?

    • What are you seeking? Why are you pitching today? What do you hope to happen when someone sees this pitch?

    • What will you do/accomplish if you are able to get what you’re asking for?

  • Who’s on your team and why are they the most qualified to execute this plan?

    • Who’s on the invention/project team? What are their roles and responsibilities? What are notable things about the team that demonstrate this is the best, most qualified team to help successfully execute on this plan?

Different pitch lengths that every company should have:

Every company should be able to explain their business at any time, in any environment, to an audience of any type of background and knowledge base. The following pitching formats will help you cover all the different scenarios:

 

  1. A 5-second pitch

    • When you’ll use this: When you introduce yourself and someone asks what you do.

    • What it includes: Your name and title, the name of the company, and your 1-sentence value proposition.

  2. A 1-minute pitch

    • When you’ll use this: When you’re in an elevator ride with someone and they ask you what you do.

    • What it includes: Your name and title, the name of the company, your 1-sentence value proposition, the problem you’re solving, why your solution solves the problem, and how your company makes money.

  3. A 5-minute pitch

    • When you’ll use this: When you’re pitching to a crowd or during an initial 30-minute meeting. 

    • What it includes: Your name and title, the name of the company, your 1-sentence value proposition, the problem you’re solving, why your solution solves the problem, how your company makes money, what sets you apart from the competitor, your traction and accomplishments you’ve had to date, what you are asking of the listener, what you’ll be able to accomplish if you get what you ask for, who’s on your team and why are you the most qualified to solve this problem.

  4. A 15-minute pitch

    • When you’ll use this: When you have a 1-hour + meeting with an investor, collaborator/partner, or someone who wants to deep dive into your company.

    • What it includes: Your name and title, the name of the company, your 1-sentence value proposition, the problem you’re solving, why your solution solves the problem, how your company makes money, what sets you apart from the competitor, your traction and accomplishments you’ve had to date, what is your exit strategy and how much time/money do you need to get there, what are comparable companies that have exited in your space and how big was the size of that exit, what you are asking of the listener, what you’ll be able to accomplish if you get what you ask for, who’s on your team and why are you the most qualified to solve this problem.

Common pitch formats:

Your business and value proposition should remain consistent, but the way you explain your business can vary depending on the audience and the platform. 

  • In-person vs pass-along:​

    • An in-person presentation will allow you to say what your company does. This pitching format might or might not include visuals. Regardless of whether visuals are permitted, you should be able to explain your business without relying on the visuals. The visuals are essentially pretty backgrounds and supplemental effects to enhance the presentation, but they should not be able to give the presentation without you. Limit the amount of words on the visuals you use during an oral presentation and make sure the fonts are bigger than 32 point. Any smaller and you risk 1) including too many words on the slide and 2) your audience spending more time reading your slides than listening to you speak.

    • A pass-along presentation can be used when you want to send information about your company to someone. This typically is used when you are sending information in advance of a meeting or you are asking for your network to help you secure a meeting/next steps with someone of strategic value. A pass-along presentation heavily relies on clear, concise, skimmable information. Often times, a pass-along pitch deck is used in lieu of an executive summary and vice versa. For a pass-along pitch deck, use 32+ point font for the titles and 24+ point font for the body. 

  • General public vs technical audience:

    • General public audience

      • Think of this type of audience as someone with a high school education. 

      • Your 5-second and 1-minute pitches should ALWAYS be crafted for a general audience. The timing of your 5-second and 1-minute pitch is too short for detailed, technical explanations.

    • Technical audience:

      • Think of this type of audience as someone with advanced training in your industry. This person might not know the specific nuances of every aspect of your problem and solution, but they will understand the market size, market need, and the jargon.

      • For this type of audience, be sure to include the technical details when you explain your solution. 

      • For this audience, be prepared with supplemental/appendix slides that has supporting information/data for potential technical questions related to the market, solution, competitive advantage

Pitching Housekeeping:

  • Practice your pitch from memory until you’re able to give it in a conversational manner! 

  • Practice giving your pitch with interruptions. Expect that, in some settings, you won’t be able to run through your entire pitch in a continuous manner

  • When creating visuals/slides, use the following guidelines:

    • Use the 1x6x6 rule: 1 thought per line, no more than 6 words per line, and no more than 6 lines per slide

    • Use high contrast visuals: dark text on light background or light text on dark background. Note that sometimes people have difficulty reading light text on dark backgrounds if the room is very bright

    • Typography matters! Serif fonts (example: Times New Roman, Georgia, and other fonts that have decorative strokes that extend from the letters) typically are associated with classic, elegant, formal, confident, and established moods and feelings. San-serif fonts (example: Arial, Helvetica, or other fonts that lack the strokes at the end of the letters) typically are associated with simplicity, modern, friendly, direct, minimal, and clean moods and feelings because of the lack of added details. 

    • Font size matters! Use 32+ point font for the titles and 24+ point font for the body. For oral presentations, try to keep all your words (body and titles) at 32+ to limit the number of words and time it takes for your audience to read the information on your slides.

    • Include page/slide numbers

    • Limit the use of transitions, videos, and sound effects. These are difficult to time and execute if there are interruptions or technical limitations  

  • Save your visual slides in PDF format! This will prevent potential formatting and compatibility issues.

 

 

Step-by-step guide for developing your pitch:

  1. Start by determining the time restriction for your pitch

  2. Calculate the total number of words you should aim for. Multiply your time limit by the speaking rate (words per minute) and you will get the total word count maximum for your pitch.

    • The average native English speaker giving a presentation speaks at a rate of 110-160 words per minute. Conversational speech is ~ 120 words/minute, podcasts and radio hosts speak at ~150 words/minute, and auctioneers speak at 250-400 words/minute

    • The average number of words a native English speaker is able to listen to per minute is 450. However, most people only absorb ~20% of what they hear: only 10% of what you are trying to convey is delivered via your words while 90% of what you are trying to communicate is inferred through facial expression, body language, and the tone of your voice. 

    • Use a combination of speaking rate and intonation to help deliver emphasis and emotions. Note that your speed can and should vary throughout your speech but not stray too far from the average speaking rate. Increasing your speed towards the faster end of the range can be used to indicate urgency and enthusiasm. When your topic is extremely technical and there is significant amounts of teaching/persuasion necessary, speak towards the faster end of the range to increase the interest in the topic. When there is a need for emphasis on something extremely important, lean towards the slower end of the range. This typically is accompanied by, and further enhanced with, pauses and tone adjustments. 

  3. Write a pitch transcript. This is everything you want to say in your pitch, verbatim

  4. Re-read small portions of your pitch transcript and try to regurgitate the main ideas from memory. Based on what you are able to repeat, you’ll start to get a sense of what is extremely important and what words are there as fillers. Use this to edit your pitch transcript

  5. Create the visuals that accompany your pitch transcript. 

  6. Regardless of whether you are giving an oral presentation or preparing a pass-along deck, start with the pitch transcript so you can get a complete, holistic look at your entire story.