Startup pitch core elements

Pitching is at the heart of sales; which makes sense as it’s defined as “a form of words used when trying to persuade someone to buy or accept something.” These days, everyone seems to be pitching something; startups, ideas, in elevators or competing for the interest of investors, clients, judges and panels. As a keen tech startup pitch nerd, I’ve taken part in many of these things (you can see my pitch for veri.vote here), and watched hundreds of others sweat bullets while trying to persuade a room full of onlookers that their idea is worth considering.

After sitting through plenty of pitch nights and competitions, and seeing everything from rolled-gold professional presentations to utter trainwrecks, I’ve observed a pattern emerging around what constitutes a ‘good’ pitch’.

Apart from avoiding the obvious pitch faux-pas of talking to your feet, fidgeting about or using Comic Sans font and silhouette stick men on your pitch deck, there are three core elements you can guarantee will help improve your pitch. Regardless of your content or purpose, if you include the following three elements in your next pitch, you will certainly perform better than 90% of all other presenters.

Note: this post is about elements to convince your audience, not about building pitch decks (that’s for another post). To build a great pitch deck, I highly recommend checking out Pollenizer’s Universal Startup Pitch Deck template and Onboardly’s best startup pitch deck examples.

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1. Kick things off with an emotional hook

You need to grab peoples’ attention – fast. In fact, most will decide whether they like you or not within the first 30 seconds of your pitch. If you can’t pique interest quickly, human nature will take over from politeness and people will begin to tune out, regardless of what you have to say during the rest of your talk.

A bit of ‘science’: humans process information in roughly this order: stimulus, emotion, reasoning. By speaking and displaying a slide deck, you should be creating stimulus, however before what you are saying is properly processed and understood, a certain level of emotion needs to be engaged. Engaging emotion gives your audience a motivation to really listen and understand what you’re saying. Without this motivation, it is more difficult for information to be passed through to the rational processing parts of the brain, which allows logical consideration and creates memory.

What is emotion? Well, one reason humans love stories from a very young age is because they convey useful information in narrative form by appealing to empathy. We imagine how we would feel in someone else’s position – angry, sad, afraid, happy. In fact, when we engage in a story, we often feel an emotion as if we were part of it. This connection allows us to process the situation in a very real sense. Just as we learn better while doing, we process information in a more holistic way when there is a genuine engagement. So, although emotions may be an irrational response to a made up story which has no basis in reality, they can be a seriously powerful motivator.

Bringing this back to your startup pitch, if you want your audience to really engage with your business model or technology idea, tell them a story. Often, all people really need to understand is your motivation. Did you have a personal experience which led you to leave your job and risk everything on your startup? Have you been a part of something great or something not so great which has led you to want to make things better? Really ram home the problem you’re solving. Tell them why you’re building it – make them feel something – create an emotional hook.

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2. Build trust and credibility

This next element is rather obvious, but it’s where many people come unstuck. Proving your ability to execute is just as important as the concept itself. An idea alone isn’t worth much, but being able to make it happen is definitely worth something.

Investors often say they invest in a team rather than an idea, so briefly share your team’s background and skill set, but don’t go overboard. Past results are always the best indicator of future performance. Rather than only talking about your technical abilities, show the outcomes of prior projects you’ve worked on, both the successful and unsuccessful ones (failure in the startup scene is a good thing, right!?), and what you learned that will help you succeed this time.

Another great way to build your credibility is by positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Writing content and earning media mentions and social media attention is powerful social proof that you’re genuine.

Testimonials from well known individuals or companies can also be very helpful to demonstrate your credibility. Think about how many companies name drop by listing logos of their big clients on their websites. It looks pretty impressive huh? This is about leveraging the reputation of others. Likewise, third party endorsements are one of the most powerful ways of showing your ability to deliver – if someone else goes out of their way to say something nice about you, it’s likely to be true.

Building trust and credibility is really all about proving to your audience that you can actually follow through on your business plan, and that you’re a worthwhile investment.

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3. Demonstrate Momentum

Validation and traction are the words often used in the startup scene to describe early success. What this really means is you have momentum – people are taking notice and things are moving for your startup.

Demonstrating momentum helps prove your worthiness to an audience by showing the market is receptive to your idea. If customers are engaging and buying, it means your business plan is valid. People naturally want to be involved in things which are moving and stimulating, so by showing you have already achieved some traction in the marketplace you’ll be much more likely to get people excited about your project.

Good examples of momentum include media mentions, an early user base and especially paying customers. Even if website visitors are registering as users, or people are actively engaging you on social media, these are all forms of traction provided you can show specific, real numbers. Although these numbers can be considered vanity metrics, they do represent a level of interest from which bigger things can grow. It shows you’ve found a business model which will work once it scales. Investors look for ways to reduce their risk and maximise their returns and showing momentum is definitely an indicator.

The key however is proving you can turn this interest into sales. For example, do you know what percentage of leads will convert to sales? How much do you need to spend to acquire a customer? What’s the lifetime value of that customer? How many customers do you need to be profitable? Being able to produce this info is a massive indicator of success to investors because it shows you know your business plan and have done the research to back it up.

Momentum is also about your plans for the future. What are the specific next steps you intend to take your startup to the next level? Why do you need funding and what will you do with it? What else are you looking for in the way of team members, mentors or introductions? By showing you have thought through your path to success, your audience can visualise where you are headed, how fast you will get there, and how they can come along for the ride. That truly is momentum.

Startup pitch success

Many Ammo clients have seen some amazing results from including the above 3 elements in their startup pitches. If your startup needs a bit of guidance on building and delivering the perfect pitch or you’d like to see some winning pitch deck examples drop us a line today.