The pitch of their lives. That’s what 30 talented entrepreneurs from around the world will need to deliver to an expert judging panel at the Chivas The Venture Final in Los Angeles this July. They’ll only have five minutes to make their mark in the hope of winning a share of the competition’s £1m fund for their world-changing businesses – no pressure then.
In preparation, the finalists are taking part in a transformational Accelerator Week programme created by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford, where expert presentation coach Rob Geraghty will give them a crash course on pitching.
We spoke to Rob, who coincidentally counts former POTUS Barack Obama as one of his Twitter followers, to find out what it takes to execute the perfect pitch.
Last year you worked with the eventual winner Oscar Andres Mendez, the founder of Conceptos Plásticos. How did you help him wow investors with his pitch?
His business turned plastic waste into affordable housing. When he first pitched the idea to me I thought this is a “wow moment” but he wasn’t presenting it that way. He was too close to it and didn’t appreciate how amazing it was. I said to him, “This is magic. You take plastic bottles and make housing out of them. You’re solving lots of problems”. He didn’t really appreciate how good the idea was so I tried to help him to do that.
How did you help him get that message across?
We simplified his message. He was so close to it and lost in the detail, so we stripped it back to the core of what he did: put plastic waste bottles through a magic machine that turned them into bricks, which then slotted together like lego to make a house. That’s really simple and that was the key, to get it so simple that people can see it in a moment and see how great it is.
How should you kick off a pitch?
Open – and close – with a bang. Rather than beginning with, “Hello everyone, good morning, thanks for having me…” really grab everyone’s attention from the start. It could be leading with a heart-wrenching personal story or a jaw-dropping statistic. Likewise people often don’t think about their finish. People will remember the beginning and end the most and if you can come full circle and finish by bringing your story back to where you started it, that will be really powerful.
What’s the best way to maintain your audience’s interest?
Find an emotional connection. A year ago I worked on a TED X talk with a lady who had a perfectly good pitch about a treatment for cancer but it was very factual and not really emotional enough. Rather than leading with loads of stats, we got her to tell a personal story about an individual which helped make it immediately relatable.
Do you always need visual cues to back up your words?
Not always but if you do use material, that quickly reinforces your message. Often people will use “slideuments”, a combination of graphic slides and data-packed documents that shouldn’t really be put on a projector. Avoid cramming loads of data and information into your slides. Have less in there and really focus on delivering the message you want to get over. Sometimes, one simple picture is all you need.
What should you avoid doing at all costs?
Talk in monotone, ramble on all about yourself or do what I call “bad dancing”, where people dance around on the spot because they’re a bit nervous. I teach people to stand and look confident, using the opera singer Pavarotti as an example. He stood tall, stood grounded and didn’t move around on the spot. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.
Finally, if you are nervous, how do you keep calm?
Breathe. People don’t pause, thinking they have to go at a million miles an hour and give you everything. Actually, a pause is great for the audience because they can digest and think about what you’ve just said. It adds gravitas to your delivery when you slow down and what do you do during a pause? You breathe, helping calm you down.
So you’re not an advocate of the advice to picture the audience naked?
That’s pretty useless. In ten years of working with people and helping them with important presentations, I’ve never given that advice and I’ve never heard of someone who has successfully used that as a technique. So, no, keep their clothes on!
Follow @ChivasVenture and join the conversation with #ChivasVenture on Twitter for all the news from the Accelerator Week, including highlights from the competition, the latest stories, ideas and individuals that are helping to shape our future.