You have been "telling your story," about the product or service you intend to sell, for months, perhaps years. Now, as you are getting close to the release of your product/service and the foundation for your company's marketing - your company name, competitive positioning and messages, corporate branding and logo - are firming up, it's time to formalize your corporate "pitches." This article will focus on presentations to funders (VCs and Angels) and prospective customers.
Creating a Presentation - "5 P's"
According to the American Management Association (AMA), there are "5 P's" for creating a successful presentation. I've added "the presentation" as an additional important element.
1) Probe: Know Your Audience and Your Objective
"Who am I trying to reach?" "What do I want them to remember?" "What do I want them to do?" are three key questions to ask yourself as you being to prepare your presentations. Keeping a keen eye on these basics should help you build an outline and presentation that will keep you on track and provide your intended results.
What does your audience care about? Your presentation to a Venture Capitalist or Angel, which has the goal of opening the door to eventual funding, is a different pitch than the one you'll use to sell your product to a prospect, secure a partner, or recruit an employee. Different audiences with different objectives require different pitches.
What sorts of people will be in the audience? You want to consider their occupations, technical knowledge, seniority, related experience, and language skills.
Researching your audience is straightforward in the Internet era. You have no excuse for NOT knowing a great deal about the people you will present to. For a VC firm, the website will quickly tell you the product area focus, the background of the team members, and what firms they currently fund. Similar information is available for your prospects. The more you know about your audience and tailor your pitch to them, the more likely they will relate to your presentation and provide the results you are looking for.
Logistics - What is the size and type of room? How will it be set up set up? What sort of presentation support is available? Can you just bring the presentation on a flash drive and plug it into a USB port on a provided laptop? Do you need a flip chart for the discussion?
Media - Media ranges from flip charts to PowerPoint slides projected onto a large screen and several choices in between. The appropriate media is based on: The size of audience; the goal and formality of the presentation; the desire for interaction; the amount time available; the technical capacity of room; and the cost of creating media.
Time of Day - Try to be on the calendar early in the day, while your audience is fresh. You don't want to be "between your audience and the bar." If you are stuck in the last spot of the day, shorten your presentation. Stick to your main messages and keep it crisp.
Be prepared for equipment failure - yours and theirs. Always carry presentation back-ups in flash drive AND on a CD. In addition, you should carry a printed out "master" of your presentation. Throw out your toothbrush if you need the room, and put your back-ups and master copies in your carry-on luggage.
Hand outs - Be sure to have copies of your presentation to hand out after the presentation. Don't want to kill trees? Send out a follow-up email with a link to the presentation on your website.
In the United States, making presentations in front of the classroom starts in the earliest days of school, when children are six or seven years old. The first presentations are called "show and tell". The child brings in their favorite stuffed animal, book, or bug and presents it to the class. This is the first of many, many times the student will hear the "mantra" of presentations: Tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.
Start by providing your audience with a clear "anchor" for what your company does. For example, "We sell process control software to biotechnology laboratories" or "We are retained executive recruiters focused on the wireless space." This gives your audience a clear starting point and "anchor" for the rest of your presentation.
Next, tell the audience what you're going to talk about (tell them what you're going to tell them) and why it is relevant to them. Now that your audience is clear on what you do, and why they are there, they'll be able to relax and "listen" to the rest of your presentation.
Whether for the VC/Angel or Prospect audience, the beginning of your presentation will leverage the positioning and messages you've already developed. (See Part 2 - Positioning, 3/05.) The opening of your presentation will generally cover the same areas as positioning but with the appropriate "spin" for your specific audience and with added information that is important to them.
For a VC or angel presentation you also want to include:
For a prospect presentation you also want to include:
3) Practice, practice, practice… and practice some more
Practice is more than reading your presentation in the taxi on the way to the meeting.
Indeed, don't EVER read from your presentation to the audience. Remember, your slides are underlining what you're saying and emphasizing the key messages. Your audience may be uninformed in your subject area, but they are not unintelligent. You insult and bore them if you read your slides to them.
Volume - you must be heard to be effective. The amount of volume will depend on the environment and supporting amplifiers. Try to get into the meeting room ahead of time to practice with the equipment.
Speed - slow down! When people get nervous they talk faster. Practice slowing down and being articulate. I once heard a presentation by a famous Silicon Valley VC who specializes in nano-technology. His presentation was extremely technical and full of jargon. The conference was running behind. He came to the podium and told us, "I'm going to speed this up and not take any questions." If his objective was to show that he was a smart guy who could use big words and esoteric concepts, he was successful. If his objective was to communicate with his audience and deliver a message, he failed.
4) Pitch with Poise and Passion
Knowing that you have all the bases covered will help you relax.
Be confident and let your passion show. Look at people in your audience. Make it personal. You want to establish trust and confidence in you as a person, in your company, and in your product. Let your passion show - smile, show enthusiasm. Try to appear relaxed and confident.
Tip: Even if you don't feel relaxed and confident, pretend that you are. Soon you'll get into the rhythm of your presentation and you will be confident. "Fake it until you make it."
5) Process - Questions & Follow Up
Be ready for obvious questions. Many of the questions that will come up during or after your presentation can be anticipated in advance. Develop a Questions & Answers document ahead of time so that you have the answers "in the can" before the presentation.
In a large audience setting, be sure to repeat/restate the question for the rest of the audience - if it's "loaded" rephrase it in a safe way.
Sometimes the "answer" is, "That's company confidential information."
Always wrap up the meeting by restating your original messages - tell them what you told them. Be sure to provide your contact information and invite the audience to contact you if they have additional questions. Conclude by confirming the next steps and thanking the audience for their time and attention.
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