• Stepping-Stone

The 10 mistakes you should avoid when pitching

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

As pitching coaches for the Fit4Start program, we attended the Pitching & Graduation Day organised by Luxinnovation. We took this opportunity to check how over 70 start-ups present their projects to the community before we get to work with the selected candidates in the Fit4Start9 cohort.

Here are the 10 most common mistakes we noticed during this event, that we find in too many pitching events, and that we should all avoid when pitching or giving a presentation of any kind.

Pitching & Graduation Day - Fit4Start - 03/10/2019
Pitching & Graduation Day - Fit4Start - 03/10/2019

1 - Starting with "Hello, my name is ..." and not delivering a powerful introduction

For Fit4Start, you only have 4 minutes, not one second more. The audience needs to be put in a high state of emotion in the first 10 seconds of a pitch, and saying "Hi, my name is Bob and today we're going to talk about my company" is a missed opportunity to make a strong introduction.

For your next pitch, start with the most amazing fact of your presentation by using an opening sentence such as:

  • Every second, we waste...

  • Every minute, 1 in 7 people contracts...

  • Every week, 3 out 5 teens aged 12 to 16 are exposed to...

  • Every month, 46% of the female population of Luxembourg encounter...

  • Every year, 20.000 people die because of ..."

  • When was the last time you...

  • What if your parents had known...

  • How often has you pet been exposed to...

  • In 2015, the World Health Organisation conducted a survey about... and in the 2019 the situation had become...

When reading these statements, did you want to know more? It's the same for listeners when you open a pitch with one of these, and there are many more... get creative and get your audience engaged.

Start with a bang and the audience will be engaged.

2 - Wanting to say too much

During a pitch, less is more...

"During your pitch, the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) on the opportunity of getting all of your knowledge across is so strong that you might be tempted to speak super fast and try to say as much as you possibly can about your project in a very, very long sentence..."

Now let's imagine that you were listening to that sentence in a pitch about pitching and that the person delivering it was running out of breath at the end... *takes a deep breath*... because they were trying to say too much in one go...

What impact do you think that would have had on you if you had been part of the audience?

It is not enjoyable for the audience who feels overwhelmed with the amount of information you are trying to throw at them.

So... Relax... Breath... And carefully pick-out what adds the most value to your pitch, because you only have a limited amount of time in which to speak...

Remember, less is more...

3 - Creating an overwhelming deck

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to do two cognitively demanding things at once? We would argue that for the average person, listening and reading at the same time is rather demanding... so what's more important, for people to read what's on your slides or listen to the words you are saying?

Your slides are your supporting media and should not take any focus away from what you are saying. Keep the slides clean and simple, using large and readable fonts if there is any text on the slides. Use self-explanatory imagines and charts to illustrate what you are saying.

Your time should not be spent describing what is on the screen - what is on the screen should help you put the point across to the audience.

KISS = Keep It Super Simple

4 - Writing full paragraphs on your slides

Your slides should serve your purpose and not distract the audience away from what you are telling them. If you insert full paragraphs of text on your slides, the audience will automatically start reading them, loosing track of the arguments you are making.

At most, the text on your slides should be bullet points of simple, single line sentences.

The best slides have one word or one number on them, which is the central message of what you are saying.

Keeping the number of words at an absolute minimum, whilst keeping a clear and articulate flow throughout the presentation shows your audience that you are prepared and that you know your subject.

Once again, less is more...

5 - Forgetting to re-read your slides

It's forgivable to have a typo on your slides or to have missed a tiny something on your deck, we are all humans, so it can happen!

However, no matter who builds your deck - you, your aunt, your intern, your marketing team - check it thoroughly to make sure it is coherent and that the whole presentation makes sense.

There was one presentation at the event that had three full paragraphs of "Lorem ipsum" place holder text in it. We all make mistakes... but come on!

There's also a lot of value in having someone else re-read your slides...

6 - Using inappropriate sizes and colours for the text

Always make the assumption that the audience has poor eyesight, so make the text as readable as possible.

If you intend on making the audience read a word or a phrase, make sure that it can actually be read from a distance, in a badly lit or even dark environment.

The text on your slides needs to be big enough to be readable, but not give the impression you are throwing something at the audience's face.

Pro-tip: using a dark background with white writing is a lot softer on the eyes than a white background with black writing. Back in the days when a presentation needed to be printed, the amount of ink that this would have required would have been prohibitive, but now that we're in the 21st century, there's not excuse... and if you need to print it out, then switch the colours...

Strong contrast = very readable

7 - Forgetting to engage with the audience

This one takes a bit a practice, because not everyone is naturally comfortable with public speaking. When you are presenting, it is essential your audience feels like you are talking with them. If it's a conversation, and you have a sweeping gaze, the audience will feel like you are addressing them all, which is a sign of being in control and know what you are talking about.

Avoid looking at the screen, checking your feet or looking at only one person. Everyone needs to be focused on what you are saying, so give them a reason to be interested in your project.

If you feel uncomfortable looking at people directly in the eyes for too long, look at the top of their chin and from a distance it will look like you are looking at their face.

We also recommend not turning your back on the audience, so make sure your laptop is on display and is easily accessible to you during the presentation.

8 - Speaking like a robot

Public speaking, presenting and pitching are all learned skills that anyone can master... it takes practice and some are more comfortable than others at the start.

The tone you use is just as important as the content of your presentation... remember how bored you felt when you were sitting in the audience and someone was speaking in a monochord tone... well the same goes for when you are pitching.

During a pitching competition, when the audience has seen dozens of other pitches, you need to stand out and energise the crowd with your passion. If they engage with you and your pitch, you will be remembered.

If you are just another boring pitch, you will be forgotten as soon as you leave the stage.

9 - Trying too hard to stand out

Standing out and making sure that people remember you is a good strategy, however, you should not do it in a way that takes the focus away from your project and undermines your credibility.

If you decide to use a prop or make a joke, only use it if it serves your pitch and ads value to the content of your presentation. You might otherwise be remembered for being the funny one, and not in a good way.

10 - Focusing on hard facts

Hard facts are important, and you MUST back your project up with numbers and figures to show a strong business case. However, this should not be at the cost of storytelling.

Providing a long list of facts does not take your audience on a journey, which has all the context of why you are talking about these hard facts in the first place...

You need to connect with your audience on an emotional level, and this is what storytelling is all about. People are interested in finding out about the story behind the facts that being discussed, not just about the facts themselves...

Emotions make connections, which cold hard facts have a tougher time delivering...

11 - Bonus Pro-Tip

Every single presentation and pitch is an opportunity for you you give the audience a clear call to action. Whether you have an audience's attention for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, these opportunities should never be wasted by forgetting a clear to action.

It can be as simple as telling them that you would like their support with a like or share of some of your content, or that you would like to share some extra content with them, or that you would like to connect with them on some level...

Or you could describe to them the type of customer you are looking to add value to... who knows, they might be sitting right there!

Never walk away from a pitch without having given the audience a clear to action...

Where are you going to take us next?

The way you present your project can make of break sales, cooperation, investments and opportunities. Understanding how your message is perceived means understanding how you can improve it.

This is why Test my Pitch was born and we offer several solutions for entrepreneurs, start-ups and corporate to improve on their public speaking skills.

Given that you got this far, we must have written something of value... so let's keep the flow going with several possible actions:

  • Connect with us on LinkedIn or Facebook

  • Share this article with someone who could needs their audience to act

  • To find out more about storytelling: read this article

  • Book a free 15 min call to discuss how we can help you improve your storytelling game

We're looking forward to connecting with you soon, whichever way you choose.

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