By Polly Ouellette
4 Strategies to Nail Your Elevator Pitch
Five hundred pairs of eyes stare up at the young woman on stage, eagerly waiting to hear what she has to say. She scans the audience for a familiar face and sees her team give her a thumbs up from the crowd. She takes a deep breath, smiles, and launches into her pitch.
The young entrepreneur on stage has two minutes to convince a crowd of strangers that investing in her startup is a good idea. And those two minutes will make or break her startup’s future — which is a lot of pressure. For Georgia Tech’s student entrepreneurs, pitching their startups to a crowd of strangers can be especially daunting and stressful. In fact, public speaking was found to be the biggest fear of Americans, according to a study done by Chapman University, beating out both snakes and spiders.
That’s where CREATE-X comes in. As an on-campus program to help students create and launch startups, CREATE-X also gives them the coaching and resources they need to become experts in convincing people that their company has what it takes to be successful. CREATE-X offers students the opportunity to be critiqued by seasoned professionals — a unique benefit from a well-connected alumni network. This feedback sets Tech’s student entrepreneurs apart, giving them a skillset that includes confident articulation of the benefits of their products and services.
So, what makes for a convincing pitch? We talked to a few students who are pitching pros, and they gave us a few tips on how to effectively and confidently sell a startup.
1. Connect with your audience
Everyone begins their pitch a little bit differently, but they all start with a few sentences that attempt to connect to the audience and help listeners understand the problem the startup is trying to solve. The hook is intended to grab the audience’s attention and keep it there throughout the duration of the pitch.
Vaibhav Kumar, a graduate student in aerospace engineering and founder of AirLogs, says that he always starts his pitch with a story. Beginning with an anecdote is tricky for his company because people have a hard time understanding AirLogs — it’s a software solution for aircraft maintenance logbook research.
He uses a relatable example, asking the audience to imagine the frustration that would accompany spending four hours a day searching through documents to find one sentence. This, he says, is the problem that aircraft maintenance experts face and what his company is trying to fix. A simple example like this one goes a long way towards helping the audience understand the technical challenge and innovative solution that AirLogs proposes.
Charlie Lehman has a slightly different approach. He’s a Ph.D. candidate in the interdisciplinary machine learning program and co-founder of a startup called ConvexMind, a video game product to aid childhood development.
Lehman starts with his personal connection to helping kids develop their skills and learn to read faster. He has two small children, and he opens his pitch with a photo of them sitting in their pajamas in front of the television, entertained but not learning anything. He then transitions into the solution that ConvexMind is presenting: a video game that helps kids develop their reading skills faster without them even knowing it.
2. Convey a confident demeanor, even if you’re nervous
Kumar says that some of the best advice on pitching he ever received was from Raghupathy ‘Siva’ Sivakumar, director of the CREATE-X program.
“He said, ‘You’re the one who knows the most about your company, so there’s no reason to be nervous or afraid,’” said Kumar. “And that’s true, because usually people are nervous about pitching not because the content’s hard, but because they’re nervous that they are going to say something wrong. The reality is that you’re the one who knows the most about what you’re pitching. Let that expertise flow through and don’t be nervous.”
Lehman has a very specific tip to make sure people pitching are as confident as possible on stage: Wear really nice shoes. He said that when he was in front of hundreds of people, he was happy he looked professional and put together from head to toe.
Confidence can go a long way because it conveys the sense that the presenter knows what he or she is talking about and is trustworthy. Business interactions happen between people, so the most important part of a pitch is for the company head to present him or herself as a person that the audience would like to do business with.
3. Convince them to give you more of their time
Even the most seasoned “pitcher” can’t easily convince someone to invest in their company or buy their product in just a minute or two. The best they can hope for is to get their audience interested enough to learn more.
“In your pitch, you cut straight to the most striking points because your audience is going to remember only two or three items,” said Kumar. “And the whole point of a pitch is not to communicate what you’ve done; it’s to say, ‘Hey, come talk to me afterwards.’ Sell it so that they’ll come talk to you for the 15 minutes, and then you can say ‘Look at how much money we made,’ or ‘Look at how awesome our research is.’”
The time on stage isn’t the time to talk about complicated figures or impress the audience with fancy words. Many times, the audience is full of people from a variety of backgrounds, and the speaker should try to get as many of those people as possible to come and learn more after the pitch is over. Startups never know who might come talk to them about the next big break for their companies.
“The whole point of a pitch is not to communicate what you’ve done; it’s to say, ‘Hey, come talk to me afterwards.’”
4. End with a call to action
Startup companies need a lot of support and resources, including those from investors, mentors, customers and potential partners. An audience listening to a pitch should leave with not only a good idea of what the startup does, but what that startup needs from them.
For Lehman, that call to action was based on a strong, emotional message that came from a point of view of a parent struggling to help their kid learn to read instead of being glued to the TV. He asked the audience, “As a parent, wouldn’t you rather see this?” and pointed to a photo of his own child reading a book, which garnered a cheer from the crowd. He continued on to ask the investors, mentors and parents in the room to partner with ConvexMind to help mature their product and to contact him for an early version of the game.
Founders don’t want to leave it up to the audience to decide what to do after they hear the pitch. A clear, actionable instruction will encourage the audience to take action if they like what they hear.
Pitching, just like anything else, is a skill that can be mastered only with practice. And for Kumar, Lehman and their co-workers, it is the key way that people end up investing time and money into their fledgling companies.
Pitching doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s an extremely valuable skill. A good pitch shows confidence; that you believe in your product; and that you know what you’re talking about. Likewise, it gives others confidence in you and your company. A good pitch also translates easily into successful sales and marketing. With these tips, you can hone your pitch with the confidence and poise necessary to get your startup off the ground.
Looking for more tips? Check out pitch stories at create-x.gatech.edu
We Are Engineers
This story appears in its entirety within the magazine of the Georgia Tech College of Engineering - We Are Engineers.
Engineers take a variety of forms, and the We Are Engineers magazine aims to convey them all through the lens of the amazing work being done in the College of Engineering.