Thus guest post was contributed by entrepreneur, Liz Ngonzi. Born in Uganda and “raised” at the United Nations, Liz Ngonzi is an international entrepreneur, educator and speaker committed to facilitating relationships between organizations that “do good” with those that “do well”, with a goal of meeting their mutual strategic objectives through marketing and fundraising campaigns, and educational activities.
Liz has consulted to and advised organizations in the US and in Africa, focused on gender rights, youth development and public health, along with higher education institutions.
Based on her 20-year career in marketing/sales and ten of those as an entrepreneur, Liz also teaches nonprofits how to meaningfully and efficiently engage their stakeholders using digital media, and budding social entrepreneurs how to develop compelling value propositions for investors.
Liz currently serves as a 2011-2013 Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Cornell University Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, is on the adjunct faculty of New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising and is the Africa Adviser to Syracuse University iSchool.
Ten Ways to Improve Your Pitch
Among the most common fears in the world is that of presenting in front of others – in the digital age in which we live where our ideas and correspondingly ourselves, could be delivered to countless and faceless people around the globe, that anxiety is most likely amplified a thousand-fold.
Even for me, with 20 years of pitching under my belt, many years teaching and presenting at conferences — I still have some anxiety when having to pitch an idea. The good news however, is that my years of experience — both winning and losing pitches — and subsequent analysis of losses and wins has enabled me to develop strategies that I’ve summarized for you below.
If you only remember three things from this post, here they are: (1) do your research to understand what will get the buyer(s) to say “yes”; (2) always put your best foot forward by realizing that while content is important, presentation can be even more so; and (3) be open to learning about how you can improve for the next pitch, assuming that you have what it takes to keep moving forward in the face of adversity. For everyone else, here are my 10 points to consider in improving you pitch:
1. Research, Research, Research. Understand Your Audience
Generally speaking, you will most likely know the names of who your assessors are. Armed with that knowledge and a simple Google search (here are the results of my Google search on Jon Gosier, Founder and CEO of Appfrica), you can learn about who they are, glean information about what drives them and possibly what you need to do to win them over. In this day and age of information, failing to research and understand the people to whom you’re presenting your ideas is a HUGE mistake that could ultimately result in your loss.
2. Understand Your Battlefield – Know Your Competitors’ Advantages and Weaknesses
Anyone effectively going into battle knows the importance of understanding who their opponents are. Again, a simple Google search about the opposing parties enable you to understand how to manoeuver against the competition. Such results provide you with insights into strengths and weaknesses in terms of marketability of their product, team strength, etc. If you don’t have information about current competitors, you can still research those whose ideas won in the past, along with those who were less fortunate. You can learn a lot from those who were successful…and even more from those who were not!
3. “The So What Factor” – Think About What Differentiates You and Your Business From Others
I know that you believe you’ve come up with the next best THING. However, in order to make certain that you have, you need to make certain that you understand and more importantly, convey what’s unique about your offering. People come up with great ideas all the time, however what takes a great idea to a great product/service, requires a bit more work.
Does your idea save people time or their lives? Have you found a way to help them make more money? Does your business have the ability to make people happier? Whatever you are offering, make certain that it does so better, faster or cheaper than other competitors in your target market. Most importantly, make certain to convey that in your pitch.
4. Content is King, But Sizzle Sells – Showmanship Can Make All the Difference
You can have a great idea or even be the most brilliant person, however if you do not know how to package it in a way that sells…you will fail to attract investors. If you do not currently have that talent on your team, I strongly suggest that you bring in someone who understands how to make your pitch “look and feel” more attractive to the potential investors.
This can include graphic designers, stylists (if you need to pitch in person or have photographs taken of your team) and great photographers / videographers who can capture your team and its business in the most attractive manner. For those on a tight budget, I suggest finding someone with a camera/video-enabled phone to capture your story through photos / video, even if they’re not professional ones…just do your best to make them look so!
5. Curate Your Digital Brand – Don’t Let Your Facebook Posts Kill the Deal
As much as we all love to share all of the happenings of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and other social media, I suggest that you review what you’ve posted online thus far and consider removing anything that would make your grandmother blush and even more importantly…make a potential investor re-consider whether or not betting on you or your fellow team members would be wise!
For additional information about how to curate your digital brand, review this link and check-out this link about how to manage your digital footprint. Another great resource you can use to improve your digital image is brand yourself, a service that aims to improve your Google search results.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice – Never Go in Cold
We all spend a lot of time getting everything ready for the pitch and sometimes forget to visualize success and practice toward that goal. As much as you may be incredibly busy getting the demo or power-point presentation ready, you have to take the time to practice for the pitch (if you’re fortunate enough to do it live or in front of the potential investors). If the pitch has to be done via postings, then you should consider recording it. You’ll definitely want to have a script that you follow for taping. I always tell people that YouTube is a great resource if they are trying to find how to do something. Here is a link to various Youtube videos for those trying to pitch to investors online.
7. Social Media is Just That….Social – Engage Others to Support Your Brand
Many entrepreneurs believe they have to do it all themselves, however, the good news is that through social media, they can leverage others to support their ideas. When my team and I were trying to get votes for our Africa, Tech & Women: The New Faces of Development panel at SXSW (a major US technology and music conference), we took to social media to get that much-needed support.
We even bombarded our email and mobile phone contacts with messages seeking support of our panel. The result was that our panel was selected from 3,200 entrants and one of 600 talks, not an easy feat, given that Africa still doesn’t have the reputation for tech innovation, and women are still definitely in the minority when it comes to tech.
8. Mind Your Manners – Personalized Thank You Notes Go a Long Way
I’m pretty “old school” when it comes to acknowledging others and have a preference for hand written notes. However I know that it is easier to send a thank-you notes via email, particularly when you’re doing so in/from Africa. Whatever the format, my experience has shown me that it makes a great deal of difference to send individualized notes to all those whom I’ve met following a pitch.
To do so, you have to make certain that you ask each of them for their business cards at an appropriate time during the pitch (if it’s in person) or work hard to find their email addresses if their contact details are not not posted on the site where you register (if online). I can tell you from experience that those who receive thank you notes from you following the pitches will remember that gesture, because most people seldom do so.
9. Seek Feedback – Why Did Your Pitch Rock or Bomb?
Alongside sending out thank you notes / emails, requesting feedback from investors / judges is a rarity. Those who take their responsibilities seriously (barring rules against doing so by the organizers of the pitch) will most likely provide you with feedback on why your pitch failed and possibly pointers on how to strengthen it. Whether or not they respond, it always makes sense to seek feedback in the event that you get it…it only makes you better if you do!
10. Be Your Best Cheerleader – Celebrate Having the Courage to Do What Most People Can’t
At the end of the day, the fact that you were brave enough to come up with an idea and present it to folks who could potentially bring it to fruition through their time, talent and resources – means that you’re a winner. Take the time to celebrate that!
Even if you did not make it through this time, if you take the time to obtain and review the feedback (post mortem included) and commit to pitch other people, if you do so armed with the aforementioned knowledge and have the confidence your ability to work through disappointments, you’ll eventually get better.
Follow Liz on Twitter: @LizNgonzi