The art of pitching to win

By Kanishka Weeramunda

Two weeks ago I spoke about the emerging technopreneur culture in Sri Lanka. This week I will focus on the art of pitching and how to master it. It is a commonly held belief that pitching is extremely difficult, especially when the average pitch deck is limited to a time of 5-7 minutes. However, in reality it is easier than it seems at first.
Whether you come from a corporate background or the start-up ecosystem, at some point you would have to pitch a product/service to investors and other stakeholders. Developing a pitch is more than coming up with a great idea for a media product and shopping it around to investors. It involves ideation, key feature identification and testing, market research, design and branding work, redesign, and pitch performance practice. At the heart of the pitch is your promise to develop a successful product, even though you may not yet know all of the variables that will influence its success.
Within the Sri Lankan start-up ecosystem we have multiple start-ups at various stages of development: In each unique case, these start-ups would have something different to pitch. While the content of each start-up may vary, the art of pitching remains the same. Before I delve into the specifics, please note that this can help even those who are not in the start-up ecosystem. Now let’s get down to how you can master the techniques and become proficient in pitching.

Slide One: The Icebreaker
The first slide, or rather the Icebreaker, is where you start off with something quite prominent in order to grab the attention of your audience. However before you create your icebreaker, it is important to understand who your audience is. Once you have identified your audience only then can you focus on grabbing their attention. There’s a saying that the average attention span of human is 12 seconds. Within these few seconds it is your duty to make sure you have captured the attention of your audience and keep them intrigued about your pitch. The simplest ways to do so are;
While these are ideally some of the easiest ways to capture the attention of your audience, I would advise you to think outside the box and come up with even more creative ways that would suit your company/idea/solution.

Slide Two: The Problem
Next, we move on to the problem for which you are presenting the solution to. On this slide, you can educate your audience about the problem. Explicitly telling your audience – you can be straightforward with your audience about the problem that you have observed in the market and state it outright in the presentation. When conveying it to your audience, be sure to approach them in a way that they could empathise with you on the problem. This would be a guaranteed way of getting them to understand clearly.
No matter which method you choose, I would advise you to keep it as visual and as empathetic as possible. It is wise to remember the old saying “facts tell, stories sell” when trying to convey your message. Once you have established the problem with the audience, you must make them aware about who is affected by it.

Slide Three: The Solution
Now that we have created our icebreaker and established the problem with our audience, it is time to present how your solution is going to solve the problem. It is best to explain the solution in the least complex way possible. Rather than by defining it through multiple sentences you can just explain it in one sentence, like this;
“We solve (problem) for (customer) by doing (solution).”
After you have explained your solution, you can begin to describe how the solution fulfils the need. In simple terms, it is a matter of explaining the benefits and features of your solution to your audience and potential users. Once again, remember to keep it visual as it will help the audience to understand better!

Slide Four: The Opportunity
Now there is a high chance that your product/service/solution would have direct or indirect competitors. For this part of the pitch, you have to convince your audience on why you stand out amongst competition. You can do this by demonstrating your competitive advantage. But that is not all, as you still have to address the current market size and what type of sources and assumptions you would use to hit the target market. For you to understand how big your market is, I would suggest you segregate it as shown in the graph.
Before you panic as to what TAM, SAM and SOM are, these are the categories you would use to see how big your market is.
Once you have demonstrated to the audience how big your market is, where you can target and your competitive advantage, you need to show your audience where the business opportunity is and how you can grow from it.

Slide Five: Traction
Traction talks about what you have achieved so far and what you project to achieve in the future. If you are a start-up that has not started its operations just yet, you would have to talk to your audience on what you have forecasted as the revenue streams, monthly expenses and key metrics that include the number of volumes you wish to sell and the users you wish to have by a certain period of time. If you are a start-up that does not have traction, be clear to show the milestones you wish to achieve within a certain period of time. It is always best to show realistic figures and present to the audience what you have achieved (that is if you are currently in operations), rather than what you want to achieve.

Slide Six: Business Model
This slide is where you show your audience how you make your revenue and the revenue model (premiums, subscription, commission, etc.) you have selected to use. Here you will demonstrate the revenue streams you have created or hope to create through your product/service/solution. Steer clear from showing too many income sources as it may look unrealistic and would be difficult to understand for your audience. Be sure to always highlight your primary income source so that the audience knows exactly how you make your money. Once you have demonstrated your primary revenue source and the revenue model, demonstrate to the audience how much time and money you would invest in attracting a customer. This can be done easily using the simple marketing metric Lifetime Value to Customer Acquisition Cost Ratio.

Slide Seven: Team
“Talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” The team is an integral part of any organisation, be it either a start-up or a well-established corporation. This is an important slide which elaborates the strength and the people behind the success of a company. Here you must clearly recognise your team members and their experience in their respective areas. By doing so, not only will you demonstrate the diversity of your team to the audience but also the core strengths of each department in the company.
We have now covered the basics of an average pitch deck that you would need, however if you are seeking funding there is an additional slide that would have to be added to your pitch deck:

Slide Eight: The Ask (Optional)
If you are a start-up seeking for funding and pitching for a fundraising competition, it is vital to pitch the audience the amount of funds you are looking for. I would recommend you to break down the required fund, so that the audience will be educated on your reasons for seeking funding. Always keep in mind to be realistic and do not be afraid to ask for things that are not just money.

Before winning a competition, you are going to have to practice pitching your product/service/solution by attending and participating in public pitching competitions. As you may be wondering where you can enter into these events, I have listed some of the places below where you can find these events; SLASSCOM, Lanka Angel Network, Spiralation, Techstars, Startup Weekends, John Keells X, CIMA Launchpad, and Hemas Slingshot.
The list goes on, but you will come across plenty of pitching events which will give you the chance to present in front of a judging panel and audience. Furthermore, be sure to go through the judging criteria as it will give you a better understanding about what you must address for the competition.

Before the Pitch
· Go early to the venue so that you could practice your pitch deck and be thorough with your environment. Always test the equipment beforehand to ensure a smooth process during your pitch
· Make sure the screen size is sufficient, check the type of microphone you will be using (clip-on or hand-held) and if the clicker device is functional. Also check whether if the audio equipment is functional so that even the last person in the audience can hear what you are pitching
· Run your presentation prior to the pitch, so that you could check if the colours of the presentation and font sizing are visible to the audience. I would recommend staying away from light colours for the presentation so that it would be clearer when projected onto the screen
· If you are using pictures in the pitch deck, it is recommended to refrain from using collages

During the Pitch
· Please remember to not slouch in front of your judging panel and audience as it will make you look unprofessional
· Body language is considered an important factor; hence you should always retain a good posture when pitching
· Do not hide your hands in your pocket!
· Feel free to use them to motion and emphasize certain points. Do not go overboard and start swaying your hands all over the place

Finally, PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! By practicing as much as possible you can increase your chances on winning at a pitching competition.

Kanishka Weeramunda is the Founder/CEO of PayMedia, and Entrepreneur in Residence at Square Hub. He was recognised as the ICT Leader of the Year 2018 at the ICT Awards organised by the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL), and Best CEO of the Year as well as Best Future Leader of the Year in the Small and Medium service sector category at the CMI Excellence Awards 2017