6 Pitching Mistakes We’re Sick of Seeing
I love watching startups pitch, probably because I love pitching.
To me, seeing someone articulate their vision and product is nothing short of inspiring. But having been a judge for various university competitions like Hult Prize’s Accelerator and University College London amongst others, I have to share some of the biggest pet peeves I have seen from the judging table.
1. Not Being Genuine
“When we are selling our ideas, the audience must first buy us.”
― Peter Coughter, The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business
I have been saying people fall in love with founders before they ever meet the product or service.
Often times the winners of competitions, the recipients of funding, and those who get the additional PR for their startups are the ones that are genuine in their pitch and story.
Misconception — This does not mean you need to be an extrovert. You need to let us into the passion and purpose behind your startup idea by being genuinely you. People are not investing in the next Elon Musk, but we want a founder who lives and breathes and believes in their startup’s mission.
2. Lack of Body Awareness
You speak with more than just your voice; your body can say magnitudes about your confidence. This is especially apparent in the post-covid Zoom era. We were conditioned over the past years to speak in our pajama bottoms to a screen, and now, when we are expected to be in business casual and in-person, it appears as if we have gotten rusty in our presence.
Swaying, nervous gestures like hair twirling or thumb twiddling, and lacking eye contact are common themes in the new age of in person pitching. From a perspective of a judge, these are distraction to your story and can undercut your narrative.
3. Rookie Mistakes
I have seen first-time founders knock their pitch out of the park, and in the same competition, I have seen the early favorites and veterans stumble to the bottom from out of date information or the wrong statistic on their slides.
The little mistakes that are easily avoided or seem to stem from apathy are, what I call, rookie mistakes. As a budding leader in your field, you are expected to have as much expertise as you can. Not using the most up to date data, not citing your sources, and saying one number when your side states another: all rookie mistakes. Understand your credibility can be undermined through these careless actions.
4. Misaligned Storytelling
Stories work because they allow the audience to jump on this moving train with excitement, rather than getting railroaded with information.
If Moana decided that she wanted to flee her island, go on an adventure with Maui, and in all an attempt to find all for a pack of tuna, that would be a bit of a let down...
Understanding the power of the story is half the challenge of a pitch. Founders say they are saving hungry children by their premium snack brand. But ask yourself, are you really?
These are misaligned stories. What is the exact problem you are solving, and what is the narrative around it? Because when these stories are forced, it causes a diametric and nauseating storyline that your audience may not want to be a part of.
5. Audience Awareness
Your pitch is not one of those one-size-fits all stretchy shirt. Each pitch should be tailored for every audience.
In a competition, there are rubrics, and as a judge we must score you in a way that align with these categories. So, if you know that go to market strategy is a category on the rubric, please, please mention it.
Additionally, if there is a diverse judging pool, then everyone from a 25 year old expert in your space to a 65 year old grandma should understand what you are trying to say.
Now, in the investor space, there will be a different set of criteria than in an awareness pitch. But by understanding this audience, you would be able to tailor your pitch to share more financial information and metrics.
6. Lack of Practice
Like any sport or speech, practice makes perfect. So often though, founders write a wonderful script, create slick slides, and then fall under the pressure of the situation. People meet people, and when you sound like a robot obviously reading a script off your head, you are lacking that human touch.
Additionally, words can sound great on paper but terrible out loud. This is especially true if you are pitching in a language that is not your native one. (As someone who took speech lessons in grade school, I know I can still fumble over the precision of my w’s and s’s.) You only learn these refinements though through practice.
I have worked with over 400+ entrepreneurs from all corners, and whether it is an elevator pitch or a competition presentation in front of 500 people… the pitch is the perfect entry point for users and investors alike to meet your venture.