Pitch Directory: Bringing Balance to the Boardroom

This is the fourth and final installment of Pitch Directory; A series presented in partnership with BDO VC Pitch Day. This series examines pitching from four different perspectives, exploring the definitive sources dedicated to understanding what it takes to successfully pitch a company or idea. Check out parts onetwo, and three.

The corporate presentation—some might call it the final boss of presentations. It combines a bit of everything needed when it comes to successfully pitching an idea: It needs to be concise, effective, and high-level enough that investors, executives and anyone else who happens to be in the boardroom understand every detail.

There are a few different styles of corporate presentations. They might involve pitching a new product to a higher-up, or the eternal attempts to try and secure more money from the budget for a specific department. For the very successful founders, the ultimate corporate presentation is the IPO roadshow, where a company’s executive team hits the road trying to convince potential investors to buy stock as soon as that company hits the exchanges.

Jerry Weissman knows the world of presentations. Some might even say he IS the world of presentations. His mentor and coaching specialty is the IPO roadshow, and one of his first mentor sessions involved guiding Cisco’s road to a public offering. It worked pretty well—Don Valentine, the founder of uber-successful venture firm Sequoia Capital and the chairman of Cisco’s Board of Directors when the company launched its IPO, attributed “at least two to three dollars” of the offering price to Weissman’s coaching.

After beginning his career directing TV and theatre productions, Weissman moved onto coaching technology executives on how to pitch and present their company through his own agency Suasive. The IPO coaching is what catches most people’s attention, as beyond Cisco, he has worked with influential CEOs such as Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Yahoo’s Tim Koogle through their company’s IPO process, and just like with Cisco, his coaching skills have been cited as being “worth 10% on a company stock.”

Despite the millions of dollars changing hands that Weissman has had an influence on, the remarkable thing is that his teachings on how to effectively pitch always come down to one thing: “The story is you, not the slides.”

“Business falls in the trap of the twofer,” says Weissman. “People will use slideshows as handouts, pile all the information there, and then the audience is stuck on the slide. Compelling images take away from what you are saying. Only use slides as a headline. The presenter should add value.”

Despite his best teaching efforts, there is still a legacy of people who pitch and rely on their source material too much. As Weissman puts it, it is a “misguided sense of efficiency.” There is no need to constantly be looking back to the Powerpoint presentation for guidance. It should merely be a tool.

“You have to focus on narrative and determine concept,” Weissman says. “Don’t start with slides, because you’ll be shuffling like a Vegas dealer.”

If a pitching founder relies too heavily on their slideshows and handouts, they lose any chance at connecting with their audience, regardless of who they may be. Weissman tells this exact advice to CEOs looking for billion-dollar IPOs, and it can be just as effective for an early-stage CEO looking for a new mentor. Connection is key—throw too much information at someone and they become overwhelmed and will easily disconnect. Too many graphs, projection figures, and flashing logos might seem interesting, but it only drives interest away from what an investor or mentor should be engaging with: the founder themselves.

Weissman recommends to never approach a presentation as a take-home document. Too often, people combine both aspects into one piece of material, diluting the overall effectiveness. Drive a wedge between both and stop thinking of presentations as text documents to simply read aloud then hand over as something to study on the way home. Use the presentation to engage with the audience, and the take-home material to prove exactly what was being said during the pitch.

Using this advice is one of the best ways to connect with a diverse audience that demands respect. Weissman has coached the biggest CEOs in the world to better understand the time of their billion-dollar investor audiences, so trust him when he says stop relying on slides and presentations for everything.

This is the final portion of Pitch Directory. From four different perspectives, there are a few key takeaways to understand what it means to successfully pitch an idea. Personal connection is always key, so make sure to focus on being charismatic and developing a sense of personal style.

Secondly, do not rely on slides or presentations too much. Use them to augment the experience, not guide it. Overwhelming the audience with numbers and specifics is one of the worst things a presenter can do.

Finally, follow through with a pitch. See what went wrong, and ask questions to see how to improve. Judges, mentors, and VCs are either there to help the pitcher work on their idea or to simply make money—either way, everyone wins if enough research is done and both sides of the table follow through on what they say they are going to do.

Follow these pieces of advice, vetted from some of the top names in the startup, venture, corporate, and accelerator worlds, and you just might win your next pitch competition.

Check out Pitch Directory: Part One, where a pitch competition world champion shares his thoughts on how to conquer the competition, Part Two, where a globally-recognized accelerator director tells you why it’s important to be aware of what you’re trying to achieve, and Part Three, where a leading venture partner explains the importance of following through after delivering a pitch. 

Techvibes is the official Media Partner of the BDO VC Pitch Day 2019.