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Brian Wong listens to a pitch at last year’s Startup Conference

Congratulations!  Your company just scored a coveted presentation slot at a venture capital conference, an angel investor booze and schmooze or the next GeekWire Startup Day!

You’re excited, but totally freaking out. You’ve been so busy cranking out your beta that you don’t even remember applying for that “pitch thing.” Now you’ve got to figure out how to tell your story in five minutes and wow the room. And YouTube.

Here’s an outline of the approach Jeff Hutt and I used to prepare for VentureBeat’s DEMO last spring, where we were named one of five DEMOgod award winners out of the eighty companies that presented at the show.

First, recall the advice of that intergalactic hitchhiker, Douglas Adams and DON’T PANIC!  Remember the 5 Ps: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Start by doing your homework on the show, the venue and the format.  Did they send you any info on the room, whether they’re expecting a demo, if they’re providing good A/V equipment (and competent operators)? Or do they just want Powerpoint slides?

Clarifying those points before you prep is really, really important.  You have to tailor your presentation to the expectations and capabilities of the show.

Once you know the format, prepare your pitch.  Start by pulling the key points from your investor deck. Each of the 10-12 slides in that deck has only one main takeaway, right?  If not, make it so.  Umpteen blogs have outlined VC deck “must have” topics, but let’s review:

  1. Your Attention Grabber. One simple sentence on what your company does and why customers, and therefore investors, should be interested.
  2. The problem.
  3. Your solution to the problem.
  4. How your approach is meaningfully and defensibly different from competition.
  5. Your team.
  6. Your target market, its size and its growth prospects.
  7. How you will make money.  And by when.
  8. Your target customers and how you will attract and retain them.
  9. Your progress.  Any meaningful, quantifiable traction?
  10. How much are you raising?
  11. What are you going to do with the money?
  12. Your memorable closing sentence that ties it all together.

For your live pitch, start your script by limiting yourself to one sentence on each of these points.  Really.

You’ll be surprised at how much of the 5 minutes those twelve sentences will require.  With your message boiled down to its core, you’ll have a very succinct baseline pitch that you can later alter and extend for anything from 10 minute cocktail conversations to 60-90 minute VC partner meetings.

Next, make the pitch flow. Remember, you’re telling a story.  You might need to re-order the points or add an extra sentence on some topics. But keep it focused.

If the show wants a product demo, you can really differentiate yourself by avoiding play-by-play commentary and instead blending your messaging into the demo, especially 3-9 above.  For example, if you’re building a game driven by virtual goods, while you’re showing how players buy and use virtual goods, don’t merely describe what’s on screen.  Instead, talk about your model, how your approach to virtual goods will increase conversion and how and when you’re going to make money. Architect the demo to visually re-enforce your verbal points.

Hard?  Yes.  But if you can do it, it’s really powerful.

Virl Hill pitching Jumala at the DEMO conference last year

Your presentation should comfortably finish using 80 percent of your allotted time.  If something goes sideways on the day, you won’t need to talk at light speed to make all your points.

Finish and memorize your script at least one week before the show.  Set aside thirty minutes per day to rehearse timed run-throughs the final week.  Video some of the run-throughs and watch them.  A few days before the show, do some run-throughs in front of an invited audience of colleagues or friends who will give you honest feedback.  Make a party of out of it.  Bring beers.

On the day of the show, do a couple run-throughs before you go on, even if those have to be in your hotel room.  Bring a smile, a ton of energy and confidence to that stage.  Make the room feel your excitement and passion!

Professional coaches, like TheDemoCoach Nathan Gold, are also very helpful, especially if you’re inexperienced or uncomfortable with public speaking or if you’re preparing for a particularly complicated or high stakes presentation.

Just one more thing: relax.  Everyone in the room came to the show to discover exciting new companies.  They want you to be great.  So be great!

Virl Hill is a media and internet executive, startup advisor and strategic business development consultant who has built media businesses at Disney, RealNetworks,, Rhapsody and most recently as CEO of Jumala. You can follow Virl on Twitter @vzh.

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