Last night saw me at the TechCrunch Pitch! event and in a camera happy mood (see Techcrunch pitch photos on Flickr), you’ll find some videos on techcrunch moblog  (I Qik’ed Mike Butcher’s intro here). The pitches were of a high standard, and I’ll be checking out a some of the companies.

Mike gave the companies a specific list of questions to work to. That isn’t completely unusual for a pitching situation, although I think it vexed a few of the speakers. Doug Richard, from BBC’s Dragon’s Den, did an excellent job of playing bad-cop.

On the way home, my thoughts turned to “what makes a good pitch?” Over the years I’ve been on both sides of the table, prepping the pitches and pitching businesses for funding, but also listening to company pitches with a view to investment or acquisition. As I was describing these to my ever astute COO, she said “That sounds like the seven habits of highly effective pitchers”, so here they are:


1. Know the audience, but don’t take them for granted.

What are their motives for being at the pitch? Who are they? These days there is little excuse for not having good background. Linkedin, Xing, Google and Blogs (if they blog) are useful tools. Obviously, don’t end up being a social media stalker, but be aware of the background. One last obvious point, don’t take everything you read as gospel, or make the mistake of believing you actually understand the audience.


2. Know the ideal outcome and shoot for it.

What is it that you want to happen as a result of the pitch? Have a very clear and specific idea of what it is, and make sure the pitch actually works towards it. If you are pitching to investors for cash, they are going to be more interested in how much you want, how good you’ll be with it and why. Not in how hot your Ruby-on-rails coding skillz are. 


3. Know the weakness(es) and head them off.

You suck. You genuinely do. There are things that you are not great at. There are areas where your company is exposed. Know what they are. What are the most common objections you get in the context of this pitch? You don’t want to sow seeds of doubt, but you do want to concrete over any ground where they might spring up.


4. Describe the value from a customer perspective.

What is it that you enable? In specific, quantifiable terms, how does it make things faster or cheaper for customers. For any business product it must do one, if not both, of these or there isn’t a proposition. If you are a consumer offering, then you have the luxury of grasping at being outrageously, additively fun. Don’t miss it.


5. Woo and wow, rather than beat and demand. 

Don’t sell to me, woo me – win me over. People (I include myself there) dislike being sold too. Get me on your side. Don’t tell me you rock, tell me about someone else who says that you rock. Appeal to my judgment, experience and objectives (see 1).


6. Know your time limit; stick to it.

Not over or under. When I first started running a Toastmasters club, I found one of the rules very harsh: If you run over time, you are out of the competition. It is a good discipline. The only way you can know if you are going to be in the time limit is to do a full talk-through. Do it and time it. Rinse and repeat. The audience, and you, will appreciate it. Failing to stick to time and being pulled off stage dents the impression you leave behind.


7. Tell stories.

Stories have narrative. They flow. Their linked structure (this, then this, then this…) make them memorable and easy to follow. Stories have colour and detail, which makes them engaging. People love stories, and if they are good they retell them – that is a marketing secret weapon.

And remember, good stories have a beginning, middle and end. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them. That’s the seven habits of highly effective pitchers.