Are you pitching to angels, venture capital firms, or other private funding sources? Here's the one public speaking skill you need to make a winning pitch to investors.
Are you raising capital for a new venture? When it comes to the content of your pitch and the tactics that will persuade investors, look for advice from the people who actually provide capital to start-ups. Some of them have written articles or recorded videos offering valuable guidance in this area.
But here's some advice from my speech coaching practice that should also be of value to you. When it comes to connecting with listeners and standing out from the crowd, there's another equally important competency you need to perfect: Your skills as a speaker.
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You Have a Vision. Can You Express It Well?
Some of my clients are entrepreneurs who are at exactly this point in their ventures. They are talking to potential funders, and even to parties who may be interested in buying them out. (You might be surprised at how early in the process the latter conversations can take place.)
These clients are visionaries, who happen to have started companies in a region that's rich in ideas, energy, talent, and competition, i.e., the Boston/Cambridge area where I practice. They know they have to go beyond their brilliant idea to capture the attention and interest of important prospects quickly. Sometimes that means private conversations; and at other times, they're speaking on podcasts and business radio shows.
The future of their venture is riding in part, that is, on knowing how to be a concise and compelling speaker. That's where their ability to connect with and persuade stakeholders comes in.
It's Your Job to Give Your Content Meaning
Rolling out a constant stream of statistics, ROI, and other data won't necessarily make you a persuasive speaker. While the numbers are vital when talking to funding sources, what has to come first is the connection between you and those listeners—the rolling out, as it were, of you and your idea. Who are you? What are your bona fides? And what's your track record of successfully starting and exiting a company in this sector?
Just as important, what's your vision for your company that sets it apart from the competition? What does it all mean in terms of offering something new and important, and why should your prospects be interested? If you can get that cooking for you, they will be ready to hear the specifics of how it will pay off for them, in another words, that valuable data. Conveying the meaning of what you're trying to get at requires developing not only your verbal content, but the key techniques of vocal expressiveness. And that involves going beyond spilling out facts and figures, to embody the human element of your idea.
You Need to Zero in on What's Really Important
That's where your ability to strongly convey the uniqueness of your venture comes in. And if you can't do that with your voice (and if you're pitching in person, with your face and body language as well), then you simply can't do it. After all, isn't the world well stocked with brilliant people who struggle with conveying their ideas compellingly?
It's not uncommon, for instance, for me to be coaching an entrepreneur client in, say, getting ready for their appearance on a podcast or national talk show. We'll record the practice session and watch or listen to the playback (video for a TV appearance, audio for radio or podcast). And that client will say: "I sound like I'm giving a lecture . . . there's no life in it!"
A primary tool of speech coaching and training is to help them, and you, do what actors accomplish through performance training: Get your voice to fully reflect how you think and feel. That's what your prospects are looking for in the first place. Once you learn how to use the full vocal palette, you'll be able to express--sharply, concisely, and passionately--what's really important in your idea and venture.
Explain Why It Matters to Me (and See that I Get It)
Now for the third skill in terms of the public speaking aspects of pitching successfully: letting the audience know why it matters to them. Often, we don't accomplish this task because we're too concerned with how we're doing, and not focused enough on what our listeners are taking away. We're speaker-centric rather than audience-centric.
But every audience member, from attendee at your lecture at the local library to the billionaire looking for ideas to fund, is in a "What's-in-it-for-me" mode at all times. So find ways, from jotting down your initial ideas to your final practice sessions, to present your message in terms that make sense to this individual or group. What interests them; and how does your idea connect with that? The more ways you can find to present your message in terms of their world-view, the more likely you'll get them on your wavelength. (So, do your homework!)
Just as important: pay attention as you speak to whether you're getting through. Your speaker-centric focus will have you listening to how well you're doing. But of course, you should be listening to how well they are doing. That means paying close attention to facial expressions, body language, the questions they ask, and even the imagery they use to phrase their remarks. (You can adapt similar metaphors for your own responses.) Just as they want to see you and not only data that you throw their way, the more you will succeed if you can get through to them.
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