Last week I made a 90-second pitch for the Early Exit Academy at an event sponsored by the local Chambers of Commerce. I didn’t make the cut, but my pitch went well and I learned a lot in the process. And I met some ambitious entrepreneurs who are working to create innovative products and services. Here are five tips that can help you make a powerful 90-second pitch.
I don’t have a business background, so I was in the dark when it came to the world of 90-second pitch competitions. It turns out this is a big thing, not just in the business community, but in the university and college setting as well. Call it Shark Tank light. My local event was called StartPeninsula and it accepted only 30 pitchers. We had 90 seconds to pitch our business to a team of judges – no props, no slides, no demos, and no Q&A. Walk up to the microphone and deliver. That’s it! As I watched my peers take their turns at the microphone, it was clear that nerves were one of the biggest factors we had to overcome.
Many of us attended a Pitch Perfect workshop to get ready for the event. Here we received a “formula” to help us frame our pitch. I rewrote my entire pitch after the workshop, and it would not be the last rewrite.
There’s no getting around it, you have to get your pitch down on paper. No matter how talented you may be, don’t expect to pull 90 seconds of greatness off the top of your head. I ended up with four very different drafts over the course of a couple of weeks and easily spent 12 hours drafting and presenting and recording my pitch. You are putting yourself out there in front of strangers and you want to make your best appearance. Spend time on the pitch. Share it with friends and tweak it a few hundred times. Time it and record a video. You’ll get tired of hearing your own voice by the time you present it, and that’s exactly where you want to be.
When I finished and practiced my third draft, I was feeling confident and upbeat. But worried. You see, if I made one goof, it might bring the whole ship down. And then my 90 seconds would be chewed up by some very uncomfortable efforts to catch my place and calm my nerves. I had slammed 250 words into a 90-second pitch – way too many! In contrast, the final version was 193 words and made an enormous difference in my ability to deliver the entire pitch without feeling rushed. I’d recommend even fewer words – I left the stage with just one second to spare.
Pitchers cannot use any props – but notes are allowed. In the end, I decided to give it my all and kept my notes in my pocket. I had practiced a zillion times and I didn’t want to be dinged by my reliance on notes. Yet I have decades of experience presenting to audiences, while many of those who pitched had very little experience speaking in front of audiences. While I was nervous, others were freaked out. A few pitchers who had felt confident going up without their notes stumbled and couldn’t bounce back, while those who used notes did just fine. But here’s what NOT to do – do not read your script from your cell phone! One gentleman attempted to do so and an untimely text interrupted his pitch. It led to a bumbling presentation.
Find a small group of people who are willing to give you an honest critique of your pitch. If you meet with a group of entrepreneurs or belong to Toastmasters, do your pitch and get some feedback. My dry run led to yet another redraft and a major improvement in the content. But I also received some reminders on posture and presentation style. And since I had no slides or props to work with, those tips were valuable in bringing my voice out and making a better appearance. Don’t skip the dry run!
Here’s the thing, you have nothing to lose in delivering your pitch. You are a winner by the very fact that you now have a credible 90-second pitch – one that defines your business and your goals. There are no losers. As I drove home from the event, somewhat disappointed that I hadn’t made the cut, I gradually felt my confidence and determination return. I did the best I could and I believe in the Early Exit Academy. Don’t let a poor performance or the fact that you weren’t selected sidetrack you from your dreams!
I met some of the semi-finalists over the course of the event and I learned that most had been working on their business plan for years. Their websites are fantastic and they are already selling products or services. That’s a far cry from where I am, with just five months of entrepreneurship under my belt. And I learned that judges are looking for innovative products and apps that can be scaled up to national and global levels. Plus, the Chambers of Commerce sponsor the event to encourage businesses that can hire people, build facilities, and bring in taxes. That’s not me! Even so, it was an excellent experience and I’m glad I gave it a shot.
Finally, for the curious readers, here’s my 90-second pitch. Now go out there and give it a try!