| ||Guest post added May 20, 2020. Last updated 11 days ago.|
NOTE: this is repost of an article written by Gabe Zichermann and originally posted at https://medium.com/@gzicherm/how-to-raise-startup-funding-via-phone-or-zoom-89bcfc4ce73a
Modern startup fundraising is designed around the principle of in-person pitches. Whether those are demo days, initial/final meetings or anything in between, a lot of time is spent by entrepreneurs learning how to convey energy and earnestness from the front of a banal board room.
But COVID-19, and potential social distancing measures, will upend how startups raise money. This will undoubtedly require entrepreneurs to learn how to give their pitches on the phone, via Zoom, or even in writing. This is not a skill most are prepared for.
Funnily enough, I am (and not just by virtue of being older). In the previous major tech downturn of 2001, I was a co-founder of a tech startup that was actively trying to raise its series B. We must have pitched over 100 times in 2 years, before we finally found the right partner. During that time, it was exceedingly common to give first pitches by phone, as most VCs would not take in-person meetings until they got excited by the opportunity. Back then, in-person meetings really meant something, but in order to get one you absolutely had to nail the phone pitch.
So now that our society has been knocked down a couple of pegs, and startups must (re)build, how do we prepare founders to sell their stories if they have partial — or no — visible cues to work from? What are the specific techniques of a great phone/zoom pitch, and how can you learn them. Let’s take a closer look.
Normally, we advise startup founders to start by telling a story. This is still a good strategy when pitching virtually, but other aspects of the pitch may need to be tweaked. It’s easy enough for viewers to get lost in a live 3–5 minute pitch, but on the phone it’s extra challenging to stay focused. In fact, many of your virtual pitch recipients may not be able to resist multitasking while you speak, and this may cause them to lose track of the presentation.
Open strong with your story. Then for each of the subsequent sections of your pitch, you should frame what you are about to say up front. “Now let’s talk about the market” will give the people on the other end of the phone the opportunity to catch back up with you if they get lost.
Demos are an essential part of any startup’s pitch and often receive the lion’s share of the time in a live presentation. In a virtual pitch, you run the risk of not being able to show your product at all (if by phone) or be subject to all the limitations of screen sharing teleconference apps, including lags, pixelation, resolution issues and even just managing the on-screen view.
The best option is to create a clickable demo of your product that an end user can access from a specific URL. During the presentation, you can encourage them to visit the site at the requisite time, and then you can get them to move forward on command, like those old audiobooks on vinyl. If your product can’t be easily demonstrated in that way, I’d prepare a flat PDF of the demo steps to explain how it works. Send this over in advance so they have it at their disposal. If your product is actually functional (e.g. in the App store or online), I highly recommend coming up with a way of demoing that involves the audience using the product. You should have a narration and steps planned, and also invite questions and interactivity. Technical glitches with screen sharing happen often, so always have a backup.
In the physical space, you can feel the energy of the room — even if you’re not consciously aware of it. Body language, multi-tasking, note-taking, all provide context for how you’re doing. And people’s eye contact, nodding and vocalizations add further color to whether or not you’re nailing it. Needless to say, this is not available when you’re pitching on the phone and only partially available via videoconferencing.
If you are used to presenting live, you will need to consciously override your brain’s “panicked” response to the lack of feedback. This tends to make people speak faster and to fill in all the quiet moments. You can practice reprogramming yourself by either presenting to a wall while your eyes are in soft-focus (not looking at anything in particular) and/or by giving the pitch to a friend or advisor over the phone. Keep your heart rate calm, and resist the urge to speak continuously. If necessary, include explicit cues in your notes to tell you to stop, take a deep breath and create some space.
Though this is not uniform, live pitch investors will generally wait until you’re done with your company’s first core set of slides before asking questions. In the hyper-timed formats preferred by Founder Institute and YC, this usually makes viewers wait until the very end to say something. Delaying the urge to jump in and say “but…but…” is very difficult for many opinionated people (notably, investors) and this can predispose them against you negatively. When you’re in the room, you can see and adjust — but not so much when presenting virtually.
Insert Q&A pause breaks in your presentation. Think of the pitch as a play in 6 acts. Between each act (problem, solution, team, go to market, competition, financing) pause, and ask the people on the other end if they have any questions. You could use one of the tools embedded in teleconferencing software (like raising your hand to ask a question), but I’d advise against it. Just take a breath, ask if people have questions, answer them non-combatively, and then move on as needed.
Most live presentations have specific venues that affect your pitch. For example, you may be sitting down at a large executive conference table across from a billionaire who is closely watching your every move. Or, you may be at the front of a room of hundreds of people, on a high school stage, or in a noisy convention center. Regardless, you have to look the part, present appropriately and be flexible for things that go awry. Never more so than when you’re presenting virtually.
I strongly recommend getting dressed up for your pitches in the same way you would for a live preso. The clothes will give you a particular energy that will translate over the phone — plus it’s good if you’re using Zoom. Wherever possible, I’d encourage you to sit down when you talk, and practice this ahead of time. Standing tends to make people deliver more forcefully, while sitting encourages a conversational tone; you are definitely going for the latter.
This tonal difference is crucial. Make sure you have a presentation that is conversational in nature, free-flowing and flexible, and nonetheless exciting. The kind of commanding energy you need on stage is the exact opposite of what works on the phone. You’re much closer to the camera (and/or mic), and don’t need to emote as strongly, or be as loud. It can be a turn-off to overact in that context, so tone it down and be friendly.
And be flexible: you might ask for Zoom, and your investors will have a technical problem. Your internet might conk out at the last minute, or your computer freezes up. Always have a backup plan that reverts to the phone and handouts, and you should be fine. Don’t be afraid to pull the ripcord and change direction if you encounter hiccups. Investors love a decisive thinker.
Remember to always send your deck ahead to prospective investors with enough time before the meeting for the distribution of the deck. If you are coordinating through an admin, I highly suggest telling them explicitly that you’re going to be sending over a deck for distribution. This serves as your backup plan, and also prevents investors from using out of date materials. If you have to refer to the printed deck throughout the presentation, be sure to call out some page numbers as needed, such as “…now we’re going to move on to the competition if there are no more questions about team? Page 9.”
The deck you use in a live presentation is necessarily going to be different from a leave-behind version. When you’re in the room, your slides should support the telling of your story from the dais, meaning: heavy images/charts, light on text. A distributed version must take care to include enough detail that someone can follow along if needed.
Practice, practice, practice. Obviously, this skill takes a long time to perfect, but be sure to give your presentation virtually in advance so you’ll be ready when it invariably happens.
Hopefully you found these tips useful. I’ve given a lot of virtual and live presentations in my career, and I know how hard it can be to adapt to both skill sets. In every case, preparation is essential. Be ready to revert to phone, know your material, and have background on the investors in the room.
By leveraging the advice I’ve provided above, you’ll be able to nail your virtual company pitches in no time.