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April 23rd, 2020

ELEVATE PERSPECTIVE

Commanding Your Virtual Pitch

By Marketing & Communications Team

Over the past month or so, the fundraising environment for entrepreneurs has changed across the nation. Investors, particularly professionally managed venture capital firms, typically use multiple in-person meetings as opportunities to assess the startup teams. Such meetings now have been primarily conducted virtually. While some investment firms allowed virtual pitches prior to COVID-19, it’s quickly becoming standard practice given the stay-at-home orders. Since Elevate Ventures launched in 2011 our investment pitches have been handled in person. Last year we saw 92 investment pitches in our offices.

In response to the current situation, we’ve moved our investment pitches to virtual, and just last week executed 124 virtual meetings among entrepreneurs and investors across the Midwest. Whether intended or not, virtual meetings present more challenges than in-person ones, both for entrepreneurs and for investors. Below are some ideas for entrepreneurs to better prepare themselves for this new normal.

The Fundamentals: Technology and Workspace

Like sports, pitching virtually is all about the fundamentals. Prepping your technology ahead of time and making sure your workspace is “investor ready” is critical to ensure you create a great impression. Below are tips on how to prep for each investment meeting.

  1. Check your WiFi signal and have at least one backup internet option in case the one you normally rely on doesn’t work.
  2. Clean your virtual desktop and get rid of every open window except your pitch deck, the video conferencing window and, if applicable, your demo.
  3. Test your sound and audio (multiple times). Make sure your AirPods are charged, you’re hardwired in, or that you have a backup option in case something goes wrong.
  4. Confirm that your microphone works. A USB microphone is best.
  5. Follow these camera tips:
    • Use a camera; people want to see you.
    • Make sure your camera angle is exactly how you want it; people tend to look better when they are looking up as opposed to looking down.
    • Make sure your whole face and at least the top of your shoulders is visible. Don’t get too close or it feels like you’re crowding the screen.
    • Make sure you’re in a well-lit area and that the light is coming from behind your computer, not from behind you. Don’t set up near a window, as it tends to white you out or create a haze.
  6. Declutter your workspace and the area directly behind you. If that isn’t an option, and you can use a virtual background, feel free to do so.
  7. Do your best to cut out background noise. We understand that might not be possible for everyone, especially given the current circumstances, but do the best you can. We’ve found that carpeted areas are better for sound than hard surfaces.
  8. Check for any updates on your computer, and ensure your device is in good working order before the meeting.
  9. Always join the meeting 10 to 15 minutes early so you can cross-check and confirm that things are where they need to be.
  10. When you have everything set up the way you want it, leave it be. Fiddling with it can be a distraction.
Setting Yourself up for Success

Now let’s focus on you.

Dress as though you were pitching to the investor in person. This may seem obvious, but it’s necessary to mention. Your appearance not only will impact the investor’s perception of you, but it may also alter your tone and performance level. While it can be tempting to dress in your most comfortable clothes when at home, dressing professionally during your pitch can get you in a mindset to make you feel poised and focused.

Assume technology will fail and be prepared to adapt: Well, you prepared your WiFi as suggested, and yet technology still failed. It happens. The people on the other end of the line know that, but what they don’t know is how you handle stressful situations. How you adjust to challenges during that ~60 minutes is going to tell the investment firm more about you than you realize. Be prepared to troubleshoot the issue, communicate your plan to the group, and get through it with intention.

Assume people can see you the whole time, but that they arent watching you: It sounds odd, but it’s a good assumption to make. Don’t do anything on camera you wouldn’t want them to see. But people are human and get distracted. They may not be looking at the pitch deck as you present, so it’s imperative that as you pitch, you don’t use phrases like “as you can see,” “on this slide,” etc. It’s better to be descriptive with your language, and to tell a compelling story that will keep their attention. This leads into the next point.

Create a presence with your voice, and invite interactions: In-person pitches are different; you can “talk” with your hands, which makes you appear warmer and more energetic. You can also take queues from facial expressions and body language and adjust on the fly. You may be pitching via video conference, but it is unlikely you’ll see everyone or that everyone will be able to see you. For that reason, you must create a presence with your voice. Capture their attention early, be descriptive and encourage interaction and tell a story to keep them engaged. Pace your speech appropriately and avoid sounding monotone. Make sure the passion you have for building your company comes through with each slide and every word.

If applicable, consider recording your demo: Product demos are great because they give investors direct line of sight into how your product or platform functions. Sure, virtual presentations may not change the way all companies demo their product or system, but they may affect you. Developing a 2- to 4-minute video on how your product or system works won’t hurt anything and may be a good pre-meeting or follow-up item to send to the investors.

Establish a virtual communication playbook: This is critical but doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. The investors who have been doing virtual pitches for some time now may have rules and processes in place you will need to follow. If, however, that’s not the case, use it as an opportunity to establish your own so the investors know what to expect. Acknowledge the elephant in the room, technology, and then briefly discuss how you plan to work through scenarios like: What if they can’t hear you? What if you can’t hear them? What if some are joining video, and some just have audio? Can they ask questions throughout, or would you prefer they wait until the end? How should they ask questions? While each playbook should be specific to the system you use (WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc.), it is important to establish the ground rules in the beginning so each party knows how to communicate with one another, as well as how you plan to troubleshoot technical issues if those arise. This ultimately will minimize confusion and might limit the number of times people talk over one another.

What Investors Need

One final consideration is the investor’s needs. Although we’ve moved to a virtual setting, our needs haven’t really changed. We want something that neatly and cohesively explains your business model, competitive advantage, go-to-market strategy, financials, and more importantly, how an investment opportunity is appropriately positioned in the current economic environment. With that in mind, though, it may be time to reconsider the design of your pitch deck to ensure it is easily understood in a virtual setting.

As an entrepreneur, you’ve likely developed several types of pitch decks and as an investment firm, we’ve seen quite a few ourselves. The one we recommend entrepreneurs use in the virtual setting is what we call the “reading deck.” This pitch isn’t the typical speaking deck used by some entrepreneurs, with lots of graphics and minimal words. The “reading deck” stands on its own, can be reviewed without explanation from the company, and addresses the core of the business as well as the key concerns investors may have. If you’ve never created one, imagine the investor or reviewer only has this deck but has no additional engagement with you or someone from the company.

In addition to the pitch deck, we also recommend you fine-tune your executive summary. Both of these items should be shared with the investors when the meeting is initially scheduled, as well as again, 15 minutes before the scheduled meeting.

For those in need of assistance, we have templates for both the executive summary and pitch deck.

Final Thoughts

While each of the focus areas above require different steps for preparation and execution, the levels of time, energy, and quality of output should be the same in order to command your virtual pitch. Whether you are pitching in person or virtually, the biggest thing to remember when talking to an investor is that people invest in people. We may not know exactly how things will change in the upcoming months, so it’s important to be innovative and stay responsive to new processes. Our “new normal” may not be what we expected when we began 2020, and may very well change yet this year, but some things remain the same: preparation, practice and passion can take you a long way when it comes to your company’s pitch.

Click here for more articles and resources on COVID-19 and managing your startup.

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