BBC2’s Dragons’ Den featured a classic pitching error this week – the first entrepreneur forgot to tell the dragons what he was pitching!
We viewers had the benefit of a voiceover explaining that he was seeking investment for ‘a new national fast food franchise’. What the dragons got to see and hear was a (literally) all singing/dancing intro, followed by statistics and facts such as £3.8bn spent of Indian takeaways, two existing stores in South Wales and a dream of a nationwide network. Confused dragon Piers Linney sought clarification, saying: “You have not explained, unless I missed it, what on earth you do. What is it? A takeaway? Is it a shop? Is it fresh? What is it?” The entrepreneur responded, but his explanation was still littered with jargon about ‘the brand’, ‘social media’ etc. Eventually Linney was forced to spell it out for him.
It was a very basic error, but it is quite common. For some years now I have coached some of the most brilliant young entrepreneurs prior to making a pitch of 6-8 minutes in front of investors who have the power and resources to make their business fly. Sometimes during rehearsals I stop them mid-flow, saying: “You are now four minutes into your 6-8 minute pitch and you haven’t told me what it is yet”. They usually protest that their business coaches have stressed the importance of communicating the strength and breadth of their team, the robust nature of their financial projections and size of their potential market. “Yes”, I reply, “but until we know what it is none of that means anything to anybody. Once we know what it is, then as well as being intrigued and potentially excited, the fact that you have, say, a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon on your team becomes very relevant”.
So I urge them – before they have even introduced themselves – to give the one-sentence version of what they have invented and plan to unleash on the world; for instance: “Good morning, we have invented a new way to make cars run on air and water alone”. I tell them to spit it out clearly and slowly and then pause to let the message sink in. This, it has to be said, brings other challenges. I remind them that they are some of the most highly educated people in the world and they are clearly very passionate about the project they have been living and breathing to the exclusion of almost everything else. Now they have to explain it all - in a rather specific and alien manner - in just 6-8 minutes. The fact is that they know too much about their project, so I introduce them to the concept of ‘killing your darlings’ – the film maker’s expression for having to be ruthless with your editing, perhaps cutting out whole scenes that you have lovingly and expensively crafted.
Crucial to any form of communication, however, is getting the fundamental facts absolutely crystal clear up front. If you don’t, then anything that follows is relatively meaningless and your audience are probably half asleep anyway – because you have failed to engage them at the outset.