It’s the moment every startup founder dreams about. You’ve spent countless days and nights, sacrificed your personal life and most likely tossed in your life savings – just for the chance to make this presentation. Whether it’s to a bank, potential investors or possible partners, it has to be pitch-perfect.
You may not get a second chance, so you better make sure you don’t screw it up. We asked Peter Arvai, CEO of Prezi, a maker of cloud-based presentation software, for tips on how to avoid the most common – and most devastating – mistakes.
ReadWriteWeb: Are there common mistakes startup entrepreneurs make when giving presentations? Arvai: There are a host of presentation mistakes entrepreneurs can make. The four most common we’ve seen are:
1. Procrastination. Waiting until the last minute to create the presentation, and therefore showing something half-baked to your audience. Likely, these are important meetings that took some time to set up. It’s irresponsible and a waste of both parties’ time not to put serious effort into the presentation. 2. Content Overload. Adding too much content and not enough focus. Don’t overwhelm your audience with information overload. Keep in mind the presentations are supposed to enhance the discussion, not dominate it. 3. Not practicing. This is your chance to sell your big idea. What’s the point of developing a great idea/concept and not being able to explain it? 4. Not understanding the audience. It is critical to understand your audience long before entering the board room or taking the stage. During the presentation creation process, keep your audience top of mind. Use social tools, [your] network and word of mouth to find out as much as you can about your audience, and use that information to tailor your presentation content and delivery style.
RWW: Can making these kind of mistakes derail your startup? Arvai: Entrepreneurs typically have only one shot to present their ideas to VCs, customers, partners, employee candidates, etc. They need to think of presentations like first dates, where visual appeal and performance are as important as content.
For investment pitches, try to get to know a few of the investors you will be meeting with without focusing on getting them to invest in your company. Start with an informational interview asking questions such as: How do they work? How do they choose entrepreneurs? And – very important – how do they get compensated? Spend time understanding who they are and what motivates them in their businesses. This will help you deliver the most compelling presentation.
RWW: Obviously, startups have to get it right – the first time – especially if they’re pitching to potential investors. What should they strive for? Arvai: A big vision is key, but without the necessary details to make story credible, it’s hard to capture and hold your audience’s attention. In order to do this, you need an inspiring story. If you can help the audience visualize the story, or better yet, make the appeal so strong they can imagine themselves as part of the story – then you hold their attention.
Know your content, inside and out. Be prepared for anything – interruptions, audience challenges, even a technology blackout. We’re fans of presentations where the presenter doesn’t stick to one scripted storyline, and feels comfortable ad-libbing where appropriate.
On a side note, the mobility and touch-screen capacities of iPads and tablets make them great for more informal and interactive presentations.
RWW: I saw a stat that said almost 25% of people would give up a night of sex to avoid sitting through another PowerPoint presentation. How do you fight that mindset? Arvai: PowerPoint can be boring, but it also gets a bad rap. When used well, it can capture and hold an audience’s attention. The biggest challenge is that, like most presentation software packages, it forces users to distill their ideas into boxes that are connected with meaningless transitions.
A good, creative presentation is dependent on the content and the format. Starting with a series of slides can sometimes limit the creative process, because it assumes your story is already completed, and all you need to do is write it down.
But great ideas are almost never born this way. Creative presentations should start with an open canvas where a host of ideas can be gathered. Then establish the relationships between those ideas and tell a story with them. Steve Jobs – who is recognized for being a great thinker – started working on his presentations many weeks in advance: vetting, improving and rehearsing his idea. His ideas were usually not spontaneous, although we were sometimes left with that [impression].
RWW: What other factors help make a presentation go well – or badly? Arvai: Here are a few tips on how to make a presentation good or, if used improperly, bad:
- Begin with having a genuine passion for your message. Then come up with a strong visual metaphor to communicate that message. Take the time to create something of value. Know that it will take time.
- Learn how to communicate your message effectively. Don’t rely on technology to guide you. Take a public-speaking class and practice, practice, practice!
For more specific factors on how to create dynamic presentations, we have found these tactics invaluable when developing presentations:
From-To Think-Do Matrix: This grid helps map out your presentation objectives.
The Squint Test: When you squint at your presentation (so you can’t read the text) do you still get the gist of it?
Method of Loci: This memory-retention device dates back to ancient Greece. The concept is to visualize locations and associate your content with it. It takes practice, but it can help build confidence in your presentation delivery.