Last month, I had the pleasure of leading a pitch session to a packed room at Tech Alpharetta. While some people may have just come for the pizza and beer, most seemed genuinely engaged in learning the four steps to nailing a presentation.

The Lead

Establish your brand’s story first. This begins with your elevator pitch. Imagine the opportunity of a lifetime—a 24-second elevator ride with Warren Buffet, and he asks you what you do. How do you respond? A great elevator pitch captures your audience’s attention, raises their interest and positions you as someone they want to know. How do you do that? Consider leading with an engaging question that focuses on the problem you’re solving. Follow with an interesting explanation of how you’re addressing this problem. And conclude with an inspiring anecdote that leaves them wanting more.

The Deck

Create a visual and compelling presentation without excess. Remember, the primary goal of the first meeting is getting a second one. You want to include pertinent information without giving away all of your secrets. Critical information to include in your presentation is the: company overview, the problem, the solution, market opportunity, product/technology, customers, competition, financials, business model and the ask. So, about 10 slides give or take. Additional information outside this ‘critical’ list can be included in an appendix to reference, as needed.

The art of the pitch—creating the perfect presentation

The Prep

You worked hard to secure this meeting, now work even harder preparing for it. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse—alone, with colleagues, in front of a stranger, on camera, etc. The more comfortable you are with the content, the more confident you will appear. Looking beyond your words, pay attention to your body language and facial expressions. Watch a great TED Talk on body language here.

The Pitch

The key to a great presentation is the story being told. You may have a killer presentation, but if your execution is unenthusiastic or hard to follow, you will lose the audience. A great story can be broken down into five key parts. Regardless of the method of delivery—whether a campfire story, a movie, a conversation or a presentation—the five parts of a great story are:

  • Establishing the stakes. Present up front the threat, challenge or problem.
  • The Pursuit. A simple, straight-forward plot engineered to reach the solution.
  • Twists & Turns. Make the story fun and exciting, keep the audience intrigued.
  • Rapid Pacing. Move the story quickly, don’t waste time.
  • Interesting Characters.
  • Show personality and give them a reason to like you.

I myself love a great story. And, as I shared in my pitch presentation session, I am obsessed with the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the defunct company known for its false claims to have devised revolutionary blood tests that used very small amounts of blood. It’s an incredible example of how people invest in people, not products. Regardless of the company’s ultimate fate, Elizabeth was an extraordinary storyteller. Without (ever) having a working device to demonstrate, she charmed droves of investors, scholars, business leaders and journalists for more than a decade.

We should absolutely take from this corporate tale the need for ethics and honesty. But one other thing we can learn from Theranos story is that the art of the pitch is a true craft that is learned through practice and won with confidence.

This article originally appeared on the Trevelino/Keller blog; reprinted with permission.

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Colleen Murphy

Colleen Murphy

Colleen Murphy is Vice President at Trevelino/Keller Communications Group in Atlanta.

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