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Start up Founders: Why your pitch deck is only half the battle

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Written by: Duncan Custerson

Your pitch deck covers what you pitch. 
Landing the deal comes down to how you pitch. 
Remember investors are buying you as much as - if not more than - your idea.

Over the last 23 years James Healy has worked with all of the Magic Circle law firms, the big four accountancy firms, numerous tech start-ups, creative agencies and many more. His work has taken him all over the world and in his words out him ‘in the very privileged position of peeking behind the curtain of countless businesses to see how Ideas are pitched and communicated’’

Hex were privileged guests at Techstars Start up Week London and relished the opportunity to get a flavour of James’ expert insight and advice. 

This blog will not offer the full three dimensional texture that we were lucky to experience in the room with James, but we have distilled the core takeaways to help you start your journey into analysing your own pitch. We highly recommend reaching out to James Healy at Boyletts Communications for more information. 

‘What was the most memorable thing you’ve seen in a pitch or a presentation?’ 

From the moment James stepped on stage he invited us to recognise and be conscious of the physicality of a pitch; how physical actions can help to maximise clarity, impact and memorability. We explored what James described as the psychogeography of pitch. Sounds fun, right? Well, James has clearly been eating his own dog food, because every word of his presentation resonated loud and clear and left the room full of founders and investors wanting more. 

6 Things to avoid during a pitch

1 - Avoid jumping to the ‘what’

Think Shakespeare, almost every play begins with two fairly inconsequential characters, talking about fairly inconsequential subject matter. This is a deliberate technique to get the audience settled and drawn into the play.

So, when it comes to your pitch remember you have time to get to the ‘what’ of your idea or product. Try getting your audience settled with an activity, a quote, a joke, a statistic... something to draw in the focus to the main event! 

James gave us an example of a pitch he had attended recently where the pitcher opened with: ‘When I was young my mother told me four words that I have remembered until this day.’ It puts the audience in a state of storytelling, tuned in to what the speaker will say next.

2 - Avoid 'system one' thinking

System one thinking is our primal, instinctive response framework. It’s our immediate assessment of the situation and snap decision. What Daniel Kahneman describes as ‘Our machine for jumping to conclusions’.  Essentially what helped us know when to run away from predators on the plains.

System two is more present, deliberate, calmer and considered. Often in system two we will ask for further clarification on the question. 

Shifting from system one to system two thinking allows us to be more present and sets the stage to deliver the most compelling and engaging pitch possible.

This psychology underpins much of the presentation and I for one have just bought my copy of Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman.

A great example of system two thinking: Steve jobs - Think differently.


3 - Avoid phantom rehearsal

How do you rehearse for a pitch? A walkthrough in your head while in the shower... is not a rehearsal.

James implores us to recreate the environment, deliver the pitch and invite ‘notes’ (much like in theatre groups) to change and improve. We have to hear our pitch out loud, a number of times to become confident and comfortable. So, do it again and again and again. 

While in rehearsal, engage with more than just the words, think about the delivery as this is what will help to create emotion in the recipient. Investors are often emotional in their decision to invest! 

You and your pitch have the ability to create emotion and increase the chance of investment success (as long as the business is fundamentally solid) A pitch or presentation that creates emotion in the recipient comprises of three core elements according to a study by UCLA Professor Mehrabian

  • 7% Words 
  • 38% ‘Music’ The tone in the voice, the pitch, power Pace and... Pause. 
  • 55% ‘Dance’. The non-verbal communication such as facial expression, gestures, posture and subtle ‘tells’ like a touch of the face or tug of the ear (your own face not the investors).

Recognise the weighting and spend more time developing the music and dance of your pitch. Also, think about calibrating these elements to fit the particular investor. 

The 4 fundamentals of the voice

  1. Pitch - Most of us when pitching particularly when under pressure and in system one thinking get stuck in the high notes and stop using their range. Use variation in pitch to hold interest and transform the way your communication lands. 
  2. Power - Most get stuck around ⅚ on the dial. Use the range. Sometimes a moment of deliberately quieter tone can draw people in just as impactful as an 11 on the dial. 
  3. Pace - Inner metronome. What is your prevailing pace? Calibrate the pace to suit the environment. 
  4. Pause - One of the most compelling and engaging things we can do with our voice is to turn it off. Pauses are authority markers. Ideally we use them just after having said something poignant and compelling...

And a bonus 5th point ("The interesting thing about the 4 fundamentals of the voice, is that there are five of them" - James Healey):

  • Persona (or Personality) - When you are pitching your personality comes through the sound you chose to make. Each of the ‘P’s above have the ability to create very different personalities.

4 - Avoid conditional language

Investors want certainty, so practice removing the following words from your day to day communication and be mindful of them, especially under pressure when system one thinking kicks in:

‘Just wondered if, potentially, maybe, could, should, kind of, sort of… (you get the idea).

To cut to the chase; (unlike Hugh Grant in pretty much every Richard Curtis film) it’s  all about avoiding being Hugh Grant in any of the Richard Curtis films!

In the UK we often prioritise politeness over honesty so we tend to use conditional language. We do it so we don't offend, but it ends up making our communication weaker.

5 - Avoid your default influencing style

Which of the following are you using least when pitching? 

  • Persuasion - Facts data Numbers (PUSH energy) 
  • Attraction - Excitement and Storytelling - Think Martin Luther King - I have a dream (Pull Energy) 
  • Assertion - Clear and concise, Incentives and Pressures.  
  • Bridging - Remember it’s not one way traffic and find ways to engage your investors 

This is a great tool to sense check your pitch. Simply ask yourself "Am I covering all four elements?" Then learn to dial up where you are perhaps less confident, to create a fully rounded pitch. 

6 - Avoid half stories

Don’t jump from situation to result/solution. As previously stated, investors have human emotion and are looking for excitement and engagement. This is created most effectively through a story. Which contains the following elements: 

A Hook. An Obstacle, the Action and its Result. So, what is your story? Break it down into these concise sections and practice delivering the overarching business story as well as interweaving relevant sub stories into your pitch.

Remote pitching tips and tricks: 

  • Get the Tech fundamentals right - lighting and Mic, 4K camera. Then make sure you’re at eye level and front lit.  
  • Use the functionality to keep the screen alive chat, use the screen share to keep the screen alive.
  • Rehearse and deliver the pitch in the way you rehearsed it. Eg. If you stand up for the pitch rehearsal, do so for the real thing.
  • Keep it visually interesting: Think of Brad Pitt in films… He often steals scenes because he’s eating, drinking or smoking to visually draw the attention back to him. We’re not suggesting you open a packet of crisps in a pitch but think about physical gestures.
  • Know your audience (do LinkedIn research) but as you don’t know what mood they may be in on the day, be in system two thinking so that you can be present and adapt. 
  • Be bold enough to ask questions midway through your pitch to get a read on your audience - "how’s this sounding to you"? 
  • Engage all participants, don’t only focus on the most senior in the room, ask for perspective from the marketing junior for example, this could form a compelling way to build on proof of concept with relevant demographic if used intelligently. 

Hex have worked with numerous start-ups to help them establish their vision and forge a brand and digital presence. Get in touch with our team today for help with your new business.