Last week I had the pleasure of judging one of the University of Miami entrepreneurship center, aka theLaunchPad, elevator pitch contests. I learned quite a few things at this competition from the judging side, so I figured I should share a few valuable insights I picked up. Normally I’d be giving this feedback from the participant side, but an entrepreneur only gets so many times to be on both sides of the table.
So first things first, do some research. Find out from the group organizing it, see if you can find out about past winners, who are the judges, who are the event sponsors, you get the picture. The more you know about the organizers, the better you can tailor your pitch. In this case where I was judging, most of the judges were attorneys.
1. Tell a story.
Take us on a journey about why you started your company, why you are passionate about what you’re doing, where you’ve gotten so far, and where you are going (ideally how the prize money can help you get there too).
2. Be presentable.
Now normally I work in tshirt, shorts, and flip flops, but for a pitch contest like this, you need to be dressed professionally. I was amazed that some judges were harping on the person’s appearance when they had an otherwise amazing business. So make sure you wear at the very least a nice pair of pants, button down shirt, and decent shoes. Dress at least as well as you would to a white collar job interview. People ARE in fact judging a book by its cover.
3. Test your pitch beforehand
Do your pitch to your parents, friends, colleagues, whomever. Just do a run through at least 3 or 4 times. If you can, record video of your pitch, using your phone, webcam, whatever. Then watch your pitch. Ask yourself after if it was easy to determine what your company does, and why should we as the audience and judges care?
4. Be enthusiastic!
If you aren’t passionate about your product/pitch, why on earth would the judges be?
5. Ditch the script.
Seriously, note cards and scripts are your worst enemy. They will without a doubt turn into a crutch. If you insist on note cards, I suggest you keep them to 5 words or less. Each word should be big, bold, and a topic. By having the cards and script memorized you are likely to stumble and lose track. Remember you only have 90 seconds, stopping to remember something pre-scripted (and admittedly less genuine sounding) is going to kill your time.
6. Be yourself.
Nothing appeals more to judges than someone who feels comfortable, at ease, and genuinely interested in their product.
So what are you waiting for? Start prepping, you could be pitching before you know it. Even if there isn’t a competition, developing an elevator pitch is a worthwhile exercise for most budding entrepreneurs.