Are you throwing strikes or balls? Five rules for effective pitching

by Marti Nyman

Being that we’re heading into baseball playoff season, my thoughts drift to (where are the Red Sox?) the notion of pitching – it’s one of the key factors in determining who ultimately gets the champagne shower in the locker room.

It’s also one of the most influential elements of how startups get funded, secure orders, obtain partners and ultimately succeed.  But sadly, it’s one of the most neglected and overlooked areas of an entrepreneurs repertoire.  I should know because I’ve not only made these mistakes myself, but seen them repeated in the majority of the startup pitches I’ve listened to over the past 7 years.

Knowing that all great pitchers have pitching coaches behind them, I’d like to offer the following 5 rules for improving the success of your pitch. While venue and objectives may vary, these rules apply to most situations, with minor modifications needing to be made.

Rule #1 – Know your stuff: Not just your idea, but the real value points, the real problem you’re solving, the real risks and challenges you face. This requires you to think well beyond the idea itself and objectively shoot holes in it to make sure it’s solid. Remember – if you don’t, somebody else will and if that “somebody” has a checkbook, you want to be on the right side of this one.

Rule #2 – Practice your stuff: Really? You mean there are entrepreneurs who don’t practice their pitch? I refer to the practice that matters – in front of a mirror, in front of a camcorder, in front of people who’ll give you feedback. Don’t shirk it – do it. It’s guaranteed that each time you practice, you’ll get better. And when you get to pitch day, your confidence will be solid and your chances of success will vastly improve.

Rule #3 – Bring your humility: Remember, even if you’ve got the greatest idea in the world, people don’t like arrogant, know-it-alls. They’d rather do business with someone they like and feel they can work with – if the relationship starts out shaky, it’ll fall apart. This isn’t false humility; it’s humility that comes from a candid realization that you don’t know everything.

Rule #4 – Watch the clock: HUGE pet peeve – limit your time to 20 minutes selling your idea. If there’s an hour slotted, use the rest for Q&A. If there are no questions, thank them and move on. At the very least, people will respect you for respecting their time, which incidentally is one of their most precious assets. If you observe Rule #2, you’ll do well here.

Rule# 5 – Watch your language: By this, I mean body language. Are you maintaining eye contact? Facing the audience? Most of all – listening??? Does your posture invite discussion or shut it down? We’re visual beings and how you present has as much to say as what you say.

Before you get out of the bullpen and onto the mound, make sure you’re warmed up and ready to pitch!