|Josh Linkner, jazz guitarist|
The thing I dislike even more than pitching is practice pitching. I think that's worse because you're under intense scrutiny without the trade-off that maybe, just maybe, this hassle will bring a reward.
But enough about me. Meet Josh Linkner. He is a Berklee-trained professional jazz guitarist performing regularly in jazz clubs throughout the United States. He is also a venture capitalist.
Josh was the founder of four successful technology companies. He has been honored as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, the Detroit News Michiganian of the Year, and is a President Barack Obama Champion of Change award recipient. Josh is a regular columnist for Fast Company and Inc. Magazine, and his work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, and The New York Times. He currently runs Detroit Venture Partners, together with business partners Earvin “Magic” Johnson and NBA team owner Dan Gilbert, and is also Adjunct Professor of Applied Creativity at the University of Michigan.
Oh, and he is also the New York Times Bestselling author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, one of the top 10 business books of 2011. And he is a regular blogger at joshlinkner.com where he recently had this to say on the subject of pitching to a venture capitalist. (No different to pitching to a producer or agent, really.)
Most of us have something to pitch. You may be pitching your startup to a VC to secure funding. Or perhaps you’re pitching your product or service to potential customers. Whether you are pitching your case to a jury, your hypothesis for a research grant, yourself for a new job, or your best friend for a date with that cute guy, a simple rule applies: the better the pitch, the better the results.
As a venture capitalist, I hear pitches every day. In this highly competitive environment, a strong pitch can be the difference-maker between securing millions in funding and completely missing the mark.
There are many obvious cliché moves: give a firm handshake, communicate with passion, make strong eye-contact, and try to relate with your audience. Yet there are approaches I see constantly that sabotage an otherwise good pitch. To significantly improve your batting average, avoid these disaster moves when pitching just about anything:
1) THE RUN-ON SENTENCE: One of my pet peeves is listening to someone drone on for a 45-minute monologue. In your big moment, your instinct is to communicate everything you know, the entire history of your idea, and endless amusing anecdotes. Avoid this urge! Your pitch will be 100 times more powerful if you can make it concise. Make every word count.
2) THE FACT LEAP: Anyone who is being pitched has turned on their highly-developed BS-detector to full tilt. We are questioning everything you say and trying to poke holes in your story. So the minute you exaggerate a stat, make an outrageous claim, or state a fact that can be challenged, your credibility crumbles.
3) THE OVERSELL: If you make a strong point once, it resonates. If you feel the need to make the same point several times you end up diluting the power of the message. If you keep pushing a point, you transform before our eyes from a passionate world-changer to a used-car-salesperson or infomercial pitchman. If what you are pitching it that special, you don’t need to oversell it.
4) THE S.A.T.: When responding to a question, just answer it directly. If you tell a four-minute story that includes 73 data points, the listener feels like they are taking an S.A.T. exam in which they need to sift through all the irrelevant stuff in order to get the answer. This does not help you shine or get your message heard.
Grandiose braggers may entertain at cocktail parties, but they rarely win the battle of the pitch. Keep it authentic and real. Your startup with 11 beta customers isn’t a billion-dollar company just yet. Think big, but stay humble. After hearing a pitch where the daring hero outperforms Groupon and Apple in their second year with trillions of revenue and six billion customers, I’m ready for a shower instead of a closing dinner.
Hone your pitch to stand out from the hapless masses that continue to fall into the same traps. In turn, you’ll land the job, get the girl, win the capital, and seize your full potential.
And now for something completely different, Josh Linkner and band.
First posted: 13 December 2011