Presenting 101 — a few tips from Mike Pacchione

With demo day looming, PIE startups have already begun to experience both the joys of pitching and the pain of critical, straightforward feedback. We’ve received insight on the topic from a variety of mentors, and that’s just the beginning of the program’s pitch phase. Earlier this week we had storytelling expert, Mike Pacchione, share presentation basics with us.

But before we get into takeaways from his talk, check out this product pitch:

Interesting?! Errm…yeah, not really. Confusing/boring? Absolutely…which brings us to Mike’s first tip.

1. Understand that people are emotional

Mike shared with us that in order to connect with listeners, your pitch needs to go through the emotional part of the brain first (like a filter) before the listener will appreciate the logic behind it. I don’t know about you, but that pitch about the Turbo Encawhatever did NOT go through the emotional part of my brain so I never felt like I really needed to check in and even try to understand what was going on—plus, that dude was complicated. The problem is that the same thing happens with startups—most speak with abstract terms, speaking from logic to logic, and that’s where most communication falls short. Don’t start a pitch talking about your feature list, start it with a pull on emotions.

This, friends, is where stories come in…

2. Follow Duarte’s sparkline when structuring your story

Mike works for Duarte, a cool company that specializes in presentations and storytelling. (Psst—I even stumbled across his company profile.) Duarte’s CEO, Nancy Duarte, found a pattern among the best presentations, and when she drew it out, she came up with the following:

Duarte’s sparkline

Duarte's sparkline

The key here is that you’re trying to build tension throughout the entire presentation and you do this by consistently challenging what the audience is currently experiencing and believing. This outline can be mapped over Steve Jobs’ iPhone unveil in 2007 and over Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, and yet it’s one that you too can follow when you’re going through your presentation.

Let’s walk through what a startup pitch could look like using this same format:

a) What is…it like in the world today? As a tech startup, you might begin by painting a picture of the problems that people deal with in the absence of your product. What pain is your potential customer experiencing? This will not only help your listeners engage with your presentation on an emotional level, but it’ll keep them at the edge of their seat wondering how you’ll solve the problem and make everything better.

b) What could be…if your product was funded and introduced to the world? Show the contrast between a) what is and b) how much better the world is for those who use your product. This is an important moment. Do everything you can to help them understand how much of a difference this is from current circumstances.

c) What is…your competition doing? Your audience might have doubts in your product. They might wonder, “wait, isn’t someone already doing this? Is this the best solution on the market?” So follow them back through that. Show them where your competition is and where they fall short.

d) What could be…if you choose our product instead. (Here’s where you tell them why yours is better.)

Now that was the quick and dirty version and there are a couple more embellishments to it, so if you’re interested in learning more about the sparkline, here’s an excellent video from Nancy Duarte herself: Check out this video to learn more.

3. Practice a little bit every day.

If you’ve ever studied for a test the night before an exam, you’d know what it feels like to cram. It’s so much more effective (and I’m sure healthier) to understand your story, recraft it, and memorize it over the course of a few weeks than in a few hours. This tip seems obvious, but it’s not often put into practice. Devoting even just 30 minutes every day to constructing and practicing your pitch is much better than spending 4 hours the night before demo day. [Did you hear that startups?]

Practice starts today. “Let’s go, go, go.” [whistle blows]

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