Advice, Community

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]

Advice, Mentors

Startup Storytelling: Get Started with Digital Media

Startups in 2014 have a great opportunity to tell their story… not just the story of their product or service, but the story of their company. The internet has enabled easier publishing and distribution of words, images, and video, and savvy founders will use these tools to their advantage in building the reach and reputation of the company. As a professional photographer with a background in tech, I’ve helped dozens of startups and other technology companies craft their digital story; here are some suggestions for an effective way to start sharing your startup’s story.

Digital Distribution of Your Story

With a phrase like “digital distribution” folks often think big – iTunes for music or Netflix for movies. As a startup, you should also think smaller. You’re probably already doing some of this… but each of these can be a way to share your company’s story:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Your blog (or third-party sites such as Medium)

What about new tools? Each week we see new publishing platforms appear in the photo, text, and video spaces… will it help your company to jump on these new platforms? I realize that in some ways this contradicts the early-adopter experimental startup mindset, but unless your company’s focus is in the storytelling space, you’ll probably see more return on your storytelling investment by sticking with platforms with some sort of established base, and importantly, where you have connections to others in your industry.

Never underestimate the value that your network brings to your company. Tell your story where it will be heard.

Why do they want to hear your story? Because you’re doing something interesting of course! And you’re probably doing it with some interesting people.

Practical Platform Prompts

So you’ve decided to tell your story, and you’re looking at doing it on platforms with some traction. But what do you say? What’s going to help tell a story that will interest potential customers, partners, employees, or others who might help spread the news of what you’re doing?

Your Blog: Your company’s blog is a great place to share the occasional article that can go more in depth or provide more context than is possible in many shorter-form social media outlets. Whether you’re explaining some of your value proposition, comparing and contrasting your product with your competitors, offering information for your industry, or providing insight on your founders or employees, a blog post gives you the freedom to craft the story as you see fit, and is a great place to send folks looking for more information about your company.

Twitter: It’s the backchannel of the internet, and if you’re not there, you’re missing out. Not only are you missing out on what’s going on, but others are going to miss out on what’s going on with you unless you’re talking about it. Your company Twitter handle is one thing for company communications, but at an early stage startup I’d argue that having founders and employees talking about the company (along with the rest of their lives) is the best plan.

Instagram: Twitter for photos (or very short video clips). Sometimes people pick on Instagram for being a bit cliché.

But you’re smarter than that. You know that people love behind the scenes photos. Show your work. Building an app? Post the occasional screenshot. Get the occasional photo of the team working together. Grab a snapshot of the team playing together.

YouTube: If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words would thousands of photos strung together be worth? Too many folks think “big video production” when they’re looking at getting into YouTube, but here’s a secret: the most successful stories are told in much shorter segments. How many things are competing for your attention? Folks want a quick (two minutes or less) video segment.

You’ve probably practiced an elevator pitch to sell your business quickly, or at least generate the interest to further a conversation. That’s what your digital storytelling can be… each piece of content or media (a tweet, blog post, photo, video clip) can lead to further conversation.

Your startup is growing and probably has big things ahead. Tell bits of the story to get folks interested so that they want to learn more as you move forward.