Making the perfect pitch

Start-up company sought funding from the multi-millionaires who host the hugely successful BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme.What resonated with the (often brutally honest ) entrepreneurs was’s confident and professional pitch. West of Ireland native Olivia MacDonnell of ConfidentSpeak worked with the “Dragon” hopefuls and shares her secrets behind successful investor pitches.

So you have the business idea, you get a three-minute meeting, what next? How do you prepare for an investor’s pitch? Well it’s all in the planning! You need to step into the shoes of the “dragons” – what are the questions going through their minds - ask yourself, “What is it that your business or product can offer them”? Why should they invest? What do they care about? What’s relevant to them? What’s in it for them? I always tell people the pitch is always about the investor, not you! In terms of questions you need to face all plausible questions – nice or nasty — and prepare concise answers.

I would always encourage people to use very simple language, free of jargon or complex business terminology - make life easy for the investor. You’d be surprised how challenging this can be for people. Tell your story simply. Keep your sentences short and concise. Use repetition, and leave them with a memorable thought. My training is about people taking ownership of how they communicate – it’s about going back to basics, about trusting yourself to communicate the simple message.

It’s obviously a nerve-racking experience and you see people regularly falling apart, (which makes great viewing ), but how do you avoid this? Well there’s no magic wand to make nerves vanish. You need to plan thoroughly, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse out loud and of course remember to keep breathing.

As anyone who has watched the programme will know, it is a very challenging and pressurised environment to present in, it’s all about keeping your cool! If you have prepared and practiced your pitch aloud over and over then this will obviously reduce your nerves. The only thing that you can do when faced with five “Dragons” is to remember to breathe. All too often people speak so quickly they forget to breathe! The only way to reduce nerves and gain control is to take the time to breathe deep inside your ribcage as opposed to high in the chest. This takes practice, but it really works.

Once you are happy with the content of your pitch then it’s about the impact you make in that room.

First impressions are crucial

First impressions play a huge part of the process. You have three minutes to convince them that you have a great idea and you are a worthwhile investment and not a waste of their time. You need to be thinking about this as soon as you walk into that room – so how you walk, how you stand, how you “own the space” is vital. As a voice coach I always work with people on a series of grounding, posture and tension release exercises to ensure that they feel they have strong presence before they even open their mouths. Investors can be cruel creatures and can make snap decisions so it’s vital that you’ve created the positive, confident first impression.

You’d be right in thinking that terms such as “grounding” and “owning the space” don’t come from the business world. Well I began professional life as a trainer in banking. I regularly found that business professionals were very removed from what they were trying to communicate. Having always had a keen interest in theatre, it became clear to me that the business world could learn a great deal about presentation skills from the world of performance, and soon ConfidentSpeak was founded.

My training as a voice coach is based on training techniques taken from the world of theatre, carefully adapted for the business professional. I strongly believe that people need to approach any sales pitch, be it in the Dragon’s Den or boardroom as a performance.

You may be wondering, “Well once I know what I’m going to say, how do you convince and inspire investors to hand the cash over?” If you want to convince people, if you want to instill confidence, you need to ensure you speak at a slow pace. The biggest mistake people make is speaking too quickly and overloading the listener. We often see the Dragons look confused and for people like them with notoriously little patience, this is not good news for the pitcher.

Your voice needs to have energy and variety. The tone of the voice, or the music of the voice is vital – if your voice is monotonous in tone or lacks energy and enthusiasm, how can you expect an investor to be enthusiastic about you?

Never underestimate the power of the pause! It not only shows you are not afraid of silence, it allows your investor to absorb what you have just said. Pausing always adds greater significance to your message.

After all that it’s just down to practice, and maybe a couple of prayers!

Olivia MacDonnell, Voice Coach & Communications consultant, founder of runs monthly Presentation BootCamp courses throughout Ireland. Tel 01 6581225



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