Deliver SXSW Pitch Presos Like You’re Playing Golf
March 10, 2019
Pitch presentation contests at industry conferences are not for the faint of heart. It’s an unforgiving format to try and deliver a cohesive compelling story about your startup company in a very limited time then quickly turn around and defend that company as seasoned entrepreneurs pepper you with questions. I had a chance to catch several of the SXSW Pitch sessions today and observed some patterns that had me thinking being ready for them is a lot like getting ready to hit a golf ball — you should have a mental checklist in your head things you need to do to hit the ball (or presentation in this case) straight and true.
What is SXSW Pitch like?
The SXSW Pitch format consists of a few minute presentation followed by a couple minutes of questions from the judges panels who are typically former founders of companies, venture capitalists, or executives from an innovation team inside a large corporation. I managed to catch the Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Content and Entertainment pitch sessions that featured five startups and potentially alternates if one of the startups couldn’t participate or there was extra time left in the hour-long sessions. Featured startups got the full exposure of presentation followed by Q&A. Alternate startups were given one minute to present with no Q&A. Some of the startups I saw present were Roadbotics, bext360, Steamchain, Stroly, and Tankee.
There was a list of criteria the contestants were judged on but from what I witnessed during the Q&A there seemed to be another pattern of burning questions startup leaders needed to check the boxes on and in many cases most presentations did not cover. The ones who covered the most usually fared better in the Q&A.
Heads Down, Bend The Legs, Hit Through The Ball
I suck at golf but I always play better when I follow the checklist of several things you need to do to consistently hit the ball as best you can. Just getting up and trying to smack the heck out of the ball usually results in embarrassment. Same goes for presenting. Same especially goes for presenting in a pitch contest format such as SXSW Pitch. There are just some compulsory things you have to put in your checklist to communicate. It’s best to give yourself a framework of sorts to organize your checklist so you can easily get back on track if your presentation deck isn’t working or the AV breaks down or anything that could rattle you off your track. I like the simple WHAT, WHY, HOW approach. In most of the pitches, the judges tracked back to one of these if the presenter was incomplete or completely missed one of these. Here’s how to organize it:
Start with a quick statement of the problem you’re solving then quickly jump into your solution. Explain the business. What is it you do? Who are your customers? Are you launched? Do you have customers already? Pilot programs to provide proof of concept?
Why will your business succeed? What’s the big opportunity, the competitive landscape, and how your company provides a better solution or service. Some of the startups provided macro statistics at the start of their pitch and as long as they aren’t too abstract it’s a nice touch because you’re giving your audience a rational base to start actively listening to you. The judges in the blockchain session pressed all presenters on why blockchain was required to solve the business problem. Not everyone had a succinct answer to that.
Here’s where you describe attributes of how you will succeed. Include a roadmap with milestones you’ll expect to hit. I didn’t see any startups talk about what they will do with investments specifically related to their roadmap. Don’t spend a lot of time on it but also be sure to cover your startups’ talent and support network. Those who made sure to mention the experience of their team and extended network of advisors weren’t asked those questions in the Q&A.
These are the compulsory things you need to include in a pitch presentation but they don’t necessarily have to be presented in the order outlined above. Just make sure you cover them and if you don’t get to it make sure you’re ready to cover this information during Q&A. It’s really easy to be taken off your track by a variety of interruptions or technical difficulties so try and have an index card or even write on your hand WHAT / WHY / HOW so you can easily find your way back and cover everything a potential investor needs to know.