Five Disaster Moves to Botch Your Pitch

Posted on December 5, 2011 by Josh Linkner

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.

5) THE GREAT GATSBY: 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.

8 Responses to “Five Disaster Moves to Botch Your Pitch

  1. So I am sitting here in my home office in Portland Oregon and I get what appears to be another SPAM email from someone I dont know and the title grabs ahold of me. I open Josh’s email to find a 5 point email on presentation killers.

    Josh – you have a winner here – keep up the great work.

    I am a mortgage guy in Portland Oregon and I appreciate the tips – they resonate with me!


  2. Great information
    What about spending 60 seconds during a pitch to paint an overall picture.
    How important is that?

  3. Loved the pitch points. Seems like a high umber of VC’s are ADHD so repeating a critical point at least once at the beginning and then close would be helpful. Thoughts?

  4. @ Eric Hamilton – FOR SURE!! Great advice for a 60-second headline up front.

    @ Reed Felton – Reinforcing a key point is great and works well. Just doing go on and on and on with the same point because it dilutes impact.

  5. I’ve never seen these points laid out before, especially since you use a lot of current situations. This is very valuable.

  6. Great points. I will add these five to the Big 11 as I discipline my dream to pitch DVP.

  7. Great points … made succinctly. Great pitches that work are not education sessions. They stop short. They given the audience enough info to be learned or to make a decision or to know who to call. That’s it.

  8. Thank you for the tips Josh. Your post is timely, as we are are finalizing our Treatment and Business Plan for a Detroit based Prime Time TV Show. While we have raised a lot of capital for our Urbane Branded Apartment Business over the past ten years, this is a whole new entrepreneurial venture with much different rules and players. That said, I am jazzed and think we have a creative idea worth spreading.