Communicating Your Vision
By the end of this week you should be able to:
- Understand the importance of creating a positive first impression
- Understand the importance of using initial pitches/presentations as a means to get to a more in-depth conversation
- Create a 90-second elevator pitch that communicates the essential elements of your venture
- Create a short presentation deck that can be sent via email or used for short presentations
There are few skills as essential for start-up success as the ability to pitch your company. Whether targeted to investors, customers, partners, or employees, you will need to consistently present your company in a compelling way that causes people to spend their time, money, and/or reputation supporting you. This is especially true in the early days of your company; early stage companies are evaluated almost entirely on how compelling their vision is and the impressiveness of the founding team. Both require effective communication to be evaluated positively.
Some people are naturally gifted speakers. Some people are naturally high in empathy and emotional intelligence, making them extremely effective in crafting compelling messages based on the unique profile of their audience. However, almost nobody is as good at communication as they need to be when they first become a founder. The goal of this module is to introduce a few key concepts to help you become an effective communicator as soon as possible.
Effective communication is critical for success
First Things First: Appeal to Emotion and Intuition
Human beings are naturally irrational and intuitive, especially when they make quick decisions. This topic was best explored by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. In this book, Kahneman details many ways in which humans are reliably irrational in the way they think and make decisions. He introduces the two modes of thinking that he calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 is engaged when we make quick decisions based on our intuition and relating a situation to patterns in our past experience. System 2 is for more rigid, logical thinking. It is for slower, more drawn out decisions where we need to mindfully process all variables and make decisions based on first principles and rationality. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman details many ways in which System 1 reliably falls prey to logical errors and biases.
Unfortunately, most people you are pitching to will start off in System 1. They will be analyzing how you speak, what you’re saying, how you look etc. to quickly try and form an opinion on whether you are credible, exciting, and worth their time.
Your goal is to quickly cause yourself and your company to be positively categorized
This will make sure you have an engaged and friendly audience as you begin presenting a more logic-based case for why your company deserves your audience’s support. To achieve this positive categorization, you will need to positively interact with a person’s intuitive decision-making heuristics (a heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently). These are highly dependent on that person’s past experiences and cultural context. Someone from an academic background will likely assess credibility different from someone who spent their career working in a bank. A presentation that seems appropriately confident to an American might seem obnoxiously cocky to an English person. Unfortunately, gender and racial biases often come into play as well. For example, it is common for female founders to report far more doubt about their technical ability than male founders do, especially with a male audience. It is important for you to understand how variable your audience can be and appreciate how difficult it will be to reliably create a good impression across a wide array of audiences. It is important for you to get into the habit of trying to tailor how you are presenting to suit your audience.
Building a Compelling 60-90 Second Pitch
You may have heard of the term ‘elevator pitch’. This refers to the scenario in which you find yourself riding the elevator with a super important person who can turn your ambitions into a reality. Therefore, you have the small amount of time granted by the elevator ride to convince this person that your idea is worth a further conversation. This scenario probably did play out in previous decades before people spent elevator rides either buried in their phone or determinedly avoiding eye contact while they listen to their headphones, but its usefulness as a concept survives because of how often founders find themselves needing to quickly convince people that they are worth more time.
There is no set formula for a perfect elevator pitch. As implied by the previous section, it will vary depending on your audience. For example, points that are compelling for people that are familiar with your technology or market may be completely lost on other people. Also, the key points that you need to hit to make your venture sound compelling will be very dependent on what people think about the space you are working in. If you have developed a cure for cancer, you should not spend time in your pitch trying to convince people that cancer is bad. They are almost certainly convinced of that already. Conversely, enough people know that curing cancer is hard that almost everyone will be skeptical that you have achieved a solution that has eluded experts for decades, so your elevator pitch should aim to overcome this doubt. If you are working on a software solution that solves an important but largely unknown industry problem, you will have to find a way to present the problem in a way that convinces your audience of its importance.
You will be using your elevator pitch on a wide array of audiences, because of this, it necessarily will leave some important things unaddressed. This is normal. If your pitch results in the person you are pitching to asking thoughtful questions about your venture, then you know have you captured that person’s interest and attention. Your goal in designing a compelling elevator pitch is not to design something that will perfectly address the major questions of every audience.
Exercise: Develop a 60 – 90 second elevator pitch for your venture
Your goal is to develop something compelling that will reliably cause a wide array of audiences to want to engage with you in understanding your venture further. Though you will eventually be able to alter your pitch depending on your audience, your immediate goal should be to develop a dependable pitch that you can use in a variety of situations without needing to change it.
How to Handle Variability
It is more helpful to think of what you need your audience to believe for them to give you more of their time. The following list is a good starting point:
1. That you are working on an important and impactful problem
2. That you have a unique and feasible solution to this problem
3. That you have assembled a team that will be able to execute on building this venture
4. That you have a plan to capture and defend the majority of the market
5. That you have impressive momentum behind your efforts (it’s easy for people to want to support you if other people they respect already are)
Creating a Compelling Pitch Deck
The pitch deck is one of the most important tools used by a start-up founder. Almost every new external relationship you form will start with a request for you to send over your deck for review. Like your 60 – 90 second verbal pitch, your pitch deck needs to be compelling enough so that people reading it want to give you more of their time and attention. It should also be able to support you in delivering a 7 – 10 minute presentation to a general audience. Like the elevator pitch, keep in mind that the goal is to create something that reliably piques the interest of diverse audiences so that they want to learn more about your venture.
The objectives for what you want your audience to believe after they have read your pitch deck are similar to those described for your elevator pitch. However, it should include a bit more information and a bit more detail. Below are some key elements that your pitch deck should have:
Title slide with company logo
Slide(s) that explain the problem in a compelling way
Slide that explains your solution at a high level (basically your value proposition)
Slide(s) that further explain why your solution is so valuable when compare to existing solutions
Slide that shows the size of the market and/or impact you are targeting
Slide(s) that show your progress to date and your plan, highlighting any exciting achievements you have recently made
Slide that shows your team and highlights their qualifications
Once you have identified the content that you would like to include in your pitch deck, it is crucially important to design your deck so that it is visually appealing. A poorly designed deck will almost always cause a reader to question your competence and the seriousness of your venture. One can easily find hundreds of resources that offer their own view on how to design the perfect slides. You should do your own research and develop your own style. Some simple rules to start with are:
Only communicate 1 idea per slide
Use as little text as possible to make your point
Use large fonts that are easy to read
Any graphics you add should support your main point (avoid adding distracting elements whose only purpose is decoration)