If you’re looking to raise funding for an XR project, you’ll be putting together a pitch. There's a million and one things you want to share with your investors to tell them how great your idea is and why they should invest in your project - but their time (and patience) is limited. How do you make the best use of the opportunity to communicate your message? Here's how you can solve the Information Puzzle.
Realised Realities / Bianca Ackerman via Unsplash
Going into any pitch meeting, you have lots of information you want to share with the party you’re pitching to, whether that be an individual investor or potential business partner, or in front of a team or panel. Sometimes figuring out what to include seems impossibly hard; you’ve been deeply focused on the project, and so much of it seems relevant and significant.
Boiling everything you’re proud of down into a short slide deck can be challenging. You can’t fit all that relevant information into that tiny space and hit all the important messages that you want to get across, and that you feel will help strengthen your case if you can only find a way to get the other party to see it from your perspective. You don’t want to go bigger on the slide deck – the ‘optimal’ 10-12 slide templates that are freely available from a quick search have fast become a standard working format, and anything over 15 slides is considered poor form indeed in some circles. After 20 slides you’ll be expected to burn your own eyes out with your laser pointer as penance for sheer unreasonableness. Anyone who’s decided 3 slides in that it’s not of interest might be politely sitting through your pitch and waiting for it to end so they can get on to the next one. And many will feel if you can’t concisely communicate your fantastic idea to them in a dozen slides, you might struggle to sell the idea to your end-users when you go to market.
But this isn’t an unsolvable puzzle by any means. You just have to rethink how to use all the pitching tools you have at your disposal. In Part One we started to look into ways to re-evaluate how you’re pitching to your interested party from the ground up. That means looking at all the tools you have available to use in delivering that message, gathering intelligence about who you’re meeting with, and what they might be specifically interested in that overlaps with your proposal, and starting to puzzle out how all these pieces need to fit together.
Here in Part Two, we're going to look at the first three of the communication channels you should be taking advantage of to deliver your message most effectively.
The 'priming' information you can send ahead of the meeting to introduce yourself and the lay the groundwork for understanding your proposal,
Your Slide Deck or content you'll present on-screen,
Your Oral presentation you'll deliver.
And next time in Part Three, we'll also take a look at -
The takeaway documentation your investors will leave with,
Your immersive demo you want the investors to experience, if you have one to show
The Story structure you might lean on to support your pitch
- otherwise this article will become so epic in length we'll need to hire Peter Jackson to consult.
A common mistake I see with many pitch presentations is the idea that everything has to be on-screen as part of the pitch deck. Startups and hopefuls will often take their 10 or 12 slide template and cram it with information, using good images, tables and charts that have lost all their impact and readability because they’ve been shrunk down to squeeze more text info on the slide as possible. It’s common for startups and new projects to have the notion that all the information that is important to their idea needs to be communicated in the slide deck or it will be missed. It also means that all the information is being delivered twice, at the same time – verbally and visually – and the presenter is usually only half-way done by the time everyone else has read ahead and is ready for the next slide.
The very best pitches I’ve seen have taken different approaches. They sometimes skip a traditional slide deck structure altogether, and use the deck as a visual backdrop only - something to frame the conversation they’re having with the potential partner without necessarily delivering a ton of information that draws their attention away. Images, graphs and charts that support the message rather than stating it.
So it’s important to remember that you have many more channels to communicate than just a slide deck and a verbal talk-through. If your investors are interested in your idea, they’ll want to go down the rabbit hole and dig deeper into your proposition, your team, and the claims you’re making about the value proposition. You can fashion that rabbit hole yourself, and guide their interest. Here are some of the other pieces you should be using to solve the puzzle of how to deliver not only the important top-line information your investors or partners are expecting, but also the messaging that you want them to hear, and the depth of detail for them to dig deeper into your proposition.
1 | Priming Information
Sometimes the first half of a pitch meeting can be taken up trying to communicate your idea cold, to an investor. You have to set the scene, explain the space and explain the need before you can move onto your pitch to provide the solution. You can shortcut this process by sending some of the most essential information to the investor ahead of the meeting so they have time to check it out and (hopefully) start to get excited about the possibilities you’re pitching. It’s up to you how much you share but remember you’re sending to a potential partner; so shape and tone it carefully.
Whatever you do, don’t send everything. Not only can that scare them off or look like too much homework for them to work through, it can also suggest a lack of prep and/or consideration on your part. Respect their time and consider what helps you both get into the conversation quicker.
If they’re seeing lots of startups, it’s not uncommon for investors to seize on any perceived issue or concern to effectively eliminate you from serious consideration. It’s easier to eliminate choices from a large field than it is to dig deeper into each one. So be careful you don’t give them too much info ahead of the meeting. If they’ve identified what they think is an issue or fault in your assumptions, they might be patiently waiting for you to get round to answering their burning question, but that means they aren’t being as attentive or open-minded to other parts of your pitch as they could be. And if they jump in to ask mid-pitch, it’s going to disrupt your flow and take up some of that precious presentation time.
So it’s a good approach to try and use any priming materials you send to set their head in the right space for your proposal. If it’s a managed match-make rather than a private investor meeting, they’ll usually ask for this stuff from you ahead of time. If not, make sure you put a primer package together and send it ahead. Keep it brief but impactful and memorable. Who you are, what your idea is, and what you’re looking for. View it as a tool you can use to shortcut establishing those essentials in the meeting; introduce yourself, your background, your idea, and make them intrigued to find out more. Set their expectations. If there’s a field of start-up projects they’re looking at this week, this is your opportunity to make sure they’re looking forward to your pitch on their schedule.
But remember, you can’t rely on them to have read all the materials. You’ll still have to visit these points in your pitch, but you don’t have to dwell there as long, and you’re not starting a conversation with a stranger from a position of complete ignorance.
So this package of content is sometimes a couple pages of a text doc, and sometimes it’s slick videos and a beautiful vision catalogue for your idea. Bear in mind this might be your point of first contact with that party, and we know from Star Trek how critical that can be. You’re hoping to build an alliance with someone and that might turn out to be essential to the success of your project. First impressions can count a lot in business. Common-sense says that you should take extra care to make this delivery something that diplomatically hooks them into your idea and leaves them interested to find out more when you meet. I would recommend that spending extra time and effort here to make this as appealing and impactful as possible can do you a lot of favours, and it makes your life easier if for no other reason than to avoid needing to give a cold delivery on the day.
2 | Your pitch deck
As I’ve said, there are lots of good pitch deck templates out there you can lean on, designed and endorsed by expert investors and successful entrepreneurs, that deliver the optimal information for the average pitch meeting. As such they’ve become a standard, and thus generic format that almost everyone uses. But you don’t have to settle for average and generic. There’s no law saying that’s the most effective way to pitch your idea to your investor. From time to time you see a standout pitch that shakes the format up and does something different, and it can be very effective and become the standout, especially at an organized pitching event.
The most important thing to remember is that your pitch deck is just one tool you’ll use in your presentation – it doesn’t need to contain the whole presentation. I’ve seen far too many pitch presentations where the presenter effectively just reads through all of the text that’s already visible on the slide, one slide after another. While this is straightforward and easier for the presenter (your script is right there on the screen!), and of course while you do have to get this information across, it’s an approach that can become tedious for the investor patiently listening. A lot of the time the investor will scan read the whole slide while you’re still covering the first point and is then waiting for your narration to catch up. It’s kind of like having subtitles on for a TV show or movie; you tend to miss parts of the performance while reading and can have high impact moments ‘spoiled’ for you.
It can be the same with a pitch presentation, only magnified because of the 30s-1min that you’ll be spending on each slide. That ‘downtime’ gives them time to naturally switch into critical mode – remember a lot of investors can be looking for straightforward reasons to simply discard projects from their consideration.
One obvious option is to animate the text on your deck to appear one line at a time, clicking through while you speak through the pitch, in the style of many a high school lecture. The downside of this for many is that the presentation deck no longer works as your autocue or aide-mémoire. But the upsides can be significant – the less time the audience is looking at your slide, the more time they’re looking at you, making eye contact, listening to what you’re saying, forming more of a connection. This is a key part of building a relationship between you and your investors, and this is the point where first Impressions count, so you want their eyes on you as much as possible.
A more unusual approach is to use the presentation deck as one element of a bigger ‘performance’. The idea is to combine multiple channels of communication to give the most compelling pitch possible. Think of something more like a conference speech than a normal investment meeting. Personally, I’d be cautious of going too far with this. I’ve seen one or two fantastic examples, where it really worked and got the investors pumped, but I’ve seen more that miss the mark for me and others. Too much showmanship can feel like hype rather than heuristics, and if your audience don’t get on board for the show, they’ll feel you’re wasting their time, and maybe trying to distract and misdirect them from scrutinizing your proposal.
But taking one step beyond the norm feels like a good position to be in if you want to make your pitch appealing and memorable, and especially if you want to stand out from other businesses in a speed-pitching scenario. One simple example of this would be delivering your information overlaid on a video background, rather than just images on a static slide – you can use the power of the video presentation to augment and amplify your message and talking points. Set the scene visually, give a feel for your project and what it looks like. Show them the world you want to build while they’re digesting your data points. Another easy approach is to try to have some moments where there is no data for them to digest on screen. Nothing to take their attention from you and what you’re saying, so they can put all their focus on you. This is a great trick to save for key moments where you want to really connect and communicate to them on a human level, meet them eye-to-eye, honestly and openly, and drive your key messaging about your project and it’s potential for them as an investment.
3 | Your accompanying Oral Presentation
What you say is obviously just as important as what you show. After all, the investor is not only investing in your business and your idea, they’re investing in YOU. So practice, be confident, relax, and try and enjoy telling people about your great project. Don’t be afraid to wear your enthusiasm for your project in plain sight. Passion and enthusiasm are always essential qualities an investor will be looking for; if they can see how clearly you believe in it, it’s easier for them to believe too. But stay grounded, realistic, and try not to over-inflate your hype balloon.
It’s super-important to know the flow of your messaging, the order in which you want to deliver your points for best effect. Handling interruptions and questions mid-flow is an important skill, and you want to be able to answer them seamlessly and get back on track. Often questions you’re asked now will be answered 2 slides downstream in your pitch; try not to rebuff the questions to later if at all possible – it’s better to answer them briefly now if you can do it without straying off-piste, and then refer back to it and expand a little on the answer when you get to the relevant moment in your presentation.
Nothing can feel more awkward than delivering your presentation to an audience of one. In a one-on-one meeting you should always be aiming to keep your pitch conversational more than presentational; interruptions are a normal everyday part of conversational interaction, and they show the investor is interested and wanting to know more. View it as a good sign, and as an opportunity to communicate 1:1 and build rapport. Remember, they’re investing in you and your project, so take every opportunity to let them understand the best of both of those aspects.
As well as working around your time constraints effectively, and making sure you know your business inside and out, not just your pitch lines, there are a few more things to try and bear in mind for the verbal aspects of your pitch presentation;
a | Keep your introduction succinct
Investors want to know you, but initially the most important thing for them is to understand your experience and knowledge in relation to the project you’re pitching and the marketplace you’re addressing.
Don’t waste time up front telling them of your life history, your achievements, and your wider pedigree if it doesn’t add context to their investment decision. You can put all this info in your supporting documentation. If you push your unrelated achievements too much in your pitch, it feels like you’re selling yourself more than the project and that can raise alarm bells and push the needle the wrong way. If they find out cool things about you and your history that impresses them later when they’re doing their follow-up reading, that helps sway the needle the other way.
b | Try to always show self-assurance
Some presenters exude confidence effortlessly, while others can visibly struggle. Meetings with investors can be pretty nerve-wracking and some people just hate standing up in front of a crowd. But ask yourself, what is it that you’re actually nervous about?
If you have faith in your project, you’ve done your homework, you’ve prepared your materials and you know your facts then you can be confident that you can answer their questions and represent the project properly. You’re the world’s leading expert on the subject of your project after all. So even if you worry that you won’t remember your lines, be chill and remember that you know your core subject better than anyone. Even if you stray off-plan during the meeting, you can talk about that subject matter all day. This is especially important for intimate 1:1 investor meetings or small team meetings, where you want to keep the flow as conversational as possible.
If you have a nervousness about public speaking in front of even a small crowd, then you’re not alone; Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is estimated to affect around 75% of adults to some degree.
The key is to practice facing some the fears that stem from a lack of self-confidence. If you’re afraid you’ll embarrass yourself or think that you’re going to mess up, it’s important to tackle this because otherwise that fear can really fuel your nerves on meeting day. Worrying about screwing up can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
An easy route is to Video yourself while you give the pitch to family, friends or even an empty room. The harder part for some is playing their performance back and analyzing themselves, but if you can get over the cringe and self-assess like this you’re well set to address the problems. At the end of the day, confidence comes from belief in yourself and your pitch, so if you can get used to seeing and accepting yourself in this way, you’ll be in the best place to feel comfortable speaking in front of others.
And if you’re serious about becoming better at this, you could try investigating one of the many groups like Toastmasters or The Association of Speakers Clubs and using some of their excellent training and support resources. Maybe take advantage of the free trials for some VR public speaking training apps like VirtualSpeech or OvationVR.
But either way, take comfort that there’s a school of thought that a super-slick pitch, expertly delivered can seem too good to be true, and raise a nagging doubt of why the project hasn’t been funded already. A little nervousness can sometimes help improve your presentation because you come across as real and genuine. When it’s clear you’re not presenting a practiced facade, your earnestness can sometimes help investors trust and connect with you. You might learn that being a little anxious or making a few mistakes isn’t as bad as you thought.
And even if you don’t win the pitch or snag the investor this time because something went awry, you’re more experienced than you were before because you lived through that. Reflect on what went right and what went wrong with your delivery, and try to prepare and improve that element for next time. Each time you move forward, of course, your self-confidence will grow.
“I used to be incredibly afraid of public speaking. I started with five people, then I'd speak to 10 people. I made it up to 75 people, up to 100, and now I can speak to a very large group, and it feels similar to speaking to you one-on-one." - Robin S Sharma
c | Sell Value, not Price.
People don’t buy products, they buy the results the product will give them.
This speaks for itself but it’s key to keep in mind while you’re pitching. If you aren’t aware of the difference, think of it this way – Price is what someone is asked to pay, but Value is what someone is willing to pay. So focus on communicating to the investor how much they will benefit, how much your product or service will help your market sector, how it will answer a market need, and how it can give the investor what they’re looking for. Numbers are important to any investor, but if they like the numbers they will want to understand the value proposition your projections are based upon.
d | Understanding value comes from understanding need.
When you’re giving your pitch it’s important to always be talking to your investor or the panel, and trying to address their wants and needs as part of that conversation.
If they want to make a good investment, they need to understand the core value proposition that your project is offering. You probably put these up-front in your pitch, but the message has to exist throughout. Don’t deliver the cake and move on, keep serving up slices of this core proposition whenever you can in your examples, explanations and data.
As long as you address the 4 key points below, and you keep referring to them when it’s appropriate, you can make sure your core message stays focused and on target, and that the investors understand that your primary motivation is pointed at solving the problem, not becoming a millionaire.
You need them to understand the problem your pitch addresses.
Frame everything around this, as this is the core value you are offering, especially with XR pitches. That problem is either an existing want or a need that you’ve identified. Alternatively, you could be just proposing to create a want and provide the means to satisfy it. You’ll probably need to educate the investor on what this want or need is in your target marketplace, so they understand it and understand the size of the problem, and how that relates to the addressable market of your solution.
You have to show it’s a real problem.
If you can get them to care about the problem through your delivery, that’s even better than simply understanding and acknowledging it. Use evidence and examples to illustrate the ground-level need or want for a solution. There are a lot of crypto and metaverse pitches out there at the moment, for example, that miss this essential aspect, and focus only on the speculative possibilities. Just because a previous investment proved successful, it doesn’t mean your improvement will command the same market size. After all, there’s already a solution there for those who want it. The success of Beat Saber drove a lot of investment in exercise games a few years ago, these are projects that are now coming to fruition in a marketplace that’s now fully saturated with exercise titles, with some established kings.
In a world where First or Best are often seen as being the only way to ‘win’ a market, Best always brings with it stiff competition, and by definition represents a constant ongoing battle for improvement. But identifying a real need that you could be first to successfully answer can be a far more attractive investment.
Make it clear how and why your solution is going to solve the stated problem, and how it does so.
Remember, the world is full of clever solutions people have devised for problems that don’t really exist within an addressable market. So make sure your investor(s) see the business value of investing in your solution. Make sure they understand any risks and unknowns you’re expecting to face, and be prepared to answer how you’re planning to tackle them. Even if you don’t have a solution yet, you should have a plan for how you’re going to find that solution (e.g. R&D, consultants, new hires etc), and where in the roadmap that uncertainty will be resolved.
Remember to reinforce your project and your team with positivity.
You’d be surprised how often I see startups shoot themselves in the foot by highlighting their own perceived weaknesses. It’s almost as if these teams are so paranoid and worried about a certain problem or issue coming to light – maybe it’s a thing that they’re not 100% confident on yet, or maybe it’s something that’s causing disagreement or friction internally – that they somehow steer into mentioning it to the investors when they don’t need to, and it comes across as a big red flag. It goes without saying; nobody needs to show they believe in the pitch more than you do.
Show your enthusiasm and use positive language in all cases when talking about what you’re pitching. One good example is to remember that there’s no such thing as problems. Try to ban that word from your vocabulary. A problem represents a risk, an unknown, something still in need of a solution, or something nobody knows how to solve. A problem is a black box with too many unknowns. It might be minor, or it might be a showstopper. It might take a lot of time and money to solve. It’s a word that investors see as a risk signifier and makes them cautious. It can be a powerful word.
Some people also believe hurdles is a similarly risky word to use. There are a lot of negative shades to the word when painting a picture for your investor. Hurdles can trip you up even though you see them coming. Hurdles are usually something that are constant, predictable, and are overcome by using the same process and approach time after time. They’re something you expect your performance to be measurable against. Being tripped up by a hurdle suggests an error on the part of the athlete rather than a more sizeable or challenging obstacle.
What your project or product might still have, though, are challenges. It’s softer language, but softer here is good. It’s more appropriate and frames the business proposition in a more positive way. Challenges aren’t a bad thing, or anything to worry about; they’re an inevitability that’s expected in any venture that’s breaking new ground. People look to challenge themselves in many ways so they can grow and improve. A challenge is something that you can recognise, that you can rise and meet with a good plan and dedication, and benefit from overcoming. You prepare for them, and expect to meet them along the way, but you don’t know what form they will take. They can’t be solved by a traditional process, instead they demand creativity and bravery. Challenges are addressed by research, development, and thinking outside the box. Challenges are there for heroes to overcome. And if your project isn’t addressing any new challenges, is it really doing anything new or exciting? After all, innovative opportunities rarely arise without some inherent challenges attached.
So always display your positivity about your challenges ahead, about the status and value proposition of your project, and about the team that you’re going to build it with. Nothing shows more confidence to an investor than seeing the leader is aware of the terrain ahead, and already has a smart plan and the right people to make the journey with.
In Part 3 of this series, we'll take a look at the remaining communication channels you should be taking advantage of to deliver your message most effectively;
The takeaway documentation your investors will leave with
Your immersive demo you want the investors to experience, if you have one to show
The story structure you might lean on to enhance your pitch.