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5 Disastrous Moves That Will Botch Your Pitch

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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 GREAT GATSBY: Grandiose braggarts 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.

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 is 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 a college-entrance 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 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.

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.

For more insight on creativity and innovation, visit author Josh Linkner's site at

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[Image: Flickr user Nina Matthews]

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  • Lou Lambert

    I might add that getting to know who you're pitching to is essential.......their personality type!         If they're an analytical the four minute S.A.T. may be just the ticket.  If they are dominant, the 60 second elevator pitch may be too long.......expressive and you should be able to get to know their children's names and the color of their dog.  The pitch is not always the same and varies from prospect to client.
    the yankee

  • Lindsey Nagy

    In terms of best practices for pitch methodology and behavior, I would absolutely agree with what's been stated in the author's article and most of the readers' comments.  

    When pitching the top 1% of Wall Street on personal financial services I learned to be quick and precise; but also unforgiving.  Unforgiving means: Be sincere about the fact that you're taking-up their time, but also be confident enough to let them know that you're not there to waste it, because your product/service/startup is worth their time and yours to discuss.  If you have any doubt about the sincerity of your product/service/startup, then don't waste your time or theirs pitching it. Period.

    Some of my other mentors stressed the importance of "knowing how to read your audience". For example, when pitching potential large brands on corporate sponsorship brands, I have "mirrored" the listener by catering to either his/her energy-level and specific interests. Before he he/she can oblige to any of my remarks, I take a second to first outline what I intend to get out of our conversation and confirm that it is what he/she want to hear as well. This way, if he/she has any concerns, I am certain they will address them ahead of time. Each potential client/sponsor is different, so it only helps the presenter to tailor the pitch to his/her particular preference: pace of speech, meeting-place or even the presentation-medium (ie: paper vs powerpoint) ahead of time. 

    A good VC pitch always comes down to three things:

    1. Professionalism (Naturally, this act includes being congenial, respectful and authentic -- All of the members pitching should appear and act in this manner.  In reality, who wants to work with -or invest in, especially- anyone of less professional character?)

    2. The Presentation of The Plan..Only.  (As the author said, resist from deviating from the subject at-hand.  As with any presenter, your job is to convey the opportunity you're brining to the table by adequately explaining the facts you and your team have taken ample time to research/develop and prove.  Those facts will (or will not) determine the validity of your solution via the industry void/s and unique value/s your solution will fill.  Being prepared to field all potential inquires of the VC -or potential client- about "what if" scenarios and "creditability" of your product/service/startup, thereafter, is to be expected --I've never been through a pitch without some question-- however, the purpose of a clearly written AND spoken plan is one in the same: eliminate doubt and explain only the facts of which your certain support your solution).

    3. Answering "The Big 3 Whys":
    A) Why your team? (Who are you and What makes your experience worth my money?)  
    B) Why your company (Why your startup with this particular solution vs another established, seemingly less-risky company)?  
    C) Why NOW? (Why your solution in this marketplace/economy/time-in-history, now?)PS: To the gal who criticized the author by saying she's the "girl" and that he should "know your audience".  Look, in his defense, I'm sure he already knew he cannot appease everyone.  More importantly, I think it's also assumed in his article that his main point was to express that pitching is to service and/or funding, just as pitching is is to relationship appropriateness, be it: a guy pitching a guy, a gal pitching a gal or a guy pitching a gal...but did he really need to say all of that??? No.  Have a nice day.

  • Elaine Waters

    Get the girl? I am the "girl" . Know your audience. We are not all males.

  • Tia Aguilar

    Great article!  I will research more about the Discovery Colour Energy model. It reminds me of a similar method used by The Color Code. Each color represents personality traits of an individual. Each color demands a certain method of approach. We used this at a university I worked at to help the staff understand one another better and basically to get along.  People of different professions have different ways you want to approach them to accomplish a goal. We used this code when dealing with people in enrollment.  An example, red is dominant and wants the facts and move on, yellow is bubbly and fun, white is analytical and blue emotional. Once you understand the strengths, weaknesses and traits of each color you can use certain methods or questions to approach people.  One person may have one or all colors attributed to their personality.  

    You are right about preparation prior to a pitch or presentation as you may not have had the opportunity to have previously met all those that you are pitching or presenting. So be ready. 

  • Srini

    Good article. Just one question: given what you said in this article, why do you repeat the fact that you are the best-selling author of "Disciplined Dreaming" 3 out of 6 slides on

  • Eric Leventhal

    Jay Gatsby is not the exemplar of a grandiose braggart. He had a splashy lifestyle, but was a humble and modest Minnesotan who never bragged. I'm trying to think of someone well known from lit who is "all hat and no cattle," but drawing a blank. 

  • PeterT

    Great piece - Indeed, a great pitch should last about 5 mins IMO - in fact, If you can't articulate your value in 5mins or less - you may want to rethink your idea.

  • Joe Orlandino

    Spot on.
    I would add to never position yourself in the supplicant role. Or as George Costanza would advise. "get 'Hand'"
    Be that great opportunity that may pass them by if they don't act - fast. 
    You need to hit an emotional hot button early on to engage.
    Their involvement needs to go beyond money otherwise they would just read the financials.
    You are pitching because they want to be wooed.
    Woo well and prosper.

  • john waring

    article – I wanted to read more about yourself via the link on this
    page, but it looks like your web site
    is experiencing some problems.

    It's worth noting
    that your web server software on your web site is displaying a full
    description of the platform (this is a recognised security
    vulnerability) i.e. the software versions – this can be rectified
    by modifying the Apache configuration file!

    look forward to reading more of your articles.. kind regards John

  • Aamir Rahman

    Excellent piece of advice for all those who believe 'Selling is Everywhere and Selling never Ends!"

  • Richard Blackham

    It must be the culture gap! State the obvious won't you?
    This is the ramblings of a man looking for visibility in the press. Not an informed article whatsoever.
    Read Suster, Wilson, OpenView Partners and Co for informed advice.

  • Kathrin Rotmann

    Great article.Hopefully people who often lost a pitch will/can understand and perform accordingly. Good luck to the ones that like to listen to their own voice.

  • Declan Monahan

    Great article, thanks for writing it.  As someone who has pitched to buyers and VCs many times I can associate with the guidance provided and wish I'd had it earlier in my career!  For someone looking for that little bit extra magic, an understanding of peoples behavioural styles would also add substance to your pitch.  One excellent approach is the Insights Discovery Colour Energy model.  This describes peoples (your audience) behaviour and motivations using the colour energies of; Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow; Earth Green and Cool Blue.  If you pitch with these behavioural styles in mind you'll have a greater impact on your audience, effectively communicating in a style they prefer.  This article seems to have been written by someone with a lot of Cool Blue energy, they want the facts, no BS.  However the presenter should be prepared for individuals with Earth Green energy who are concerned with authenticity and emotion (show them you care).  Fiery Red energy want you to be bright, be brief and be gone!  However those with a preference for Sunshine Yellow energy will enjoy a lively and innovative presentation and won't mind chatting more if the content is engaging. Having an awareness and content prepared specifically to cover the four key energies will give you additional confidence going into the presentation, knowing that regardless of the personality style you encounter, you've got your material prepared in a manner that can engage them all.