Seven Tips for Pitching Your Startup Idea

I don't know about you, but my shower blesses me with amazing ideas. Convincing others of their brilliance, though, doesn't always happen so fluidly. Let's be honest, for many of us "cerebral-types," the thought alone of having to explain yourself to hundreds of onlookers could result in discrediting bright ideas long before they ever get to that point.

That's exactly how I felt last week. It caught me by surprised when the bolder side of my personality applied (voluntarily) to represent my startup at a natural products pitch slam. When I learned my application had been approved, I immediately searched for a reason to not show up. (I'm mostly kidding, but the thought did cross my mind.)

Despite the nerves, my utter love for what I do propelled me to accept the invitation and present my family's indoor composting product, the CompoKeeper, to the Naturally Boulder community.

Fast forward to the end of that Wednesday evening...

Our competition was stiff, but out of 25 social/environmental/health-conscious companies who had pitched their solutions earlier in the day, my dad and I were selected as one of three finalists. We anxiously accepted the invitation to present our idea again, this time on stage at The Boulder Theater to a crowd of more than 350 respected professionals who would decide our fate with a text message vote.

After the final round of pitches, the event came to a peak. Alongside the other two finalists, we watched on as Sara Snow, the MC of the night, announced the crowd's favorite: CompoKeeper.

WE WON! Oh my CompoKeeper, we WON!

That night we walked away with industry recognition, a cash prize of $2,000, the value of $48,000 in business services and smiles as wide as the ocean. The validation from winning a pitch slam was like nothing we'd ever experienced.

So what's the secret to our success? Without these seven strategies, we didn't stand a chance.

1. Pinpoint Your Why

Make a list of the top five things that most excite you about the idea you want to spread. By bringing your attention to these reasons, your nervous system will become electric with excitement. That's what passion feels like. When you step into the spotlight, instead of labeling your nerves as fear, recognize those heart-fluttering sensations as passion and purpose flowing through you.

2. Be Authentic

The best way to earn credibility is to be yourself. Don't try to portray an image that's not in line with who you are on a day-to-day basis. You don't need to wear four-inch heels or a starchy suit if you're not comfortable in them. Talk to the judges as if you're in a face-to-face meeting. You don't have to know it all. Admit when you don't have the answer to a tough question but assure the audience you'll find it.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

A week before going on stage, I wrote down exactly what I wanted to say and memorized it. I practiced my speech at least a few hundred times. I practiced while walking, driving, showering and even while falling asleep. I practiced right up until I walked onto the stage. My message became second nature and, while presenting, I was able to focus less on getting the words right and more on enjoying the experience.

4. Shake Some Hands

If nothing else, do this! Arrive early and make a point of meeting and shaking as many hands as you can before going on stage. By connecting one-on-one with the people in your audience, you'll be less afraid of harsh judgments and more focused on how you can best serve your audience.

5. Play Up Your Differences

For Team CompoKeeper, this was pretty easy. I'd say 80 percent of the companies pitching that day were talking about natural, organic ingredients. We, however, were talking about what to do when you're done with them. We stood out by addressing a vital piece of a closed-loop system (composting) that too often gets overlooked in natural lifestyle conversations.

Depending on your audience and your competition, your differentiator may not be as obvious. Think about the qualities of your idea or company that can’t be replicated. Is it the crazy culture? Is it your cool combination of interests and hobbies? When you discover it, find subtle (or not so subtle) ways to infuse your pitch with its essence.

6. Get the Audience to Nod with Appreciation

To help the audience understand the problem we are solving, I focused on making it relatable. Instead of saying "compost pails are inconvenient," I suggested that the number of trips to empty a small compost bin is analogous to the number of times a puppy needs to be taken out while being potty-trained. The best way to be relatable is to LISTEN to your target audience. Ask them what the problem is, what it feels like and what it would be like if their problem was solved. When you hear something that strikes a chord, run with it.

7. Visualize the Win

Athletes do it all the time. "It's been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success and increase states of flow"(Psychology Today). Arrive early to access the stage. Create a sense of familiarity with the room. Visualize yourself smiling while delivering your presentation, making eye contact with your audience and accepting a standing ovation.

One of the judges actually caught me doing this. I explained, "I'm just visualizing the win!" He chuckled, and who knows, maybe even gave me a few bonus points.

Take these pointers and apply them to your bright idea. Don't let anything—even the fear of public pitching—get in the way of building products and services that make the world a better place.

If you're interested in pitching your own idea, make a promise to yourself and add it to your To-Do list. If you want to find out more about our project, check out our Kickstarter campaign.

This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.
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