图片来源：PHOTOGRAPH BY STUART ISETT FOR FORTUNE
When it comes to startups, the defining moment in many entrepreneurs' lives is the all-important pitch. That time, be it 60 seconds, 10 minutes, or half an hour, can determine whether or not a company will get the funds it needs to grow—and such high stakes can often make those minutes spent in front of venture capitalists or partners feel like a make-it-or-break-it moment.
Top entrepreneurs and venture capitalists shared their tips on how to deliver the perfect pitch—and a successful follow-up—during a panel at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on December 11.
Here's what experts are saying is the perfect recipe for a winning pitch.
1. Explain why you're the only one who can grow the business
For some venture capitalists, the key to delivering a successful pitch isn't just about nailing down your numbers and having an eloquent answer to every question—it's about explaining why you are uniquely positioned to develop the company.
“Really nail the part of the story why you are the only person in the world that can really build this business,” Michele Romanow, the co-founder and president of alternative funding provider Clearbanc, said. “Sharing that ... actually compels you in a very different way to want to back a founder.”
Romanow suggests entrepreneurs can relay this through telling an emotional story or sharing a unique piece of expertise they have.
“Regardless of industry, everything ... gets competitive, so it's ultimately showing why you are the only person that's going to get to do this, and why you have the grit and perseverance to do that,” she said. Having a unique partner, a competitive advantage in pricing, and detailing unit economics can help differentiate you even if your space is crowded, she added.
2. Less focus on the deck, more focus on connecting
While experts say having a sophisticated, well-put-together deck is important, it ultimately might not be the thing that will get an investor's attention in a pitch.
In fact, that's why Michelle Cordeiro Grant, the founder and CEO of bra brand LIVELY, suggested founders “spend less time on the deck and spend more time on the [emotional quotient] of how you're going to emotionally connect with the people you're presenting to, and really just zone in on the three nuggets of data that are going to emotionally wrap that story.”
Having raised over $15 million for her company herself, Grant noted things like short videos can be a good way to observe your audience and build human interaction even before you begin to speak. A 20-second video at the start of her pitch was what Grant said "actually made me successful" during her pitches.
3. Do your homework
It may seem obvious, but researching the firms and investors you're pitching is a crucial step in the process that some founders actually miss, the panel said.
“Homework is really important because when you're raising money, you should be running the process: You should've thought about who are the best investors for you, who are your practice meetings, and at each of those meetings you should know enough about the firm so you can lean into the things the investors are interested in,” Nisha Dua, general partner at early-stage venture capital firm BBG Ventures, said.
She suggested researching who the decision makers are at the firm, who you are actually pitching to (is it a partner?), and knowing if the investor or firm has invested in your competitors are keys in making sure neither of the parties waste their time.
To wit, Deena Shakir, a partner at venture capital firm Lux Capital, said that failing to doing research on your competitors can even be a death-knell with that investment firm.
“You are immediately almost blacklisted from ever communicating with anybody else at this VC if this VC knows you haven't even done the basic homework to see if they've invested in a company that is directly competitive,” she said.
4. Packaging your pitch is key
To be sure, having an attractive, well-thought out pitch deck and packaging is a key in showing potential investors your business will be able to attract customers, investors, and further valuations. As Shakir puts it, “packaging is what gets you the next round of fundraising ... and a return on [investors'] investment.”
But a pitch with all the bells and whistles is not necessarily the end-all, be-all.
“It's not about the prettiest deck, the prettiest video, the most eloquent and articulate speaker,” Dua says. “Packaging for us comes down to, can this person tell a story with narrative arc, can they pitch a big vision, and do they know their material back to front?”
Dua suggests knowing your pitch—from a 60-second version to a 30-minute version—and knowing all the material in your appendix back to front is what stands out for many VCs. Adapting to questions and taking cues from your audience is critical in delivering a non-static pitch.
“The packaging is: I can come in and have a 20-minute conversation and nail my story and adjust as someone is asking me questions, and I can do that with a deck, without a deck, technical difficulties ... In a way, the package is the person telling the story,” she said.
5. Don't do a copy/paste follow-up
Sending a follow-up has become basic etiquette—but sending a boring or copy-and-paste follow-up can be of little help in securing that connection.
“Make sure you have a quick follow up and make sure it's not some standard, 'great to connect, let's follow up' type of thing,” Shakir said. “Try and have something personal you can engage with them on so you can continue the conversation outside of the specific top that you actually were pitching them on. I've found that to be really helpful as well.” Those connection points could be anything from a sports team you discussed to an article you connected over during your meeting.
But find ways to check in that are not annoying. Shakir recommended avoiding saying, “'I want to pick your brain,' because nobody has time for that.”