This is a guest post by Esme Caulfield, Head of The Rising Stars Pitch Competition

Since the lockdown began, many businesses have had to make a shift to remote working and become familiar with new methods of digital communication. For the foreseeable future, every aspect of most business’ operations will be conducted online – including pitching.

Tech Nation’s Rising Stars pitching competition has given countless entrepreneurs the opportunity to take the floor to tell their stories, connect with the room and grow their confidence through constructive feedback.

We’ve teamed up with Rising Stars pitch coaches Billy Webber and Jill McKinney from Sunderland Software City to create this comprehensive guide to help you navigate virtual pitching, and feel confident delivering your message on-screen.

Virtual pitching etiquette

Whilst it may feel unconventional, it can actually be a little less daunting to speak to a screen than to actual people. 

Below are a few tips to help you master online etiquette:

1/ Prepare for a little awkwardness

Pitching virtually comes with a different set of considerations, as you won’t be able to make eye contact with everyone in the room, or shake their hands. Viewers will expect a little awkwardness surrounding getting a video panel up and running, so don’t be discouraged if things feel as though they’re off to a rocky start. 

2/ Keep your video on

Whilst in the past it was more acceptable to keep your camera off during video conferences, it’s become an integral part of online etiquette. With your webcam on, you can better emulate a face-to-face interaction, allowing you to connect with viewers and convey the passion behind your mission.

3/ Introduce yourself

It’s important to remember that you’ll be speaking to a range of listeners, including those who may not have previously engaged with your brand. Make sure to introduce yourself, your team and your business in a way that is accessible to all.

Preparing your slide deck

Using slides alongside your pitch can help keep the audience engaged. A good slide deck is simple, clear and concise, and will keep you on track and on time. 

Below are a few key tips to help you build a good slide deck:

1/ Keep it simple and visual

If your slide is saturated with text, you will likely lose people in the details. Opt for bullet points over paragraphs, and use icons to highlight key stats. Flaticon is a great (and free) tool you can use to source thousands of icons to illustrate your slides. Similarly, you can source free imagery from Unsplash and similar stock photography sites, or customised illustrations from Undraw, to add a design element to your deck. If you have product demos available, consider embedding these in the deck in GIF format, or playing them on your screen, to give viewers a feel for your offering.

2/ Hit all the key points

Your slide deck should be aligned with your narrative, and touch on all the points that viewers (or prospective investors) will want to know. 

Consider the following questions when designing your deck: 

  • What problem is your business addressing?
  • What solutions are you proposing?
  • How will these solutions impact the market and your customer base?
  • What is the size of this market opportunity? 
  • How does your business stand out among competitors?
  • What are your most significant growth milestones, awards or accomplishments?
  • If you’re fundraising, what are the terms and intended use of proceeds for this round?
  • How can viewers support you in the growth of your business?

3/ Include your contact information

Remember to include a contact on the last slide, that viewers can reach out to if they have further questions about the business. This will foster a new channel of a communication that people can use to engage with the business, even after the pitch is over.

Sharing your screen

Whether you’re pitching to investors for investment, or to journalists to get some PR, it’s important that they’re able to take away the key messages from your pitch. If throughout your pitch all they can see is your shared screen and a thumbnail of you, then there is a good chance they will stop listening to what you are saying and focus only on the slides. 

Here are a few strategic tips to keep them engaged:

  1. Send your business plan or slide deck in advance, so the audience can familiarise with it, and think about the questions they want to ask.
  2. Leave one minute at the start, before sharing your screen, to introduce your pitch, and one minute at the end to summarise it.
  3. Try only using slides when they support what you’re saying, and alternating between your slides and your video to keep things interesting. 

Online pitching competitions

Taking part in a pitching competition is a little less formal than pitching to potential investors and doesn’t usually require the same amount of detail. Most pitching competitions allow three minutes per pitch and only three slides, with no video content. We’ve included a few tips below to make sure your pitch leaves an impression:

1/ Brand your slides

Use the pitching competition as an opportunity to create exposure for your business by including your logo and colour palette. This will help to create brand recognition and ensure your pitch is memorable.

2/ Practice your pitch

Plan what you are going to say and in what order. If you’re nervous about the flow of your pitch, try running it by a friend or colleague to see how it lands. You can use speaking notes on a virtual call – but make sure you don’t read off them, as this will sound robotic. Use your notes as prompts rather than a script.

Put yourself in the shoes of the audience – what questions do you think they’ll ask? Write down the questions that come to mind, and map out what your answers will be. This will help to mitigate last-minute panic if a question comes up that you haven’t prepared for.

If you’re naturally more comfortable standing up to pitch then feel free to stand. Just position your laptop at the right height, so you’re not too far away from the camera and the audience can still see and hear you.

3/ Set out a structure for the Q&A

You may need to either agree on a signal if people want to ask questions at the start of the call or agree that questions will be asked at the end. Hopefully those running the pitching event will lay out those rules at the beginning of the conference, but if not, outline the run-of-show at the beginning of the presentation. Let viewers know that they can contact you after the pitch if they have further questions, either by email, or on your Seedrs discussion page if applicable.

4/ Be prepared for distractions

Your audience may press their mute buttons or even switch their cameras off. This doesn’t mean they’re not listening, they may just find it easier to concentrate that way. People might also forget to mute their microphones, so you may be faced with background noise. Remember, people could be tuning in from home. If a cat jumps onto their lap mid-conference call, don’t let it throw you off.

5/ Relax

Pitching your business to a room full of people you want to impress (and potentially encourage to invest) can be nerve-wracking. However, it’s a unique opportunity to connect and engage with them, and demonstrate your expertise – even when it’s all online. With adequate preparation and a solid slide deck, you have all the tools to inspire an audience.

Here is a summary of all our top tips for the perfect virtual pitch:

1/ Before the pitch:

  • Familiarise yourself with the conferencing tool you will be using
  • Practice running through your pitch with a friend or colleague
  • Practice sharing your screen ahead of the call
  • Practice writing up a few questions that the audience may ask, and prepare you answers to them
  • Join the call early to test audio, camera and dashboard functionality
  • Charge your laptop and keep your charger with you
  • Have your phone on hand in case your wifi drops and you need to hotspot your connection, or your audio cuts out and you need to dial in
  • Determine how and when questions will be asked and answered

2/ During the pitch

  • Alternate between showing your slides, and your video
  • Be clear and concise, and avoid speaking too quickly
  • Avoid using jargon or complicated language
  • Identify the problem, solution and impact of your business
  • Validate your mission using case studies, testimonials and customer reviews
  • Emphasize key points (pause, repeat and show corresponding slides)
  • Highlight your strengths and what makes your business different 
  • Stay calm!

3/ After the pitch

  • Keep an eye on your inbox for queries from attendees
  • If you’re running a Seedrs campaign, monitor your discussion forum for further questions and respond to them
  • Keep those who couldn’t make it updated if you’re pitching again in the future