12 must-haves in the perfect 2-minute pitch

Veteran of countless pitching events, Oli Barrett reveals his recipe for a short, sharp talk that will put the audience in the palms of your hands

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” So said Rudyard Kipling, and with his exceedingly good phrase in mind, I spent an intoxicating evening in the company of the most recent Wayra cohort.

In case you don’t know, Wayra is the accelerator programme which invests in, houses and connects technology start-ups across 14 countries. Because hundreds of hopefuls apply, the selected groups tend to be made up of highly ambitious, energetic individuals.

Sitting in the Wayra Academy, just off Tottenham Court Road, I am reminded of some of the 150 companies I’ve travelled with over the years, on overseas trade missions. From San Francisco to São Paulo, Bangalore to Boston, one of the greatest challenges facing founders has been their two minute pitch.

To be concise and not vague, confident without seeming arrogant, determined yet open-minded. Whether pitching to potential investors, partners or team members, it’s a tough job, and someone’s got to do it.

Having listened to hundreds of pitches, and given a fair few myself, these are my top tips. They are purely personal opinions, rather than golden rules.

A few thoughts which I’d share with anyone who has to give a short, sharp pitch or presentation about their organisation;

1. Tell them why

I recently chaired a panel which included Julie Hanna, chair of Kiva, the micro-lending platform. She made me think when she said that too many entrepreneurs tell her what they are doing, without telling her why. Is there a personal story connected with why you started? Did you stumble upon a problem first-hand? Why are you really doing this, instead of everything else you could be doing with your life? Help us to understand the reason, and we’ll warm to you all the more.

2. Personal credibility

A couple of years ago, I heard a founder pitching his start-up, which involved the use of flood data. He forgot to mention that he had a PhD in the subject. From Cambridge University. You’re pitching to a room of people, many of whom you have never met. How can you establish their trust and show them that you are perfectly placed to do what you say you’re going to do? This might involve sharing a private passion. You’re creating a club for parents, and you have three children of your own.

3. What do you want?

A tried and tested technique is for founders to say (or sometimes pretend) that they are not looking for money, “at the moment”. Even if this is true, try to think about what it is that you’re after. It could be introductions within the automotive industry. Perhaps it is local media contacts. If we understand what you’re doing and we like you, we will want to connect you. So make it easy for us.

4. What are you wearing?

You may think that this is shallow and irrelevant. I disagree. Think about how the colours or styles you wear might make you (in a good way) more memorable. Do you want to be remembered as being “suited and booted”? Perhaps. Or maybe you want to be seen as the cutting edge, creative thinker. Are you dressed appropriately? If we’re nit-picking, I recommend removing your badge or lanyard when you pitch. It makes you look less like a delegate, more like a speaker.

5. Enthuse

More than anything, I love to watch someone who clearly loves what they do. It’s about more than just explaining what you’re up to. You’re on a mission to inspire. Don’t hold back.

6. Tell me about your users

Especially if you are just starting out, try to paint me a picture of type of person who will use your product or service. Is it the stressed executive on a weekend abroad? Is it the ambitious student, keen to make their CV stand out? Help me to imagine what you see.

7. Who Loves You, Baby?

This is your Kojak moment. If you’ve won some fans already, don’t be afraid to quote them. Sometimes a simple, powerful testimonial from a delighted customer can be more persuasive than a dozen made-up financial forecasts. This relates to the earlier point about credibility. We don’t know you and we don’t know your company. Show us some names or logos which help to win our trust. This may sound simple. It works. You’ve been written about in the Economist? Tell us. You’ve been featured on the BBC? Show us.

8. Show momentum

You may be at an early stage, however I bet you can show progress. I recently heard a founder explain that, already, 80 schools were on board, in just a term and a half. Subconsciously, my brain did some kind of calculation. The facts were delivered with confidence. I thought, “This is someone who is making progress”. In simple terms, who has “joined” you? From investors to customers, partners to team members. Tell us you’ve “just” done something, and let us share in your enthusiasm and excitement.

9. Show your roots

This is one for people pitching outside their country of origin. Especially if you have a strong accent, consider telling us more. In business, being international is a good thing, so use it. You’re from Brazil? Remind us that it’s a country of almost 200 million people. Flip what you may perceive as a negative (being an outsider), into a positive. You are our gateway to a world of opportunity.

10. Repeat yourself

Yes, even in a two minute pitch, repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Consider how a well-phrased one-liner can build confidence in your audience. More subtly, consider repeating yourself if there are important facts or directions you want your audience to tune in to. “There are over 24,000, that’s 24,000 schools in Britain”. “Now I’d like you to raise your hands, that’s raise your hands”. Give it a go. Even in a two minute pitch, repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

11. Silence is golden 

As Mark Twain said; “No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause”. This applies just as much to a one minute talk as a half-hour speech. Especially in the seconds immediately after you’ve delivered your most powerful phrases or insights….. Give the room a moment for your words to sink in. We will enjoy, and remember them, all the more.

12. The last word 

Don’t leave your final sentence to chance. We’re looking for sizzle, not fizzle. You may want to tell us where we can find you. That could be online, on Twitter, or even a physical location “I’ll be at the bar…” “We’re on stand 15”. Likewise, you may wish to remind us of your name, or the company. After all, we’ve only just heard of you. In terms of actual last words, “thank you” is a powerful phrase. It’s polite and it’s punchy. Whatever you choose, you want YOUR presentation to be the one which stays with people. That will be about a combination of what you said, how it all looked, and how you said it.

My last words are inspired by Maya Angelou, who said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You may only have two minutes, with the added challenge of standing out from a strong crowd.

To be a good speaker you must know who is in the audience, and know what you want to say.

To be a great speaker, you need to go further.

You must think about how you want someone to feel, and what you want them to do, when your pitch, however brilliant, has come to an end.

Oli Barrett MBE, is a founder of Cospa, the agency that connects brands with causes to deliver social innovation projects. He is one of the people behind Tenner, WebMission, Areté Club and StartUp Britain and can be found on Twitter

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