Lessons from Dragons’ Den, week 1: How to avoid the big pitch freeze

The lessons to take away from this week’s Dragons’ Den

The first episode in the new series of Dragons’ Den, which aired on Sunday, attracted a record 4.3 million viewers. And pretty much all of them would have been squirming with embarrassment as applicant Georgette Hewitt went to pieces, her pitch disintegrating into speechless impotence before our eyes.

Remarkably Hewitt, a self-proclaimed ‘mumpreneur’, turned things round to secure a £60,000 investment from Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis. But, in the process, she gave us a working lesson in how not to pitch to a group of investors; if she’d been pitching to bankers or angels in a real-life situation she may not have been so fortunate.

As a start-up entrepreneur pitching for investment, loans or new business, how do you go about avoiding the mistakes Hewitt made? Well, this simple guide should give you all the skills you need to avoid a pitching freeze.

Think about structure

If you’ve got to make an all-important pitch, it’s crucial that you get the structure right. A clear and logical structure should provide a series of reference points, so you always know where you’re up to and it’s easy for the audience to keep up.

Michael Parker, founder of Pitchcoach and author of pitchcoach.co.uk, told us: “A classic formula is called ‘the rule of three’. If I’m telling you why mine is the best pub in the world, or why Dragons’ Den should buy into my pub, I have three supports – for example they might be fantastic location, ambient atmosphere and great food.

“Think of those three arguments as sign-posts – as long as you’ve remembered the three sign-posts, it keeps you on track. Rather than remembering a continuous five-minute stream, the signposts enable you to break it down into stages, which is easier to remember.”

Pace yourself

When you’re pitching, you may well be given a specific timeframe. Even if not, it’s good practice to think about the amount of time you want to speak for, and how much information you’ll be able to get out in that period.

Don’t try and cram too much into your pitch – if you do this, you’ll end up speaking too fast, and run the risk of tripping over your words. Remember the need to speak slowly and clearly, with decent gaps between sentences and plenty of time for natural pauses.

Rehearse in real-life situations

Once you’ve got your pace and structure sorted, it’s time to try the pitch out. And the more realistically you can replicate the pitch environment, the better. According to Michael Parker, “if I was going into Dragons’ Den, I would rehearse by pitching to five people. They can be friends, neighbours – anybody.

“If you just talk it through yourself, you’re just learning the lines, which isn’t the same as rehearsing. The audience will give you feedback and allow you to get used to handling nerves, and help you to polish key skills, like making eye contact.”

Drill home the key facts and figures

While it’s important to replicate real-life scenarios, you should also do a decent amount of rote learning, repeating the essential facts and figures of your pitch over and over until you know them by heart. These are the central pillars of your presentation, so you have to get them spot on. Plus, if you’re going to present financial info, you could be dealing with some fairly complex figures, which can cause confusion if you’re not properly prepared.

Before you go to the pitch, write down all the most vital stats and statements on a one-page piece of paper, and read it to yourself before going in. That way the essential information will be fresh in your mind when you come to address the audience.

Take stoppages in your stride

If you do temporarily forget what you’re saying during your pitch, don’t worry – it’s not a disaster. Most of the people you’re pitching too will, at some stage, have had a similar problem.

Michael told us that, when you’re pitching as a start-up, “don’t let losing your thread panic you, and ask them to give you a moment if you have to stop. Then pause, and start again. It can help if you have a line handy; I worked with someone who was a stutterer, and I advised them to make a reference to The King’s Speech!”

As we saw on Dragons’ Den last night, even the most disjointed and forgetful pitch can yield an investment, so even if you think all is lost during your presentation, you may still find things turn out all right in the end.



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