Start-up business plan essentials: Preparing for the oral presentation

10 vital tips to ensure your business pitch is successful

If getting someone interested in your business plan is half the battle in raising funds, the other half is the oral presentation. Researchers have shown that each of the following elements has a value in transmitting a message: Words: 7% Tone: 35% Non-verbal or body language: 58%.

The importance of body language

You may disagree with these percentages, but think about it for a moment. You have complete control over the words that you use but you have less control over the tone of your speech so you must work hard to sound professional, interested, open to criticism and friendly without being over familiar. You have limited control over your non-verbal signals, your body language. Subconsciously your body will reveal what you really mean and think. If you sit with your arms and legs crossed, this is a defensive posture and indicates a hostile attitude towards the other person and/or the message. Sitting with your arms folded with your thumbs up, shows a superior attitude. Leaning forward indicates either interest or intimidation. People who rest their chin on one hand and have a finger in or near their mouth need reassurance. Those who rub their chins are thinking or making a decision and will not be listening to you.

Gestures are intentional movements and should not be confused with body language. You may be able to control your body language at the beginning of a conversation, but the more you become involved, the more your subconscious will take over. Body language at the beginning of a conversation is absolutely key to a successful presentation. Of information relayed, 87% comes from the eyes, 9% the ears, and 4% is via the other senses (taste, touch and smell).

Sell yourself as well as your business

Any organisation financing a venture will insist on seeing the team involved presenting and defending its plans – in person. They know that they are backing people every bit as much as the idea. You can be sure that any financiers you are presenting to will be well prepared. Remember that they see hundreds of proposals every year, and either have (or know of) investments in many different sectors of the economy. If this is not your first business venture, they may even have taken the trouble to find out something of your past financial history.

Founding father of European venture capital Sir Ronald Cohen states: “The biggest mistake entrepreneurs who come pitching for capital make is that they deliver the pitch they’ve prepared instead of trying to find out what it is the person sitting on the other side of the table with the money is really concerned about. You find entrepreneurs going on for 25 or 30 minutes without giving anybody a chance to breathe, instead of asking ‘Could you tell me what concerns you about my business plan?'”

Keep these 10 key points in mind when preparing for the presentation of your business plan.

1. Plan your time effectively

Find out how much time you have then rehearse your presentation beforehand. Allow at least as much time for questions as for your talk.

2. Use visual aids

Also, wherever possible, bring and demonstrate your product or service. A video, computer-generated model or diagram can help bring your proposition to life.

3. Have a clear strategy

Explain your strategy in a business-like manner, demonstrating your grasp of the competitive market forces at work. Listen to comments and criticisms carefully, avoiding a defensive attitude when you respond.

4. Be as up-to-date as possible

Provide the latest information on sales, profits, product development, market tests or other evidence-based milestones. Some of this information may be too current to include in your written plan so here is the opportunity to add strength to your proposition.

5. Be concise

Make your replies to questions brief and to the point. If members of the audience want more information, they can ask. This approach allows time for the many different questions that must be asked, either now or later, before an investment can proceed.

6. Create empathy between yourself and your listeners

While you may not be able to change your personality, you could take a few tips on presentation skills. Eye contact, tone of speech, enthusiasm and body language all have a part to play in making a presentation successful.

7. Dress to impress

Wearing formal clothing is never likely to upset anyone. Shorts and sandals could just set the wrong tone! Serious money calls for serious people.

8. Be prepared

You need to have every aspect of your business plan in your head and know your way around the plan forwards, backwards and sideways!

9. Refine your elevator pitch

You never know when the chance to present may occur. It’s as well to have a 5-, 10-and 20-minute presentation ready to run at a moment’s notice. Known as the ‘elevator pitch’, i.e. the time it takes to move from the lobby to an office floor in an elevator, this can also be a useful preparation for writing up your executive summary.

10. Be gracious

Always end your pitch with a sincere thank you to your listeners however you feel the presentation has gone. Also, use this moment to hand out your business cards.

For more help on creating your business plan, check out our other start-up business plan essentials: Testing your business ideaUnderstanding your customers, Sizing up the relevant market, Understanding your marketTailoring to different audiences, and Preparing for change and growth.

Business Plans for Small Businesses, published by Crimson Publishing, is available to buy now.

You can undertake customer research with our Startups Research tool here

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