Pitching to investors?

What could possibly go wrong?

Mistake #1

Lost rapport with listener due to ignoring their subtle, non-verbal (but usually highly visible) cues

Presenters often pay more attention to what they are saying (and how they are saying it) than to how the listener is receiving their message.


  • Before preparing your talk, find out exactly what the audience needs to know. Verify the purpose and length of the presentation with the audience before launching into it. Be prepared to make adjustments. By starting with a clear mutual understanding (basis of an agreement), then expanding on that agreement, you can reach your goals and your audience’s goals simultaneously. Anything else will be a break in rapport and will cost you the credibility and acceptance you deserve.

  • Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues … they are often vital signs of rapport (or the lack thereof). If their facial expression or voice tone indicates they are confused, puzzled or concerned, discover the cause, and win them back. If they look bored, ask if you should “pick up the pace” or “what do you really want to know?” or if necessary, simply ask “what would help you appreciate the lasting value of this?” If you lose their attention, stop. Do not waste your breath speaking if the listener isn’t listening. Deal with what’s happening in the moment (it may or may not be something you said). 

Key:  Match the right things at the right time.  Mood or energy, voice tone or tempo (pace and amount of detail), shared values and experience, specific words that reflect deeply held values or beliefs, vision of the future, etc.  What do you match?  Depends on your goal and the response you get.

Unless the audience is so large that it is impractical, encourage and handle questions as they come up. Be flexible but stay focused on the agreement (especially if there’s a time limit). A quick clarification “in the moment” can prevent needless misunderstandings and miscommunication downstream.

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Mistake #2

Presentation materials provide too much and the wrong kind of information

Presenters often attempt to explain their entire business plan (instead of key facts about the business case), their product or technology solution (instead of just their unique competitive advantages), and their detailed resume (instead of just their qualifications). Emphasize the essential of what the investor needs to know, with sharp attention to the investment itself, not the business plan. Why is this a particularly good investment? Provide facts, evidence, persuasive rationale.

Often the presentation materials rely on lists of complete sentences, sometimes even full paragraphs, to convey the essence of the plan. Use only keywords and frame ideas as mere placeholders for what the presenter will bring to light; do not let the presentation materials detract from the power and importance of what you have to say.


  • Determine optimal length of presentation based on the listener’s needs and interests, not based on your desire to present a particular set of ideas.

  • Use appropriately sized information “chunks” to communicate effectively — “five plus or minus two” per page. Highlight key ideas, not complete sentences or paragraphs. Avoid complicated graphs except to the extent that you explain what it means — draw a conclusion supported by the data that brings to light the value of the business. 

    Summarize key points before moving on to new topics and when wrapping up, right before asking for questions or comments.

Key:  don’t try to explain everything … plan to give just enough information and direct responses to questions to stimulate interest and further curiosity.  Fend off miscommunication or misinterpretation by checking for their understanding of important details.

By interacting and asking non-rhetorical questions — “Do you see the connection between that big idea and this next phase of funding?” (then watch for nodding heads) — you can “calibrate” your presentation to the response(s) you are getting.  Paying careful attention to their behavior (shifting your attention off yourself, and onto them) enables you to be as responsive to that “reality” in each moment as you need to be, without losing your place in the story, to reach your goal.

Draw out questions, even if they’re likely to be challenging or even slightly hostile, because demonstrating “grace under fire” might be more important than all your slides and plans combined.  Shows your character, confidence and resilience.  [ Need help with this aspect?  Contact us for to arrange coaching. ]

Mistake #3

Presenter’s message relies too heavily on presentation materials (the planned presentation), not enough on the value, credibility and confidence of the presenter

As the saying goes, investors don’t invest in business plans, they invest in teams. Similarly, investors aren’t as interested in your presentation materials as they are in you, your message, your story. What you have to say is far more important than the information on paper, what’s scripted in your head, or visible on PowerPoint slides.

Slides or handouts are merely visual reinforcement of key ideas to accommodate different learning styles and keep the conversation focused. Your comments, experience and unique knowledge are what will interest the audience, not your ability to make whiz-bang graphics or use beautiful, “eye candy” stock photography.

This is not to say that the contents of your prepared materials are not important. Just don’t let those materials detract from the full impact of the message you have to deliver. Will just “showing up and winging it” get you what you want? It might, but unless you have a confirmed gift at speaking off the cuff, why take the risk? The goal of preparation is to get freed up from your presentation materials, so you can be relaxed and authentically yourself (and still make sense to other people).


  • By making sure you remedy error #2 (the right amount and type of information), your materials set the stage for what you have to say. With adequate preparation and practice, no “extra” attention will be needed on how you say it.  You may want to memorize certain quotations, key phrases, introductions and concluding remarks — anything where a few words must be strung together precisely to convey the intended message).  Examples of this:
    • What is it that your company does better than anyone else?
    • Why are you really in business?  What’s the underlying mission, vision or values that “get you up in the morning”?
    • Who is it for?  [“It” as in your solution — product or service]
  • With each new set of ideas, clear the words (say or paraphrase . acknowledge what’s there) to establish meaning as quickly as possible. If necessary, define or explain your terms (“Does everyone know what ‘triple bottom line’ means?”) … checking for mutual understanding . then, once the dust of stirred up questions has settled, and the momentary confusion of new concepts has passed, bring the listener’s attention back to you, and make those vital points. If you cannot think of any vital points to make, in advance, skip the entire discussion.
  • Follow the 5+/-2 chunks per page guideline, and you will have lots of value to add as you tell your story. Use the slides to “frame” the purpose, context and “why you are telling” that story. 
  • Be yourself (or a slightly nervous version of yourself, which is completely normal and expected). Maintain eye contact. Make it interactive. Ask questions. Get people involved. Make it as conversational and natural as possible.

Key:  Be easy to interrupt but impossible to throw off center.  If possible, wear your “bullet-proof ego.”  Take all signals of rapport (or the lack thereof, which you will notice as a mismatch) as feedback to improve your connection with the audience, improve your presentation, and possibly even longer-term to refine or pivot your plans.

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