How to prepare for an elevator pitch competition

With my last, short-lived startup I got invited to take part in an elevator pitch competition. The rules were that each company had three minutes to pitch, and then we would get a few questions from the judges.

Now, at first, it feels like a three-minute pitch can’t be very difficult. I mean, it’s three minutes, how hard can it be to talk about your company for three minutes? That’s what I thought too, but when I started preparing for it, I realized that the shorter the pitch is, the harder it gets.

What to include in the pitch

For starters, you can talk about the problem, your solution, the market, the team, the exit strategy, and much more. How do you choose what to include and what not to? And how do you choose what to concentrate on? Those are all fair questions, and it can be a blog post in itself, but I’ll share my thoughts in a few short paragraphs.

If you are talking to investors, you are not really there to talk about your company. You are there to show them how they can make money, so only include the stuff that will convince them of this (easier said than done).

If you are at a pitch competition, chances are that you are not really talking to investors, but to some people who just happened to be chosen as “judges.” In that case, it might make more sense to talk about your company and your solution and get them excited about it. That was my situation. When I asked one of the judges to critique my pitch afterward, she said I didn’t talk about what my company would do in thirty years, which completely ruined her credibility in my eyes. Sure, you can think long term, but none of us even know what kind of a world we will be living in thirty years.

In short, tailor your pitch to the panel you’ll be pitching to.

How to write the pitch

What I tried to do at first was to write a three-minute pitch. Sounds very obvious and straightforward, but it turned out to be the worst possible way of tackling this situation.

After struggling with doing that, I decided to change my method. I just wrote down a pitch. I wrote down whatever I thought was useful, without worrying about the length of the pitch. And then I timed myself reading the pitch. Suffice it to say, it was much longer than three minutes. Then I got to work, I started taking out bits that I thought were less important and kept timing myself. This sounds easy, but it is very difficult to get rid of things in your pitch because you feel like every single detail is important and could make or break the pitch. That’s only an irrational fear. So, be ruthless taking stuff out.

Then, I was able to get the pitch under three minutes after a long and painful editing session. Keep in mind that, it’s a bad idea to get it exactly three minutes long, as things might not go the way you want, you might stumble during the pitch. It’s better to get it down to a bit less than the actual time that is given to you.

How to practice the delivery

When I was done reducing the size of the pitch, I started recording myself to see how often I was able to do it under three minutes. It took a fair number of tries for me to consistently get it under three minutes, so don’t be afraid to do it again and again. There is no easy solution but to practice.

Although recording and critiquing myself was good, I decided that I needed more realism. I am lucky to own a PlayStation VR headset, so I decided to try pitching in front of a virtual audience. No need for fancy software for this purpose, I just used a 360 video of an audience from YouTube. The problem was that the video was less than three minutes long, but I just manually repeated the video when it stopped playing.

This step turned out to be a crucial one. I started pitching in front of this virtual audience, and in the video that I was using, there is a guy who starts waving his hands at “me” angrily at the middle of it. The first time I saw the guy getting “irritated at my pitch,” I was completely frozen. I didn’t know what to do. I tried it for the second time, I froze. The third time, the same. It took me many tries before I could actually not mind the guy.

Could you imagine this happening at the real pitch? I’ll admit, I’m not one of the people who have a fear of public speaking. I’m an introvert, but I love talking to an audience, and a virtual guy still stopped me in my tracks.

If you have the chance to use VR goggles to try pitching in front of a virtual audience, I’d definitely recommend doing that. If not, you can just try opening the video of a crowd on your monitor and looking at it while pitching, or you can just close your eyes and imagine being in front of an audience.

Wondering how my pitch went?

I did repeat the pitch to myself so many times, I was feeling pretty good about it by the time I was about to pitch. I still thought that I would be very nervous, as it was the first time I ever pitched a company, but for some reason, I was not nervous at all. I was calmer than I was in my practice sessions. I even decided to remove a section of the pitch while I was walking up the stairs to the stage. Maybe the VR practice really helped.

So, this is the method I used to practice for an elevator pitch competition. I will definitely use the same method again when I’m doing another pitch, and I hope this helps you with yours too.

About Evrim

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Evrim Persembe

Hi, I am a software developer, currently based out of Bahrain. I love creating web and mobile apps that are simple to use and beautiful to look at. You can check out some of the projects I worked on, or hire me to work on your project.