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Less is More when you Pitch

by Jennifer Beever on May 8, 2009

One of the important roles for Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) in business-to-business (B2B) marketing is to ensure consistent and effective communications throughout the organization. As Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for your organization, you should be influencing if not creating the presentations that are done by different stakeholders, whether the pitch is for sales, marketing, fundraising or customer service.

I recently attended a conference where several start-up companies each had seven minutes each to present their company’s need for funding to a panel of angel investors and venture capital companies. Each company was asked to include what problem their product or service solves, customers and sales, their marketing strategy, management team, financial status and how the money they raised would be spent.

The first presenter, an inventor and CEO of a company, had about 12 slides and pitched a compelling story. We learned briefly why he invented his product, and that he and his family had significant “skin in the game,” meaning they had invested their own money in the business. He walked through the required points, forecast the growth of his product sales and clearly presented his plan for using money raised from investors. Wow! Nice job! This guy made it look easy.

The second presenter had about 30 slides. 30 slides in 7 minutes? This presenter was an engineer in the business and was currently acting as COO. He began by excitedly explaining in detail how the company’s product was engineered. Minutes ticked by, and despite prompting by the moderator, this presenter barely presented the product and management team, let alone their marketing strategy, financial status, expected revenue forecast and the plan for using the money they raised. The session moderator gave this presenter the hook, and he stepped down from the podium with a much-deflated attitude.

The third presenter had about 20 slides and looked like a pretty seasoned business person, dressed in a sharp suit and with a commanding presence. He launched into a lengthy description of his background, experience and past business successes, and, again, in spite of much prompting from the moderator, was unable to complete his presentation in time. When this presenter got the hook, he was angry! He threw up his hands as if to say, “I can’t believe I got the hook! I have much more to say to you! You should listen to me!”

My take-away from this experience made me think of a video I saw on YouTube of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 presentation. Watch the video; it’s only a few minutes long. Guy is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. He’s written nine books, including The Art of the Start. Guy’s message is that any presentation to investors should only have 10 slides, take 20 minutes, and use 30 point font size for text on the slides. He says that if a presenter needs more than 10 slides and small font size on those slides, they are probably relying on reading the slides to tell their story rather than knowing the story cold and telling it in a compelling way.

When presenting for business, less is more. Outline your talking points before you dive into the depths of PowerPoint technology. Choose images that are compelling and get your point across. Practice with colleagues and even with family members. If people outside of your business don’t understand your message, how will prospects and investors get it? A great resource for developing compelling presentations is my colleague Cliff Atkinson, author of the bestselling book Beyond Bullet Points. Cliff designed the presentations, which Fortune magazine called “frighteningly powerful,” that helped persuade a jury to award a $253 million verdict to the plaintiff in the nation’s first Vioxx trial in 2005.

What’s your worst or best presentation story? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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