So you’ve heard about a local pitch competition, and you’re thinking “how do I pitch my business?”. You can certainly check out our Pitching 101 series of articles, but we’ve also sought out Bunker Labs’ own pitching wizard Chris Carlson for some pitching pro tips.

Chris is the official pitching coach for USAA’s 100th Anniversary Pitch Competition, and has kindly offered to share some insight on pitching philosophy, narrowing down years of experience to the three most important pieces of advice. Read on to hear from the expert! 

How to Pitch Your Business

Pitching is hard. Pitching in a competition is even harder. It’s hard to know where to begin, what to include and what to leave out. Nerves are an inevitable and for some, nearly insurmountable, challenge. 

After decades coaching pitches of all kinds, I can share with you that there are a handful of key concepts that are common to every successful pitch. If you nail these, you have a shot at success. On the other hand, if you fail to address these three things, your chances of success depend more on luck than you and your idea. 

Know Your Audience

The most important part of any pitch—no matter how big or small, whether you’re in an elevator or in a fancy high rolling VC conference room—is the audience. If it wasn’t for whoever you’re pitching to, there wouldn’t be a pitch. In fact, I have known successful pitches to take place without a single mention of the company, business model, or financials.  

That’s all important, but when you’re face-to-face or even virtual, the time you share with someone is only as valuable as how you make it for them. It’s not about you, your idea, your hockey stick graph. It could be, but only if it is important to your audience. 

The first and most important part of any pitch is thoroughly understanding your audience. What do they want? What do they need? What gets them out of bed in the morning and what keeps them awake at night? How can you help them? What does a successful relationship between you look like?  

Answering those questions will help you make the most of your pitch by making the time valuable for your audience. 

Have a Clear Main Point

Once you know more about your audience, you are better positioned to identify a single, key point to focus your pitch around. We are all incredibly challenged when it comes to paying attention. Chances are, whoever you’re pitching to has listened to more than a few pitches, maybe even that same day. And chances are also good that many of those presenters haven’t been particularly good, or as considerate of their time as you. 

At the end of the day, humans are lazy creatures. We are always looking for the easiest way out of a situation. Our brains are constantly looking to spend less energy or find the path of least resistance. Complicated or ambiguous information requires effort to process and comprehend. So, if you want to make a good impression, make your pitch easy to understand. 

Have one single main point that you lead with, return to, and leave them with. It doesn’t have to be all-encompassing or cover every aspect of your business. Instead, it needs to be the most relevant to your audience, the single thing that you want them to take away from your pitch. When they talk to their partners or investors, what do you want them to say about you? 

Be the Best Version of Yourself 

Once you build your pitch around your audience, the next best thing you can do is to show off the best, most authentic and relevant version of yourself. Investors don’t invest in ideas nearly as often as they invest in people. One investor framed it this way: most marriages last shorter than our typical engagement with a company. He looks at pitches and negotiation as a kind of courtship where he’s evaluating whether he wants to be working a given entrepreneur.  

There are two effective ways to help you present the best version of yourself. The first is to overprepare. Make sure you know your central message cold. Sure, you can have notes and look up details if you need to, but you must know what you’re going to say backwards and forwards. This doesn’t mean memorize a script. This means you know the main point, the supporting points, and how they relate to each other. The confidence that comes with knowing what you want to say will help eliminate a big source of anxiety. 

Second, shift your focus from worrying about what they think of you and your pitch to what you love about your pitch. Sharing an idea that you love is a lot more engaging than having someone try to sell or manipulate you.  

On the surface, this may sound like it goes against the first step of putting your audience first. However, audiences don’t like to be the center of attention. They love to be thought of and taken care of, but they also want value. That comes from you and your idea. By showing the passion and commitment to your idea, you invite the audience in to share the excitement with you. This is extremely effective when done well and worth aspiring to every time you pitch. 

Final Thoughts

So that’s it. Know who you’re pitching to, focus your message, and be the best you that you can be. That is the best way to achieve the goal of any pitch: start to build a lasting and valuable relationship. You might not win or get what you’re asking for every time, but you will have the best shot at making the best impression which gives you the greatest chance to connect and build a relationship with those in the room. And that can often have more value than any prize or funding.

Additional Reading

For those of you who enjoy learning more, Bunker Labs has created a three-part Pitching How-To series which is listed below.

The following books will also help you on your journey to perfecting your pitch. If you want something more audience-centric, To Sell is Human by Dan Pink. If you’d like more information about slide design philosophy, Illuminate by Nancy Duarte. Finally, if you’d like more pitch delivery tips, Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo.

Put Your Pitching Practice into Action

USAA Pitch Competition Banner

Bunker Labs has teamed up with USAA for their 100th Anniversary Pitch Contest. Across six cities, live pitch events will occur with first prize being $100,000. Learn more and apply today.

Bunker Labs is Now Part of IVMF

As of January 2024, Bunker Labs is now a part of Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). In addition to ongoing Bunker Labs programming, we’d encourage you to browse IVMF’s deep wealth of entrepreneurship programming, much of it available virtually or at locations across the country. Find the program to help your business take the next step today!

About the Author

Chris Carlson is the son of a military veteran, a professional actor, practicing immigration attorney, and founder of NarrativePros—a communication coaching consultancy. Chris is also a professional actor with over 200 credits in stage, film, and voice acting, and his 40th film is releasing later this year. His Covid passion has been long-distance cycling with 6,000 miles logged last year. He’s currently planning a 1500 km ride across Sweden and Norway.