One of the best parts of my job is that I get to hear A LOT of pitches. As you can imagine, some of what I hear is good. Some of it is not as good. Regardless of the quality of the presentation, or the experience of the presenter, every pitch has one thing in common. Whether it’s a bootstrap start-up or a going concern, there’s a person or a team who fervently believes in what they are doing; and, most importantly, they are determined to get others to buy into their vision.
Which is why the best (and most common) advice I find myself giving is the hardest to deliver. The advice I give? NO ONE CARES. I know what you’re thinking. Harsh, right? But here’s the thing. You may passionately believe whatever you’re doing is more innovative or more efficient or more whatever than anything else in the marketplace. And you may, in fact, be right –many of the people I get to meet (and work with) are. But, regardless of how awesome your company may be, it doesn’t change the fact that, when it comes to hearing your pitch, no one cares about whatever it is you’re offering. And the sooner you accept these three words as truth, the sooner you can get on with the business of building a successful business.
It’s at this point that I inevitably hear from a founder who shares their story of the time that someone did care about their pitch – proving that I’m wrong. Or a powerpoint guru who is convinced that, if only you made a better looking deck with fancy animations, all of your problems would magically disappear. Or an executive who tells me they only want people interested in hearing their story to begin with – proving they’re above it all, anyway. Each of which may be true, but these protests miss the point entirely of why it’s so important to be OK with no one caring. This is why. When you assume others care, you make the mistake of believing they are invested in your success. And the hard truth is, whether they’re a VC or an investor or a customer, they aren't. In fact, when it comes to you, they are only invested in one thing - hearing what you have to say. And even that's tenuous as best. The sooner you accept that fact, the faster you can start being more effective.
So here’s an exercise to help you (and your team) prepare that presentation deck (or those marketing materials) for that next big pitch. Put your first slide up on your screen. Step as far away from the screen as you can while still seeing your content. Close your eyes. Now, picture yourself as your audience. Imagine that this is the very first time you've ever heard anything in your presentation. Hold that image in your mind, open your eyes and and ask yourself – does that slide tell you (the stranger) why you’re in the room? Forget about the fancy animations or the powerful words and ask yourself this simple question - does that slide give you enough information, presented in a compelling enough way, to make you care enough to see the next slide? Now do the same for every other slide in your deck, putting it to the same test. And keep asking yourself - if you were not already invested, would it compel you to become invested? If you were a disinterested stranger, would it make you care?
Which, of course, is the whole reason for your presentation in the first place. Yes, your deck should be educational. Absolutely, your presentation should be persuasive. But most importantly, what you present must make your audience care. And one easy way to do that, is to cease mistaking your audience's willingness to listen to listen to your pitch, with a belief that they care enough to become invested in you. Because, if they don't care, then nothing else matters.