No matter your industry or business model, there will come a time when you’re going to have to convince someone that what you’re doing is worth their time and/or money. You’ll need to make money by raising venture capital or angel funding, getting a grant that will help win federal dollars, or by doing it the old-fashioned way: making a sale.
I’ve sat in on and reviewed a number of presentations and pitches, and my feedback is almost always centered on the same thing: focus on benefits and not features.
You’re extremely close to your business. The features are important to you. You might sell a software for personal finance that uses a patented intelligence algorithm. Great! But anyone considering giving you money is going to want to know what that means for them. Don’t make them ask.
Deliver your promise first
Our decisions are always based on how a choice will impact our lives. We’re in it for number one. When pitching your product or service, keep this in mind. How does that patented intelligence algorithm actually help your customer?
Our software uses a patented intelligence algorithm.
Imagine saving up for your dream vacation without even trying.
When you speak about benefits first, you’re delivering your promise up front.
But is your promise something your audience actually cares about? To determine this, put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. Picture lying in bed at night and thinking about things you would like to change in your life, as many of us do. Has anyone ever wished that they could save up for a dream vacation? Absolutely. Has anyone ever wished for an app that manages personal finances? Probably not.
Once you have your benefits hammered out, don’t leave your features behind. Investors and customers may ask about them. Instead, save them for later in the presentation, or, even better, when you’re asked about them. I like when presenters mention that they’re willing to go into more technical detail if the audience is interested.
Use simple language
Another thing to consider is the language you’re using to describe your product or service. The technology may be extremely technical, but that doesn’t mean your description needs to be. It’s best to plan like you’re presenting to a middle school audience. Would your 12-year-old understand what your product does? Avoid using unnecessary jargon, acronyms or “tech speak.”
Let’s get back to our personal finance software example. Consider this description:
“Our software helps you save money by utilizing a patented intelligence algorithm that detects fluctuations and abnormalities in spending patterns. It then utilizes RTD technology to alert the user to keep them on track with saving goals.”
OK, I sort of get what it does. It’s not terrible, but it could be better. Would your 12-year-old get it? Probably not. But how about this:
“Want to save for that dream vacation? Now, it’s easier than ever. Simply spend like you normally would, and our software keeps you on track.”
Better, right? Now your 12-year-old will understand. But how do you go about simplifying what you already have? Here are three ways:
- Shorten sentences. Trim unnecessary words. Do a sentence audit. Does the word need to be there? If not, cut it out. Long sentences will lose your audience.
- Use basic words. Contrary to what you might think, bigger words don’t make your communications better. Stop opting for “utilize” over “use.”
- Talk like you’d talk to a friend. Using complex language doesn’t make you seem more intelligent or professional. There’s a lot on the line when giving a presentation or pitch, so it’s sometimes easy to get too detailed. After all, you’re trying to convince someone that you know what you’re talking about. Trust me, though, if you can get your point across simply, your audience will be even more impressed.
Take it from Albert Einstein, who once said:
“If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.”
I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. Do you know what he simplified this equation to?
Yup, it became the thing he is perhaps best known for: e=mc2.
Clean up your slides
Once you have defined and simplified your messaging, make sure your slides are easy to understand. Eliminate huge blocks of text. Breaking up your paragraph into bullet points isn’t any better. Your audience won’t be able to focus on reading your slides and listening to you at the same time, so just make it easy on them and cut out the bulk of the text.
Want a hard and fast rule? Seth Godin says to never use more than six words on a slide. I don’t think you need to be that strict, but if you have a lot to say, write out the main idea and put it on your slide.
Next, think about how you can use visual aids to get your point across. Draw a simple (emphasis on simple) diagram, or use a photo. Graphics are much easier to follow than text. Put the text you cut out of your slide into your notes.
Consider these two presentations. First, the bad:
Then, the good:
Do you see how much easier it is to take in the message on the second presentation? You can do the same thing. Nervous that your audience will forget some of the points you made during your presentation? Give them a leave behind with more detailed information.
The point of your presentation is to get your audience to focus on you, not your slides.
Close the deal
Once you’ve delivered your simple, benefit-driven presentation, make sure you end with a call to action. If you’re pitching investors, ask for the investment. If you’re pitching a potential customer, ask for the sale. You want to inspire action. You won’t succeed 100 percent of the time, but that’s OK. You’ll at the very least get feedback that will help you improve for the next time. And sometimes, that’s just as valuable.
Got any other tips to add? Let us know in the comments!