Getting the EDGE

Image - Victoria and Laura from Desk Union celebrating their EDGE win How good is your pitch? Could it win you £50,000 to grow your business?

Currently in the UK there are numerous pitching competitions that you could enter to give your business a boost. One such fund is the Scottish EDGE; a £1 million fund which aims to support and encourage entrepreneurial activity in Scotland. The fund is for ambitious entrepreneurs who wish to establish or grow their business. The businesses that demonstrate the most potential can win awards of up to £50,000.

The finals for this round of Scottish EDGE funding took place last week and 18 companies won over £700,000 between them. I’m delighted to say that I had the opportunity to coach many of the finalists on their pitch delivery and I was incredibly proud of their confident, passionate and engaging pitches. The photo above is of Victoria and Laura from Desk Union celebrating after being awarded £48,775.

After watching the final I spoke with some of the finalists and the audience about their observations and lessons from the day. I’ve incorporated their responses in the following list of top tips for a great pitch delivery:

1. Focus the mind A pitch is no time to be worried about whether you left the iron on or thinking about the argument you had with your spouse that morning. Your mind needs to be completely focused on the task at hand with no distractions. This might not always be easy but is absolutely necessary so learn how to block out any unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Focus only on being fully present and in the moment.

2. Be engaging It was interesting to observe the judges during the pitches; sometimes the judges watched the pitch and really connected with the speaker and other times they browsed through the application forms and didn’t seem to be listening or interested. Those pitches that had an attention grabbing hook and a speaker who used vocal variety and body language to communicate their enthusiasm and energy were far more interesting and engaging. This is especially important if the judges have already seen numerous pitches; they want and need you to make them sit up and listen.

3. Be authentic Investors don’t just invest in your business, they invest in you as a person; therefore, it is important to let your personality shine through. Be humble, be passionate and show them who you are and why you are the one they should back.

4. Be adaptable When practicing your pitch (and you WILL practice) make sure you know it so well that you can adapt it at the last minute if you need to. There are various unexpected factors which may impact in some way so be flexible and prepared to alter your planned approach if necessary.

5. Use the Q&A to sell yourself You can prepare for the types of questions you will be asked, but you may receive a question that you’re not expecting. Rather than open your mouth and say the first thing that comes out, take a moment to summarise the question and give yourself some time to clarify and articulate your answer. Use the opportunity to sell yourself, share additional information and reinforce why you are investible.

6. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare Know everything there is to know about your business, your brand, your USP, your industry, your market, your competition, your risks, your challenges, your priorities, your sales, your forecasts, your margins, your profits, your vision, etc. This will ensure you come across as prepared, confident and credible.

7. Clarify and Simplify Don’t’ try to fit too much information into the time frame or you risk going over the allocated time (EDGE pitches were 3 minutes). Making your pitch too wordy and then rushing through it doesn’t help your audience who will be struggling to hear and process what you’re trying to communicate. Most people can comfortably speak around 150 words per minute so keep this in mind when writing your pitch. Use short punchy sentences and simplify it as much as possible.

8. Practice, Practice, Practice The key to delivering a great pitch within the required time frame is to practice more than you think you need to. There are so many variables and potential distractions that you need to know the pitch so well that you can say it from any point at a moment’s notice. Leah Hutcheon whose company Appointedd was awarded £30,000 in the last round of EDGE funding says ‘I practiced by reading and learning it line by line, then repeated it a million times until it stuck enough to be natural.’ Great advice from Leah.

9. Utilise the Moments Before To really give your pitch the edge, before you deliver it you need to ensure that you’re physically prepared. This would ideally comprise a warm up of your body, voice and mind to ensure you are energised, focused and able to fully use your body and voice to enhance your message. I’ll share some warm up tips in a future post; in the meantime, as I’ve said before the best thing you can do is BREATHE! It’s amazing how we can forget to breathe properly and it is so important for so many aspects of our speaking, in particular for managing any nerves we may be feeling.

This advice was based on the Scottish EDGE fund competition but is relevant for all kinds of speaking and pitching situations. In this case, excellent business ideas and excellent communication of those ideas lead to 18 Scottish companies receiving cash injections of up to £50K to take their businesses to the next level. But outside of pitching competitions, the ability to effectively speak in public to promote your business will ultimately give your company the edge over the competition and generate additional income. Is it time for you to polish your pitch?