Dos and Don’ts for Pitching Competitions (and other important presentations)

I had the pleasure of watching 30 fabulous finalists at the Scottish EDGE fund competition this week. Each finalist had the opportunity to deliver a 3 minute pitch about their business followed by a Q&A session with a panel of 5 judges. Of the 30 finalists, I had worked with 20 of them either on a 1-1 basis or through pitching workshops I ran on behalf of Scottish Enterprise so I was keen that they all did well (which they did!)

Each person had their own delivery style and whilst they were a high standard, there were some that stood out from the competition. So based on what I observed at this pitching event, I have put together a list of dos and don’ts to help your next presentation or pitch stand out.


  • Have a good hook to capture attention from the opening (here are some ideas)
  • Make it simple and straight to the point (the more you tell me the less I remember)
  • Be prepared to elaborate on your points during the Q&A session
  • Be confident with humility
  • Get set up quickly (ideally rehearse everything including walking on stage and setting up)
  • Familiarise yourself with the space prior to the event
  • Express your enthusiasm (if you’re not enthusiastic, why should anyone else be?)
  • Practice your timing so that you can complete it within the required time frame
  • Project your voice (it ensures people hear you and you will sound more confident)
  • Show your products where possible (carefully consider what you give the panel to look during the pitch at if you want the focus on you)
  • Know your market, your figures, your competition, your customers, etc
  • Use strong simple images on your slides with few words
  • Do something different to help you stand out from the competition
  • Make your delivery conversational and engaging
  • Put your Twitter address on all slides if the audience is encouraged to tweet
  • Know your audience (get your free Know Your Audience guide here)
  • Be your wonderful, authentic self - the best version of you


  • Read from your notes (it looks like you’re unprepared and it is difficult to engage your audience when your eyes are on looking down)
  • Learn your script and simply recite it (think about what you’re saying and inject some energy and meaning into it)
  • Hold notes (it limits your ability to gesture)
  • Rush your delivery (less is more)
  • Say you’re passionate if you’re not actually expressing that through your body and voice
  • Be arrogant
  • Say ‘um’ before answering a question (instead pause briefly to gather your thoughts before answering)
  • Use words like ‘hopefully’, ‘might’, ‘probably’ (instead use words like ‘certain’, ‘will’, ‘confident’)
  • Finish a sentence by trailing off with ‘erm’ or ‘and’…
  • Go over your allocated time
  • Look bored (especially if presenting with a partner and you are waiting for your turn to speak)
  • Fold your arms across your chest or leave hands in pockets (it looks quite casual; keep your body open)
  • Show ‘busy’ slides with too many words (people can’t read and listen at the same time)

These are just a few tips based on my observations at this particular Scottish EDGE competition; here is some additional advice I wrote in a previous post. Remember, you can have the best business idea in the world, but whether you're entering a pitching competition or not, if you can't communicate it effectively you will struggle to make it a success.

Basically a great pitch boils down to my simple formula:


If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on
Amazon. To find out more go to or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_