How Not To Mess Up Your First Big Pitch

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I remember when I did my first big pitch for DonateNZ, a charitable marketplace where people donated goods & services to community organisations.

I’d decided to hold our launch event at my primary school. National celebrities were invited, press releases deployed, a big radio star was the MC. I sat there with my smiley t-shirt on, waiting for the cue. I remember thinking “Wow, these kids must think I’ve really made it”.

The principal called my name. I began my rehearsed speech, all of it neatly typed onto cue cards. It was off to a strong start… until (you guessed it) my shaking hands rendered the cards useless.  I dropped them and spent 15 seconds fumbling on the ground to pick them up by the new intrants. “Don’t worry”, I assured myself, breathing deeply. “You’ve got this; you’ve been practicing for weeks, the show must go on”. Improvisation kicked in, but it went from bad to worse when I used points from card 5 for card 3, card 8’s for card 6, till I wasn’t even making sense. So I jumped straight to the finale, abruptly ending my 3 minute moment of glory in 1 short, but painful minute. Stunned. Silence.

It was my literal nightmare. I went back to primary school as an adult, just to show them how much my oratory skills had slipped since I’d been there.

Just after I messed it all up.

12 years on, now gainfully employed within Australia’s largest startup accelerator as the Chief Product Officer, when it came to pitching my second startup (Guide App), I’m in the unique position of having all the skills, knowledge and support to do the pitch right. But in an ironic twist, after judging nearly 500 pitches, I’m now hyper-aware of how far off the mark the pitch can fall (not to mention the nightmares from primary school!).

When doubt kicks in, I always remind myself :

Of every pitch we’ve seen; those who keep it simple, but deliver it with confidence and heart, make the greatest impact.


As our Xcelerate bootcampers prepare for their first big startup pitch this week, here’s four tips I use to keep my pitching authentic, and my delivery bulletproof.

1. Apply lean methodology

Save time and energy by approaching your pitch in a lean way; use prototyping and testing to lay a strong core foundation and avoid rework, before adding the finishing touches.

To start as lean as possible, just add a word on a piece of paper to represent each slide (a whiteboard is great for this too). We recommend slides for: Intro, Problem, Target Customer, Value Proposition, Product, Traction, Market Opportunity, Business Model, Go To Market, Competition, Team, Financials, Roadmap & Asks.

List out the key facts you want to include in this section, then practice, out loud, wrapping them into a statement that runs for no longer than 30 seconds. By narrating this out loud, you’ll quickly figure out what makes sense to include. It’s better to have a handful points articulated well, than lots done badly. These form your cue points (if you want to work with cues, although I never aim to anymore!)

2. When To Get Feedback and Iterate

With your pitch core content stable now, it’s the right time to seek feedback. In a casual setting, with a trusted advisor, speak through each of the slides and ask for feedback on content (as opposed to delivery). Take onboard feedback and rework as you feel fit. Because you haven’t sunk huge effort into the delivery and imagery of the deck, it’s not a big worry to take on feedback at this point, as the process to iterate is minimal. With each new round of feedback, your pitch will get more and more concise.

3. Create a MVPitchdeck

Once your core foundation is laid and no longer turbulently reworked in feedback rounds, it’s time to practice delivery. One tactic I use is to carry a “MVPitchdeck” alongside my Actual pitchdeck. My MVPitchdeck is a collection of cards or posts – each containing a single word that describe the overall slide. When practicing, I alternate between the two to ensure that I’m not reliant on the actual pitchdeck.

This serves several functions:

  • It reduces reliance on the slides
  • When you regularly have to improvise on the fly, you find ways of reworking paragraphs to get a smooth flow (which can often not happen if you’re using your actual pitchdeck)
  • When it comes to the day, you are more genuine and unflappable as the process of going “cue-less” has created a fluid, memorised framework to guide you
My MVPitchdeck

4. Leave The Polish Till Last

It’s likely that the above process of iterating on your pitch has dramatically changed the requirements of the right image and text cues for your pitchdeck. So save yourself time and energy and leave it till last, that time is best spent getting the content and delivery right first.

We’re not all design experts, but thankfully services like Canva, the Noun Project and StartupU’s pitchdeck template are here to save you and make sure your presentation looks professional. Ensure your slides are incredibly simple. Any more than a couple of bullet points with a few words will distract from the most important part; you, and the words you are speaking.

Claire is the Chief Product Officer at BlueChilli, who’s recently taken the plunge back into the entrepreneurial pool to found her second startup, Guide App. She’ll be blogging over the coming months about the trials of tribulations of sitting on both sides of the fence – and reflections on doing it all again.

BlueChilli uses StartupU‘s Pitchdeck to guide our entrepreneurs what key insights to share when making a great pitch for an early stage startup. Unlock your free access by signing up today.