What To Do When Nobody Laughs

Pitching A Tech Startup – Best Practices

The most fun I’ve had doing live comedy in years has been as a judge on “Snark Tank” – a show where tech entrepreneurs pitch their new products to be questioned by investors and roasted by stand-up comedians.

But as a comedian, it’s painful when the tech startup founders present their ideas.

These innovators often have great ideas that could change the world, but they can’t explain, let alone sell their products. And so they fall flat before we can have fun roasting the idea.

If you’re ever doing a tech pitch – whether it’s to be roasted by us, or to raise actual money from actual venture capitalists, here are some basic public speaking and presentation concepts to apply – lest your pitch die.

The order of your presentation matters. 
A lot.

I don’t care about your qualifications until I understand and like your idea.

Here’s how I suggest you structure your pitch:

1. Tell me what the problem is

Pick one of the following:

a) Give a quick statement of fact. Make sure it’s something most people wouldn’t instantly disagree with.

For example: Most men want to dress well but don’t want to spend the time learning how.

b) Do a “quick show of hands, who here (insert something most people will raise their hands for that’s related to your product)”

For example: “Fellas in the room, quick show of hands, who here would change their clothes if it was guaranteed to make you look better and get compliments, without you having to learn anything about fashion?” (most hands will go up!)

c) Tell a QUICK, COMPELLING story.
The story can be personal if it applies to the product you’re pitching.

For example: “I didn’t have a girlfriend until I turned thirty. Then my fashionable friend gave me a makeover, and I’ve been unstoppable ever since. And I thought, is there a way to automate his fashion knowledge to the masses of misdressed men?”

2. Tell me what the hell your idea is and how it will solve the problem you just described.

Explain your idea to me like I’m a fifth grader. 
Not because I’m dumb. But because I want to get excited about the idea first before my analytical brain starts processing it. Also, save the tech mumbo jumbo for the Q&A. Just get me to understand the idea.

For example: “My app takes a few photos of you, asks you some personality and budget questions, then displays killer outfits that will actually look good on you. And it displays the clothing on a photo of you.”

3. Give me details and screen shots

Now that I’m excited about your idea, I want to see and learn more! Plus this establishes you’ve actually done some work and haven’t spent all your seed money on foosball tables.

For example: “Here’s some screenshots of the questions. And here’s the output. And when you adjust the budget, the clothing changes. And we can keep suggesting outfits forever. We also train the data one what you’ve previously liked, we have something like a Netflix recommendation system but for clothing.”

4. Briefly mention the market size and competitors

Personally this one is optional and I would skip it. Unless you’re pitching in an area nobody has heard of, we’ll assume it’s a large market and people want it. Don’t waste your time or our attention on details. You can also just throw this fact into a sentence without having a whole slide on it.

For example: “Men’s clothing is a ten billion dollar industry.”

5. Tell me why you and your team are the right people to make it happen.

Keep this as brief as possible. And make it interesting. I don’t really care to hear your whole resume.

For example: I’ve built and sold two previous apps for seven-figures a pop. And my co-founder was voted GQ’s most fashionable lawyer.”

6. Ideally wrap it up with something cool that ties into your opening story.

Everyone loves a good story. If you can tie up something from the start of your presentation it’ll feel like a strong ending.

For example, “And I’m happy to report, that although we’ve only been in beta for six months, we’ve had our first user that upgraded their wardrobe report getting engaged. Automate your wardrobe, find your wife.”

7. End by saying, “Thank you. Any questions?”

Make it clear that you’re done. Instead of mumbling and meandering until someone has to interrupt you.

  • Everyone hates a long, boring pitch deck with lots of text. Yet for some reason, almost everyone creates a long boring pitch deck with lots of text.
  • Have 5 words per slide max. 2 words is better. Just give me a heading and a related picture and then talk.
  • Don’t ever read a slide.
    Type out what you should say for each slide into the notes and memorize it. But don’t put it on the screen for everyone to see. Otherwise, people read the screen instead of listening to you.
  • Sound excited about your idea. If you’re bored by it, why should we care?

  • Memorize but don’t read it like a robot. Know your product and how to explain it but just talk like a person. You don’t have to get the words written perfectly. Also deliver your pitch like we’re two buddies at a bar, not investors in a big, formal boardroom. Do this even if you’re presenting in a formal boardroom!
  • Follow proper mic technique – learn more about that here.

  • Time out your presentation. Even if you’re allowed five minutes, three minutes is better. If people are excited about the idea, they’ll ask follow-up questions.
  • Don’t respond to each roast point.
    Only reply if one of us asks a legit question, or if you’re sure you have a funny or insightful response. Otherwise, let the judges get their jokes in and be a good, smiling-sport about it.

  • Don’t take it personally. Our job is to get the audience laughing. Sometimes that might come at your expense. Welcome to the arena 🙂

Want private coaching to properly prep your tech pitch? Contact us.

Proper Comedy Mic Technique

There’s no “correct” answer – it’s a matter of preference, but be deliberate about it.

If keeping it in the mic stand

  • Remember righty tighty, lefty loosey.
    Adjust the mic stand to your height, don’t contort your body into weird shapes to fit the existing mic stand’s height.
  • Use both hands for emphasis, and minimize the amount of time you’re holding the mic stand.

If taking the microphone out of the mic stand

  • Look at the audience while taking the mic out of the mic stand. You don’t have to stare at the stand. Believe in yourself that you know how to take out a mic. Or better yet – practice it in advance.
  • Pick up the mic stand by the middle.
    You want your hand where it’s thicker and the two pieces connect. Do not hold it higher, as that’s how mic stands tend to fall apart.
  • Make sure to move the mic stand behind you.
    Don’t leave it in front of you as that creates a psychological barrier with the audience
  • The microphone should be at a forty-five-degree angle to you. Don’t put it directly below your chin on a ninety-degree angle or horizontally on a hundred-eighty-degree angle.
  • Make sure you hear yourself amplified loud, but not so loud that it hurts the audience’s ears.
  • Move mic closer when whispering, pull mic all the way away when screaming.
  • Don’t cup the top of the microphone like a rapper, it will create bad vocal distortion.
  • Don’t play with the wire at the bottom of the microphone, bad things will happen.
  • Don’t nod too much, makes you seem nervous.
  • Don’t play with the mic cord, it’s distracting and makes you seem nervous.
  • Talk slower than you think you should
  • If you’re doing crowd work to someone specific, look at them. Otherwise:
  • You should look 2/3rds of the way into the audience. So if the venue goes 10 rows back, look into the eyes of the people in the 7th row.
  • Don’t look all the way to the left or all the way to the right of the audience, as this makes the people on the other end feel left out. Only look 2/3rds of the way to the left or right. So if the room is 20 seats wide, ignore the last 4 seats in each direction.
  • If you’ve taken the mic out of the mic stand, put it back in as you’re starting your last joke.
  • Don’t wait after saying, “thank you, good night,” to turn around, find the mic stand and start putting it back in as the emcee is approaching the stage. This looks awkward.
  • If you’ve forgotten to put the mic back in the mic stand, just hand the microphone to the host and let them reset the mic stand.
  • Smile and take in your applause. Wait in the center of the stage until the emcee has returned and shaken your hand. Then leave. Don’t run off stage until the emcee is on stage.

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