When I was still an employee, our office once ran a campaign to get everyone—and I mean everyone, from the top managers down to the interns—to limit their Powerpoint presentation to 10 slides. And to up the ante, we were told to prefer photos and diagrams over text on our slides.
For a while, the staff embraced the challenge posed by the campaign. For us, it was something different.
Fast-forward six months later. Everyone had forgotten that the campaign ever existed. Many fell back to their usual practice of relying on sentence-peppered slides as cues on what to say next. The unprepared, I might say, did not even rely on cues; they simply read off their slides.
This culture is nowhere acceptable in startups’ ecosystems. In a world where founders are growing their business and therefore are in constant look out for investors, talents as well as clients, hooking the latter’s attention and keeping them riveted until the end of the spiel is the aim of the game.
Imagine yourself inside an elevator with a potential investor, and you only have the one-way run of the elevator ride to explain what your company does and what your team can offer.
In his blog, however, Mark Suster, a “2x entrepreneur turned VC”, opines that instead of the more common term “elevator pitch”, startup owners should imagine themselves giving a short intro about their team and company during a cocktail party—hence, his coined term, “cocktail pitch”.
In cocktail parties, startup founders are likely to encounter a potential investor (or talent or customer, as the case may be) among the guests. The founder, however, may just be one of the many guests making a beeline for this all-important-person’s attention. And when he does finally come face to face with the VIP, he realizes that he only has a few minutes—or worse, seconds—to deliver his spiel. In fact, that window might barely be as short as three sentences before the prospect makes his go/no go decision on the founder’s pitch.
The end-goal here is to snatch the elusive second meeting (where the founder will have more time to expound on the beauty of his business model).
Normal People Pitch
The cocktail party pitch is useful even beyond a startup’s ecosystem. College debaters vying for a slot in a national team, for example, are given only a few minutes to convince judges that they can think on their feet, conform to the debate format, and state their position clearly and concisely.
Even kids have a small window of opportunity to convince parents that yes, they will just check out the toys in Toy Kingdom (or Toys R Us) and no, they will not demand to bring these home.
My takeaway here? I just realized that my former office’s attempt to upgrade our use of the Powerpoint was a lame challenge at all. It was like asking us to shift from cassette tapes to CD discs when all others have been subscribing to Spotify.
It would have been more fun if every employee was asked instead to stand before their supervisors and pitch for a minute.