We heard fifteen pitches recently at a local Green Business Contest, where the presentations were open to the public. From our notes, we pulled together the following tips that we believe apply regardless of industry.

Context is King

Presenters were allocated five minutes for their pitch. Several wasted precious minutes defining the well known global green problem rather than the specific green problem that their business was addressing. "Know your audience," advised one judge during the debrief session.

Stick to the Script

All the presentations were interesting but they varied from a pure product demonstration or sales pitch to the winner's investor presentation that covered the business opportunity in a systematic balanced approach. When event organizers provide a template or series of questions, address each and every one.

KISS:

Keep it simple and succinct. Some presenters deviated from the standard pitch questions: problem and solution, market served, go-to-market strategy, and team. Present the problem in the context of what the current situation is and how your company will change it. Those that wandered ran out of time. It is better to perfect your timing and keep slides, products, prototypes, or other visual aids simple. Finally, avoid clichés in your presentation.

Don't Read

Have a mentor or friend review your slides. Each slide should only contain a couple of words and pictures. The judges will not read your slides and neither should you. Face the panel at all times and make eye contact with the audience. Also do not read off of note-cards or papers. If this pitch is your passion, speaking for 5 minutes without notes, should be easy. The slides should prompt key points, not provide a script.

Be Honest

If the product or team has a weakness, do not try to hide it. State the challenge and how it will be addressed. Investors or customers, people do not like to be fooled.

Know your Customer

If the target market is everyone or a not as yet defined group, do market research before preparing the presentation. The goal is to articulate who is the customer, a strategy to acquire that customer, and any progress to date. And never define your market as 1% of the total market.

Celebrate any Successes

If you have made a sale, set up alliances, or won awards weave those accomplishments into the presentation. Several presenters brought up customers or partners during questioning, which is almost too late. Proof of concept through actual customer acquisition is powerful, so use it.

Team

Every worthwhile article, webinar, or book talks about how investor look for a solid management team. An often-quoted list of what judges or investors look for, "first team, second team, third team, fourth commitment, and fifth idea." Remember investors are looking for a sustainable and scalable business and team is a critical element for execution. Identify the team and their credentials but more importantly their experience and success.

Focus on your team members because any advisors do not carry as much weight. Advisors are generally not executing the business plan. And again, be honest if you have holes in the team.

Just Ask

Any pitch needs to clearly define your needs: the amount of money needed; what the money will be used for and by whom; and the return on investment. Prepare a simple slide with the total ask and the line items clearly identified.

IP matters

Intellectual property (IP) can be a deal killer. IP identification and protection supports sustainability and scalability and in addition speaks to a business-savvy team.  Either include IP information in your presentation or be prepared to field questions on what IP you own, how you are protecting it, and whether you have an IP strategy.

The following two presentations illustrated contrasting IP approaches. A presenter demonstrated his unique software solution to the judges and public audience. When questioned about his IP, he responded that he had not taken any steps to protect his IP and was looking for business advice.

Compare that to our favorite quote from the day. In response to a judge's question about what made the product that he had demonstrated special, the inventor said "I left some special pieces at home on the advice of my attorney because this is a public forum."

IP Protection is not Execution

Although giving comfort that your IP is protected is important, do not mix up patent or trademark protection with execution. Funding will always be contingent on proving the ability to execute.

Pitch your Business

It's a business, not a cause. It's okay to have passion but if you do not have a solid team and a business that can scale and last with a set of financial metrics and a return on investment, you have a cause, not a business.