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I’ve worn many different hats in my lifetime: Silicon Valley tech executive, business founder, single mom and CEO, but no matter the role, effective communication is a skill that proves its worth in any setting. In 2011, when I left my career as a high-level executive in corporate America to start my own company, SupportPay, all while raising a child as a single mother, I no longer had time to sugarcoat things. Whether it was a strategy to get the attention of investors or the reasoning behind why my daughter couldn’t have her friend stay the night, I learned quickly how valuable succinct and to-the-point messaging can be. It was this honest, straightforward mindset that ultimately helped me master a business pitch. After all, in this fast-paced world, where there is always another meeting to get to and another email to read, summarizing what my company is all about and shaping that conversation to fit a one-, three- or five-minute pitch is how I managed to secure critical funding.
Whether you’re working to secure seed capital for a startup, joining an accelerator, or finding business partners to bring a strategy to life, a compelling pitch that remains respectful of others’ time is beyond vital. Here’s how I crafted air-tight versions that include exactly what’s needed, while leaving tired buzzwords behind.
1. Determine values and goals, and stick to them
Perhaps it goes without saying, but to begin crafting the points you want to convey in a maximum of five minutes, you must first nail down your brand’s core principles. After going through a divorce, followed by a bad “breakup” with my own company (wherein investors edged me out of the picture), ensuring that my values aligned with those of the people I surrounded myself with became a priority. I may have learned my lesson the hard way, but once I was able to buy my company back, it was non-negotiable that my next investors’ funding and exit philosophies be aligned with mine.
These values drive every decision I make as a parent, a leader and a woman in business. Just as I want my daughter to understand what’s at the heart of my actions, I want my employees to understand it, too — my values need to radiate from top to bottom.
2. Stick to your strategy, but be prepared to pivot
When creating a pitch, I try to follow the “SCIPAB” method, introduced to me by Mandell Communications when I was an executive at Veritas. It stands for “situation, complication, implication, position, action and benefit.” Once you have the basic points for each of these areas, you can choose which details to add or remove accordingly, depending on the time you are allotted. It’s an approach that has allowed me to win more than 20 pitch competitions, it informed the strategy I used when working to secure funding for SupportPay, and it’s what I teach my employees and sales team.
When it comes to pivoting, though, while Silicon Valley prepared me to be quick on my feet and come up with creative solutions in the face of adversity, nothing prepares you for things not going according to plan quite like parenting. As a mother, of course, I always have a strategy in place — whether for getting out the door in the morning, to making it to school on time, to what dinner will be that night. But when I forget to defrost the chicken, we still have to eat! At work, when schedules change and my time gets cut short minutes before I’m about to head into a meeting to present a pitch, I’ll always have a list of details I can take or leave.
3. Less is more
Think of a pitch as the trailer for your favorite movie: you want to give an audience just enough to pique their interest, and to complete whatever action you’re pushing for. Leave details for later, and include only what will grab attention. This means skipping the jargon; too many times individuals will load up a very short pitch with a bunch of buzzwords no one understands, but the truth is, if a teenager can’t comprehend what you’re saying, it’s likely no one else will either. The best way to ensure delivering clear, concise but still compelling messaging is to practice on someone who knows nothing about your business. Let them tell you what’s working and what still needs work.
Being concise also means sticking to a time limit. If you have one minute to give a pitch, make it 55 seconds. An audience will always expect you to go longer, so make them pleasantly surprised when you get to the point without wasting a single second. Zoom meetings make staying on time easier than ever before, so keep an on-screen stopwatch in front of you and you can’t go wrong.
4. Make it mutual
The whole point of a business pitch is to show an audience what your idea can do for them — how it can make them more money, can act as a solution to their problem and be a stepping stone to future opportunities. Clearly outlining the value your company provides not only makes it easier to cut down on time, but also puts the focus on who you’re pitching by directly calling out how they can benefit. If you aren’t detailing what your business can do for them, you might as well be practicing in front of a mirror.
Everyone likes to feel important, and making an audience seem like an integral part of your business’s success can end up being what ultimately pushes them to complete an action. My daughter, for example, knows how to “make things mutual” very well. She recently came to me asking for her first car, and while that’s a big investment, made certain to mention that I’m not always available to drive her to practice or to a friend’s house, and that it would be a big help to me, too. In other words, she pitched me her goal by showing how it’d solve one of my problems as a single mother. (I wonder where she learned that from?)
After having my daughter, I realized that if I was going to spend so much time away from her, then I wanted to work on something that would make a difference in the world. Starting SupportPay has helped me achieve a goal of helping millions of parents and children as well as demonstrating to my child that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard for it…but none of this would exist if not for the pitch that started it all.
All in all, while my many years as a Silicon Valley tech executive prepared me to pivot, keep things clear and concise and show my audience how they fit into the big picture, I have my daughter to thank for shaping me into the leader I am today. I spot such lessons motherhood has taught me in my business daily.