The Top Ten Pitch Mistakes!Catherine Moonan, Pitch Coach for the popular RTÉ ‘Dragons’ Den’ TV series, has coached more than 500 contestants towards securing a collective total of €5m in investment funds.

In her experience, any business pitch or presentation can be improved by observing some golden rules. In particular, avoid these mistakes:

1. Audience not considered

The first mistake I see when people are pitching is that they haven’t really thought about their target audience. Who’s in the audience? What’s in it for them? Why should they care? How are they going to benefit? Imagine the audience sitting there saying ‘So what! So what! So what! Many pitches are often tailored to the wrong audience. For e.g. if you’re pitching to an investor, he or she wants to know how they can make money from your idea, product or service. A customer or client, on the other hand, wants to know how your idea, product or service can save them time or money, or, perhaps, make their life better. So, know your audience!

2. Over-complicated content

Many people over-complicate their pitch with technical jargon that the audience doesn’t need to know and probably doesn’t understand. It may make you sound intelligent, but you are alienating some of your audience. Keep the content of your pitch simple enough that your granny or 10-year old child can understand. Keep the technical features to a minimum.

3. Too much information

Many people overload their pitch with far too much information. Your pitch is like the trailer of the movie. It is not the whole movie. It is just enough information to whet the appetite and give a taste of what you’re offering. The rest of the information should be kept in reserve for the questions and answers or a follow-on meeting.

4. No structure

An unstructured pitch leaves the audience confused and you will also find it difficult to stay on track. Carve your pitch into an engaging story – a wow opening, between 3 and 5 umbrella headings and a strong closing that overlaps back with the opening, includes a summary, a thank you and a call to action. The structure for an investment pitch, for example, would be Problem, Solution, Market, Team and Financials.

5. Boring

Many pitches are simply boring. It’s up to you to engage and entertain your audience. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian, but you do have to at least try and be interesting. Try to connect on a human level with your audience. Bring in some relevant examples or case studies for that particular audience. Be interested and passionate about what you’re talking about. If you’re not interested, how do you expect your audience to be?

6. Distracting Mannerisms

Pitching, presenting and public speaking are outside of many people’s comfort zones! Therefore, some people develop distracting mannerisms in their body language to compensate. Unfortunately, this can take away from your message. Watch your feet – avoid moving from one foot to the other, or dancing around the floor. It’s best to keep your feet glued to the ground. Avoid ‘hand washing’, or holding your hands to the front, the back or in your pocket – just keep your hands by your side and gesture as you would in normal conversation. The right gesture can really reinforce your message.

7. Monotonous Voice

People forget that their voice is like a musical instrument. An audience will often tune in or out, depending on the speaker’s voice. If the speaker is not speaking loud enough, or is speaking too fast that it makes it difficult for anyone to catch what they’re saying – it’s too much hard work for the audience. Similarly, if there is no variation in the voice and the speaker is speaking in a monotone, the audience will find it hard to listen.

8. Death by PowerPoint

Slides can be a hindrance to a pitch or presentation. Start with the story – get clarity around the story you’re telling, then get the slides to fit the story, not the other way around. Keep the number of slides to a minimum. I have seen so many terrible presentations using PowerPoint slides – people fill their slides full of complete sentences instead of bullet points or keywords. People use font size that is far too small. Font size 30 should be the minimum. Some presenters actually turn their back on the audience and read off the slides. This is an insult to any audience. Use images where possible and keep facing the audience while speaking. Position your laptop in front of you for a quick glance at what’s on the slide and then speak. People are looking at you and listening to you – the slide is just a visual backdrop to what you are saying.

9. Nerves

Don’t let nerves take over your presentation. Find a way to manage your nerves. I find mindful breathing very useful; other people use positive affirmations or visualisation. You need to mentally shift the spotlight on you to a floodlight onto the audience. After all, it’s not about you – it’s about what you want your audience to do, think or feel as a result of your message.

10. Winging it…

Don’t let your actual pitch or presentation be the first time you deliver your pitch or presentation! Practise out loud from a few days beforehand - maybe when going for a walk or driving in the car. If possible, get someone to role-play the audience for you. The difference between the first time you practise and the fifth time can be monumental. Practise makes better!

Like to learn more? Catherine Moonan is presenting a 90-minute breakfast workshop, Art of the Pitch, on 16th May in the Institute of Banking, Citibank Building. Limited to 60 participants, attendance (€95) includes a free copy of The Pitch Coach, her guide to the essentials of presenting, interviewing and public speaking.

  • More details and booking info here.