How to sound spontaneous when you pitch

2 minute read

Bookship was very fortunate to be selected by The Bookseller as one of six candidates for BookTech Company of the Year. Super exciting; great validation; great reason to go to London :).

As part of the event, each candidate gets 5 minutes to pitch, hard stop at 5 minutes.

Now, 5 minutes is tricky. Too short for much in the way of slides. Too long to just stand there and talk — you’ll forget stuff. I decided to go for the “pretty picture” school of slides, to keep me on track — but I wasn’t going to read my slides.

Afterwards, I received a very nice compliment from one of the other companies — “you were great! You were so natural and spontaneous!”. I was flattered. But my pitch was anything but spontaneous. It was very carefully crafted to sound spontaneous.

I’m aware of two ways to sound spontaneous and natural when pitching:

  1. Be amazingly, magically spontaneous (some people do have this gift; I do not).
  2. Do The Work. (with a nod to Steven Pressfield’s book)

Here’s my methodology to Do The Work for a five minute pitch.

  1. Start 2 weeks ahead of time.
  2. Pick a story narrative — what’s your angle on why you’re unique.
  3. Outline your pitch in slide bullet points. Max 5 slides (my slide outline below).
  4. Make slides with pictures and few words — like, use 32pt font.
  5. Talk out loud — really — out loud — in your own words, for each of those items. Record it or write it down verbatim. Hone it so it’s short enough and you can say it without tripping over your tongue.
  6. Every morning, for 2 weeks up to the event, spend 5 minutes and just read your notes out loud. Out loud. Not in your head. Out loud. Maybe record it. By the end of the first week, you probably won’t need your notes.
  7. On day 0, you’ll sound natural and spontaneous and you won’t need to see your slides.

Here’s my 5 slides outline:

  1. Why this vision/company/product/market. (in the spirit of “Start with Why”).
  2. What is this thing? (what does the product do, focus on interesting/different)
  3. The Business — how do you make money. Keep it simple.
  4. The Team (why will this team succeed?).
  5. Restate the Why (focus on “inevitability”- with a nod to Tom Tunguz’s

The words for each of these slides should be 3–5 sentences, max. More and you’re out of time.

I think steps 5 and 6 are the key. People’s speaking voices and writing voices are different. Speaking out loud means your pitch is natural to how you speak, not how you write. Refine your words, boil it down so it fits in your time slot and you can say it out loud without tripping over your tongue.

One of the things you learn from playing an instrument is that a few minutes of practice a day is way better than 1 hour a week all at once. Harness this — just spend that 5–10 minutes in the morning when you are fresh and in a week the words will be stuck in your head.

Repetition and brevity are your friends. People can’t read your slides and you shouldn’t either. Convey the key points simply and clearly and they will fill in the details themselves.

And smile while you talk!