The TMI Problem

In the past two months, I have had two occasions to listen to several pitches and make suggestions for improvement ( I have been listening to pitches in one form or another 5-7 times a year for the past 3+ years).

The first was a group of student projects. There were over 30. We narrowed them down to 13 and did three practice sessions for each group before the final presentation.

The second batch was a group of entrepreneurs. We had to go through about 6 and pick 4 and did  couple of iterations for each presentation (one face-to-face and another over email). We had just one week to do it all.

The essence of a pitch is generally pretty simple.

Answer these questions:

  1. Why there is a problem,
  2. What needs to be done
  3. How you are uniquely suited to solve it with your product.
  4. How big is the market and what niche you plan to target initially
  5. How do you plan to monetize (if this information is relevant to the audience)

For some reason all of us seem to suffer from TMI (too much information) syndrome. We want to dump all we know whether relevant or not on our audience.

Here are a few things I learned:

  • When left to themselves, presenters want to throw in the kitchen sink into their presentations – lots of text, pictures (some relevant and some not so relevant), diagrams and even videos.
  • They have so much to say and they want to say it all.  I don’t blame them. I used to be exactly the same. The eagerness to share all my research and finding with the audience and educate them is very compelling.
  • You can’t really teach people to listen to questions carefully and give the most relevant answers. This is not because they do not know. It is just that they seem too eager and read too much into questions.

I think this is what helps:

  • A format where diagrams and little text on each slide
  • 5-7 slides covering the essence
  • A set of backup slides to use during the question hour
  • Finish the presentation in the allotted time or earlier so that you can get more questions
  • Keep your answer to questions to couple of sentences. Avoid the temptation to give long answers. It is better to get more probing, deeper questions.

There may be different reasons for a presentation or pitch. I found that in almost all cases, it  is better to talk less and listen more.

It is not easy to talk less. I can share a lot of my own horror stories. But you can do it with practice.

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