Along with every way that COVID-19 is disrupting our lives and altering our ways of working right now, most VC pitches are now happening remotely. This is a perceptual shift for some people, who believe the in-person nature of pitches is critical for establishing interpersonal connection.
At Jane VC, we’ve always been a virtual team, so from the beginning we’ve done the majority of our initial screenings by Zoom. This is a way of life for us, and one that really works. It’s a lot more efficient for both founders and investors, and it allows us to meet founders from across the US and Europe.
But if you’re not used to pitching virtually, it can seem like a paradigm shift. Here’s how to not just adjust, but excel, at the virtual VC pitch.
Prepare your environment
We’ve all seen the video of the professor being interviewed live on the BBC when his two small children break in. It’s cute, right? Except when it’s you, and you’re pitching a VC. Plus, it has already been done.
Before the call, make sure your environment, and, in particular, the background that will show up “on camera,” is professional. Crying babies and whiny pets rarely add ambience. Test your video and audio connections, as well as your internet speed, in advance. No surprises.
In addition to having your pitch deck and any other materials cued up on your own screen, send them ahead. Don’t count on screen sharing, something could go wrong — like what if they join by phone?
Choose the right tools
There are a lot of video conferencing software options out there. Choosing the coolest new tool no one else has heard of is not going to earn you any points. Plus, the investor will probably be late if they have to download something new, cutting into your quality time together. Instead, use tools everyone is familiar with, like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Always include the link in the calendar invite.
Pro tip: If you are not using the Google Hangouts option, but you are using Google Calendar to schedule appointments, make sure to turn off the Google Hangouts auto setting so that recipients don’t automatically get a link to a Google Hangout. If you also send a Zoom link, it gets confusing for people scrambling to get on a call quickly.
Invite the right people
It’s optimal to have only a few people from your team attend an initial video call, even just one or two. With multiple people, the conversation can become chaotic. Further down the road, when the investor wants to meet your whole team, it’s a different story. In the beginning, keep it lean.
If you’re inviting other team members besides yourself, make sure you map out who will cover what so you’re not interrupting each other. The goal is for the conversation to flow smoothly.
Recognize the nuances of pitching by video
Pitching by video is a perfectly viable mechanism for connecting with an investor. But it’s essential that you realize how pitching by video is different. Yes, it’s harder to build human connection. But it isn’t any less important.
Just as in person, a little initial small talk can help build rapport. A lot of people claim they “hate small talk,” but it serves a valuable purpose. It can be an icebreaker and serve to connect people who are about to have a high-pressure conversation. Even when that connection is just about the weather, small talk says “We’re in this together.”
Know your angle
Ask the investor a few questions at the beginning of the call about their investment focus and process. Then tailor your pitch to their interests.
Share an overview of your company, vision and team, but be concise. This is always important, but even more so when pitching virtually, where it’s easier to get distracted if someone is going on and on. This is a good opportunity for you to focus on what matters and cut out your filler words.
Use a dynamic voice
When in person, your sparkling personality can make your pitch come to life. Over a virtual format, it can be easier to revert to a flat voice, which conveys less energy and enthusiasm. Avoid falling into a monotone. Speaking from a standing position can help with this. Try a power pose before your next investor pitch. A lot of people also like to pace when they’re having a passionate phone conversation (but obviously doesn’t work on video).
I cannot stress this strongly enough. When you don’t have your other senses to rely upon, heightening your listening skills is essential. You’ll start to notice subtle verbal cues you were missing before. Picking up on the verbal cues of your audience will help you finesse your pitch in real time.
Still, sometimes you won’t be able to read people as well in a virtual meeting. Frankly, we investors have the same problem. Which brings us to our next point…
Follow-up is always important, but even more so when pitching virtually. You want an investor to get to know you well enough to trust you with their money, and the more interactions you have with them, the more they get to know you. If they asked you questions during the meeting, and you have new data or thoughts to round out your answer, don’t hesitate to reach out again.
Take advantage of any backchannels you have too, by asking shared connections to put in a good word. Following and interacting with investors on social media is another touch point that can help them get to know you. Finally, be sure to add the investor to your monthly or quarterly newsletter so they can track your progress.
The virtual pitch tips are not just emergency measures for tense times. My prediction is that more pitches, sales meetings, interviews and other meetings will continue to be conducted virtually long after COVID-19 is under control. As we all adapt our communication style, either quickly, in response to a crisis, or over time, as a natural digital transition, we’ll realize the huge gains in efficiency that virtual meetings provide.