It was Friday evening, and I felt like a broken record. I’d just said some variation of “tell me a story” for the fifth time.

Contestant number five – we’ll call him Tony – had been talking about the “petabytes of test data” that his solution will help companies deal with, and my eyes were glazing over.

What did it all mean?

But let me back up a minute.

I’d gone to sit in the audience at a pitch fest hosted by Hacker Dojo, a community co-working space and “collaborative hackerspace” near me. But when the organizers needed a last-minute replacement judge to fill out the four-judge panel, they asked if I could step in.

Being an improviser, of course I said yes!

So now I found myself giving a lot of the same feedback over and over.

Whether you’re trying to get funding from VCs, get upper management to say yes to an idea, or get your kids to do what you say, if you want to influence audiences, these same principles apply.

Here are three tips for nailing your next high-stakes pitch or presentation:

1) Think about your audience

Your audience doesn’t always have the same level of expertise you do, or the same context. Speak to their concerns and context, not yours.

And for goodness sake, ditch the jargon!

“Petabytes of test data” doesn’t mean anything to a layperson.

Speak in human language. For example: “Testing for broken code can easily add days or weeks to a software product launch, but with our product you’ll find the broken code in minutes.

Even I can relate to that!

2) Tell a story

Tell a story that paints a picture of the current, painful state your audience wants to solve, and what your audience is hoping to achieve.

“Company X spent 3 weeks and two hundred thousand dollars delaying their launch because of a missed period in their code. Imagine if they could have avoided all of that with the click of a button?”

Or if you have a case study, even better: “In their next launch, they beta tested our product and were able to find all of the errors in under three minutes, allowing them to launch on schedule! The money they’d budgeted for testing (even after paying for our service) went to bonuses for the team.”

The details of the tech (features) can come later. In a two-minute “elevator pitch” you need to grab attention fast, and the best way to do that is through emotions

3) Get visual

No, I don’t mean to use slides! The goal in developing your pitch is to have something you can share when you’re literally in an elevator with someone, where you won’t have access to slides.

I mean to use visual ideas.

Most people think visually. Whenever you can use visual analogies or metaphors, it will make your stories more compelling.

One of the more effective pitches of the evening at Hacker Dojo was for a dementia care app. The contestant talked about the relative “who always leaves the stove on or walks out the front door,” visuals we could all relate to, even if we don’t personally have a relative with dementia.

Wrapping Up

Of course, there’s a lot more involved in effective presentations than these three tips — including delivery and presentation — but if you think about your audience, tell a clear, compelling story, and get visual with your metaphors, you are off to a good start.

If you’re a founder looking for funding, you’ll also need to:

  • Analyze the target market and demonstrate why your solution can gain traction among customers
  • Introduce any other founders and key team members, and display why they have the talent and determination to turn your vision into reality
  • Have a clear call to action: how much are you asking for?

If you’re a leader looking to influence upper management, you’ll need to:

  • Analyze the current business landscape and demonstrate why your proposed initiative aligns with the company’s strategic goals and objectives.
  • Introduce any key stakeholders or team members involved in the initiative, highlighting their expertise and how their contributions support the success of the project.
  • Clearly articulate the anticipated outcomes and benefits of the proposed initiative, emphasizing how it addresses key challenges or opportunities faced by the organization. (Hint: this is where your storytelling comes into play!)
  • Have a clear call to action: what resources or support do you need from upper management to move forward with the initiative, and what specific actions or decisions are you requesting from them?


I have to say, my evening as a judge was a lot of fun, despite some initial nerves on my part. (Yes, I confess, I was a little nervous, being the only non-techie on the judging panel!)

Several people came up to thank me afterwards — both competitors and audience members — and it looks like I’ll be back, because the director of the Dojo invited me to be a recurring judge!

“We have a lot of techies,” he said, “but nobody with your expertise. It’s so needed and welcome!”

So if you’re in Silicon Valley, drop on by.


And in the meantime, do you have a pitch you want to nail? I have space opening up to work with 3 founders or senior leaders who want to be able to tell a crisp, clean, compelling “elevator pitch” in the next 90 days.

This is a fit for you if you:

✅Are coachable

✅Understand that your idea cannot sell itself

✅Are game to try something different

I’ll lead you through my Winning Presenter Process™ and you’ll uplevel your delivery and come out with an irresistible pitch.

Click here to schedule a complimentary Masterful Presentation Consultation to learn 3 customized strategies to help you nail your next pitch.


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