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Preparing for rejection is part of the process

No one wants to be rejected and yet, when you’re starting a new business, it’s something you have to be prepared for as you pitch your ideas to potential investors and clients.

I’m a fellowship student in the first cohort at Toronto’s new School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE-O). I am also a first-time social entrepreneur, really excited, but also sometimes terrified trying to build a triple bottom-line business in the urban agriculture space. I’m certainly not terrific at pitching yet. But, I’ve made it my mission to get really good over the next few months. To do this, I’m asking a lot of questions and spending a lot of time thinking about what makes a really good pitch. What I’ve learned so far is that if you follow a basic formula (at least to start with) you’ve got a much better chance of doing a really good pitch presentation.

Learn the basics

You can learn a good basic formula in a workshop that’s offered by MaRS and delivered in two half-day sessions called Pitching to Investors. I took the workshop in October and the first thing they taught us was that great pitching is really about great storytelling. And as any Hollywood director will tell you, great storytelling can be broken down to a three-part model. Part one is the set up; we tell our audience about the problem that needs to be solved. Part two we address the crisis, explaining how we can solve the problem. And finally, in part three we emphasize the problem resolution with details about our business model.

Put your pitch to the test

On November 8th at the Social Finance Forum in Toronto, six of my SSE-O classmates had a chance to test their pitching skills in front of a crowd of more than 350. I asked for some feedback on what lessons they took away from that experience. My classmate Chryssa Koulis of peopleshare provided three tips. First, she seconded the notion of telling a compelling story. Second, she stressed the importance of making sure the voice you use to tell that story is really yours. Audiences can tell if you’ve just memorized a script. In Chryssa’s case, there was a lighthearted feel to her pitch and her slides. In the case of another colleague, it meant stripping out the statistics from his pitch and focusing instead on the people he has been able to help (you can get to the stats in the Q and A). Third, Chryssa emphasized the importance of practice.

Each of the SSE-O students had the opportunity to attend two formal practice sessions before the Social Finance Forum where they practiced in front of faculty and their classmates. Chryssa also recommended practicing in front of a mirror whenever you get a chance. I like to do this with a stopwatch at my side.

Practice makes perfect

A pitching coach I know suggests recording yourself as you practice and then checking your voice for pitch, tone, emphasis and any unusual pauses or stumbling. I found another great practice tip from speechwriter and pitch coach, Jill Foster. Speaking to blogger Thursday Bram, Foster suggested forming an informal pitching support committee. To prepare you for the Q and A that comes after each pitch, Foster recommends blocking 30 minutes for rapid fire questions from this group. Her final advice is to stand up when answering questions.

I personally like to stand whenever I am practicing, and frankly, would rather stand for the whole pitch. I think you have more presence and it gives you more confidence. As you think about your compelling story and the physical elements of your pitch, you should also be thinking about your pitch slides. At MaRS they follow the Guy Kawasaki 10/20/30 rule, which means your pitch should include 10 slides, last 20 minutes and no slide should be smaller than 30-point font. As you’re fine tuning your pitch, you should also be prepared for the absolutely unexpected, which might find you having to do your entire presentation on a 45-second elevator ride.

All in all, what we newbie social entrepreneurs have learned is that great pitching comes from preparation. You also have to accept that some of the time you’re going to be rejected. So, get ready to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get right back out there with an even more compelling story.

Verity Dimock is currently working with Robert Patterson (www.earthbox.mx) on the launch of a Canadian social enterprise focused on local, sustainable food. Before shifting her career focus to social enterprise, Verity was the executive director of Smart Serve Ontario. She holds a Master’s degree from Boise State University (Instructional and Performance Technology) and a Bachelor’s degree from Trent University (Politics and Economics).

In addition to her social enterprise work, Verity teaches career development workshops and is an employment coach for students in the HVAC and Sustainable Energy Programs at Humber College. She tweets about her experience as a new social entrepreneur @SocentGirl.

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