Startup Pitching and Adrenaline Management: An Athlete’s Tactics

“How does one get into shape for public speaking?” I was sitting in McMenamin’s Bar, sipping a guilty-pleasure Coke, when I became phenomenally obsessed with this question — “How does one get into shape for public speaking?”

At that moment, I was waiting to go on stage to pitch our startup, and became quite aware of my heart rate. My Fitbit registered 145 beats per minute(bpm) — super high — like I had been jogging a few minutes. I felt my body was betraying me, amping up my adrenaline when I didn’t want it to- today’s pitch wasn’t even that important.

In that moment, I embarked on a journey to get in shape for public speaking, particularly startup pitching.

Adrenaline is an issue. Along with anxiety, it can cause anyone to jitter the first few words, nervously step back and forth, talk too fast, feel like their vision just came out of warp speed or forget what they were going to say. I love the adrenaline that comes with kiteboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding, skydiving — but my bad public speaking habits were also coming from adrenaline.

At that bar, I was grappling with the question that every Techstars founder grapples with during the entire program: In three months, how am I going to deal with the stress and give an amazing presentation on Demo Day? In other words, if my heart rate was 145 bpm now, it would be even higher for the high-stakes Demo Day pitch I was going to give in three months. That wasn’t going to be good.

To maximize our raise and — let’s be honest- for pride, I needed to knock Demo Day out of the park. I’ve always been an athlete, so naturally, I wanted a training regime. Over the next three months, I built one on top of what Techstars provided. The practices I tried are what I intend to share with this post. Some things were conscious. Some things were serendipity. Some things worked. Some things didn’t.

So here, in all their glory, are the 7 tactics that comprised my training regime.

Heart Rate

As you’ve gathered, I landed on heart rate as a proxy metric for the combination of adrenaline, anxiety and flight or fight programming.

When I was a swimmer in college, it was something I regularly checked after finishing a set. Hitting 200+ BPM was a badge of honor (so was vomiting due to lactic acid buildup). Both were feedback loops indicating that as phenomenally in-shape athletes, we were working hard.

In the case of pitching, however, I identified high heart rate as a negative. Using my Fitbit, I monitored my heart rate prior to going on stage for different pitches leading up to Demo Day — just and as I would for swimming. The lower my heart rate, the more progress I felt I was making. This was my North Star.

Practice Makes Permanent

This was one of my baseball coaches favorite expressions. Over the three months, I tried practicing my pitch in cars, to friends, to colleagues and to cameras.

I created a rule for myself during these practice sessions. No matter what happened I would NEVER stop the pitch and say ‘let me start over.’ I realized that doing this would train me to want to do this in the middle of every pitch. That was a dangerous training practice.

Instead, if I made a mistake, I rolled with it or acknowledged it. If there was an interruption such as someone walking in late to a pitch practice, I asked them to take a seat and continued until I finished the pitch. In my best cases, I made a joke out of any interruption which put the test audience at ease.

Note: Pitching while driving didn’t work for me. The theory was that it would simulate a distracting environment. In practice, it’s amazing how much attention an unprotected left turn takes.

Win the Crowd, Win your Freedom

I identified early on that getting a laugh in the first three lines put me at ease and (presumably) lowered my heart rate. This isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Most public presentations have low entertainment value and even lower presentation quality. Commenting on virtually anything that was said previously that is not a verbatim cliche such as “I love this city” or “let’s put your hands together for [previous speaker]” will get you a laugh or applause. It must only show the slightest wit, tweak, or that you were listening to previous speakers.

An example: In my Demo Day presentation, I listened to the entire 45-minute keynote speaker simply to find my hook. I keyed into one segment particularly when the speaker talked about hiding emotions and not to believe anyone who said “they were killing it.” When she said that, I looked at my friend and made a joke. He laughed. I had my hook.

What did I open with as a Drone company that sprays and kills invasive plants to protect trees? “DroneSeed. We are killing it” (1:19). The audience loved it. Was it original? Yes. Was it brilliant wit? Meh. Maybe. Did the audience give a big laugh? Yes. Was I MUCH more comfortable on stage after a laugh? Hell yes.


Pro tip: If you’re in a series of speakers, listen to every other person’s hook. If they use what you were going to use, you have to find a new hook or your funny line is going to go over super poorly.

“Ain’t Nothing but a Peanut.”

That’s the famous phrase of bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman as he does lift repetitions over and over. I found I similarly needed reps for my pitch in the two weeks leading up to Demo Day.

As we received feedback from mentors, we were making changes to slides and the script to incorporate it. I had to stay on top of all the activity and figure out how I would naturally say the new lines.

Most nights before going to bed, I flipped open my laptop, assigned myself a certain number of pitch repetitions, and recorded myself doing each one using Quicktime. When I felt I nailed it, I would transcribe a script from the video.

Embrace the Script

I personally don’t believe in scripting a pitch first. It doesn’t work for me and it feels fake. What I do believe in NOW, post Techstars, is pitching something from an outline repeatedly and seeing how my natural inflection lands with the audience. Once I have that, I write the script — but only for a Demo Day-caliber event.

Here is why: Before Demo Day, I fought the script. I fought it hard. Then I hit a point where I realized that I had my pitch 90% down but couldn’t get that last 10% to come off clean. The remaining stutters, stalls and hesitations were caused by the recurring need to make a choice about what words to use.

I was at that point 3 days before Demo Day. I took one of my Quicktime videos and wrote down every word. I removed some clutter and then committed to the verbatim version. It came out clean. Holy crap, is this what actors actually do? I never knew.

Like it’s your Job

I haven’t yet addressed the adrenaline. How did I drive my heart rate down? The answer on how to deal with adrenaline came to me after presenting at McMenamin’s.

I recalled a conversation I had with a skydiving instructor. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked him how many jumps he did as an instructor before the adrenaline didn’t kick in and it was a ‘job.’ His answer was about 100 jumps.

That was my answer for adrenaline. My thesis is that overcoming adrenaline is as simple as doing something so many times that it’s routine (though hopefully not boring).

By the time Demo Day rolled around, I’d pitched to a live audience for feedback multiple times per week. I had also added 10 pitches a night for two weeks. I’d embraced pitching as my job. It was routine. It was having less of an affect on my heart rate each time.

I would say that is one of Techstars’ secrets and why they have so many flawless pitches on Demo Day. Does everyone need this? Maybe not. I did.

Staying in Shape

I was really pleased with our pitch. Go on, judge me here. However, after Demo Day, I had a question, what do I do to stay in pitching shape and keep pushing my boundaries?

To broaden my abilities, I enrolled in an improv comedy class with Jet City Improv to up the ante. Realistically, today I pitch all the time to evangelize our company. I use our Techstars pitch as a base. However, improv ups the game. I have no idea what my partners will do. I have no message or point to deliver, my objective is to be funny for people who are expecting entertainment. Luckily, there are rules and even an ethos that messing up can be just as funny.

So what was my heart rate prior to a live improv performance in July? It was a nice 115 BPM. I interpret that to mean I’m having fun — but it’s not boring.

How do you prep for public speaking? What’s your training regime? Is heart rate your best indicator or have you found something better? Have thoughts on this post or just found it helpful and want to drop a line? Email me. I love feedback. Also, try finding an improv place near you. 

5 Epic Fails in Pitching

I love office hours and listening to pitches – most of the time. This week I had an odd meeting that reminded me of some epic fails in pitching your startup idea. I will protect the “Pitching Parties” in this post and not identify them, but here are some quick reminders and lessons learned:

Don’t be on Time

This is just a business requirement to build credibility. If you’re late and the person has a meeting after you, your time will cut short. But more important than that, you’ve shown a lack of respect for the person you’re meeting with. This is a cultural and family of origin topic.

Some cultures (and cities for that matter) have a different range or minutes that it’s OK to be late – but generally is just poor planning and prep on your side. If you can’t make that time because you have another meeting or still have a day job, pick another time you can make. If it has to be early in the day, that’s ok. But don’t be late.

Don’t Practice 

Stick to your script and topic of making your main thing the main thing of your meeting. You want to get into a dialog – but you need to make sure that the investor is asking the questions that you want them to be asking. Let me give you an example: you have a secret sauce, great, how will you explain it without compromising your trade secrets? You need to have that answer in advance. Waving your hands and talking about how magical your solution is or the awesomeness of your “superpower” doesn’t provide credibility.

Common Sense for Startups

Don’t Listen 

If you’re the only one talking, you will never learn more than you already know. If the investor isn’t asking questions, they have either lost interest or they are bored. Neither of those outcomes are good for you. Plan breaks in your pitch to have enough “space” for you to take a breath and ask for participation. If an investor knows your market, you may want to ask the question “If this was going to fail, why would it fail?” You will learn a lot from that question and it may change your strategy months or years earlier in the process.

Don’t Have an Ask 

We know you have one, just be clear about what the ask for what you actually want from the meeting. Are you looking for customer referrals, potential investment, team members? Even if you’re not currently raising capital you need to have an ask. At very least, ask for permission to put them on your regular email list – if you don’t have one yet, start it today. Every two weeks you should send out a summary email about progress and updates.

Don’t Summarize

You get to set the final conclusion of the meeting. Leave yourself enough time to summarize what you want the investor to remember. I watch too many meeting trails off at the end and rather than ending on your strength they end in weakness.

First impressions matter – they cause early judgments. And early judgments are difficult to overcome without additional time. Time is one thing you haven’t yet earned in this relationship.

This was originally published on Dave’s blog

Tips on Crafting a Top-Notch Startup Pitch

This was originally published in Factory Berlin’s Magazine

Being able to pitch an idea to strangers is a necessary skill across many industries. For entrepreneurs and startups, though, pitching your business in a compelling manner is especially important because it can be a stepping stone to landing potential investors, partners and supporters.

So what are the ingredients to crafting a credible, persuasive and outstanding pitch? From creating the pitch deck to delivering your presentation, we spoke to two experts in this realm for their insights on the topic.

Know Your Audience

Before you even begin to craft your pitch, it’s important to consider your target audience, said Anders Lykke, VP of Sales at Priori Data, a mobile app data and analytics provider based in Berlin. A core part of his role is to pitch Priori Data to potential clients and partners as well as to spread the word about the product at conferences and events.

“It always depends on what you’re trying to achieve with the pitch,” explained Lykke, “Are you trying to create general excitement about the product and your company? Or do you want to lay the foundation for a particular conversation?”

To gauge your audience, he suggested asking yourself these questions: Will you be presenting in front of a diverse group of entrepreneurs at a conference? Or a crowd of mobile industry professionals? Will you be at a local community event? Or pitching to investors in a boardroom?

Once you have these parameters down, it’ll be easier to cater your pitch, in terms of length and structure, accordingly.

Succinctly Describe the Problem and How You’re Trying to Solve it

One of the most important goals of a pitch is to convince people – in a short amount of time – why you and your company are relevant, aka why they should care. It’s probably best to incorporate this aspect at the beginning of your pitch presentation, so people know what they’re getting into right off the bat.

Again, keep in mind when explaining the problem that how broad or specific you delve into it should be dependent on who you’re talking to.

There are a number of ways to go about structuring your pitch, but what works for Lykke is painting a picture of the problem scenario at the very start. “Once I’ve outlined the pain point clearly, I talk about the potential impacts of the problem, provide context with market data and then go on to paint a picture of how we’ll solve it,” he added.

Back Up Your Points with Data

Establishing credibility during a pitch is crucial. But, how do you do that? “Avoid general statements and use numbers as often as possible,” said Candy Behunin, who heads marketing at Unicorn Pitch, a pitch deck design service for startups.

Lykke shared a similar opinion and stressed that it’s also critical to use data from various reliable sources to help people understand the problem you’re tackling as well as the impact the solution might have.

Create a Professional Pitch Deck

The pitch deck is often an important element accompanying your pitch. “Picture it as a sales document that needs to speak for your company,” explained Behunin, “Sometimes, investment decisions will be made with you not being present and with people whom you have not had a chance to speak to. All they see is what their partner has told them – and your pitch deck.”

So make sure your deck factually correct and highlights only the most critical pieces of information.

When creating a deck targeted to investors, the Unicorn Pitch team suggested including information about the opportunity, market, technology/product, KPIs, business model metrics, team, why you/how can you defend this great opportunity as well as the status of funding.

Seasoned German entrepreneur and investor Felix Haas, who also backs Unicorn Pitch, added: “As an investor, what immediately catches my eye in a pitch deck is seeing that there are great co-investors who are already committed. A big turn off for me is when founders come in with an unprofessional-looking presentation.

If the slides are for a pitch to a more general audience, go for a streamlined deck that focuses more on a compelling story. 

Take a Deep Breath

Getting nervous before a pitch is not uncommon – even for people who have done it a hundred times. Priori Data’s Lykke, who also has a lot of experience in the realms of acting and stand-up comedy, said a good way to combat stage fright is to tap into your “inner peace zone” for a couple of seconds.

“Generally, a couple of deep breaths goes a long way to calm yourself down before you go on stage,” he added.

Be Yourself

Some people thrive on stage, while others recoil at the thought of it. And yet, there are successful entrepreneurs that come from both categories. It’s not necessarily a matter of either/or. Of course, for some people it’ll require more practice but regardless of which group you fall into, being authentic plays a big role when delivering a compelling pitch, said Lykke.

“When carrying yourself on stage, it’s incredibly important to present in a way that is in sync with who you are as a person – don’t try to play role of someone you’re not,” he said adamantly, “It doesn’t matter if you’re introverted or extroverted, it’s about owning yourself and finding a way to present the pitch that aligns with your personality. Everyone knows it can be difficult to pitch on stage, but by simply being genuine, you can build a great level of empathy in the audience.”

Leave the Audience Wanting More

When pitching, the last impression is equally – if not more – important than the first impression. On this train of thought, Lykke said, “When pitching a business, you have to leave the audience energized and excited… And people get energized and excited about great ideas.”

This was originally published in Factory Berlin’s Magazine.

Five months later

By Marjaana Annala, Go Swap It, the Winner of Startup Weekend Oulu Spring 2016

Creating Go Swap It

Whenever someone asks me what Startup Weekend was like, I always have difficulties answering to it in a short way. To me, and I believe to many others as well, it meant a weekend where you totally step out of your comfort zone and do things you never thought were possible before. So how do you explain everything that happened, or everything that lead there, in a couple of sentences?

My best variable so far is this.

After a lot of pondering, I went there with an innocent idea that was a result of a 3-minute conversation with a friend a few months earlier (“Hey you know what would be cool?” “Oh yes that WOULD be cool!”) but no actual clue of what I should do with it. Truth be told, I still had no idea what I was going to do when I got there. To pitch or to not pitch my idea? I was extremely scared of even the mere idea of that.

I also did not have any idea of what I should do during the weekend – or how to do any of the things I should do. Complicated, huh? But shortly after I arrived I realized that it is perfectly fine, because on top of unlimited coffee and food, what was offered was unlimited support.

So I guess what happened was that a bunch of genius minds got together, were inspired by the same idea, joined forces and started working. No talk, all action, they said. And it truly was just that. All you really need to do is stop thinking, roll up your sleeves and start working.

Five months later?
I have my own company with the same awesome people I met at Startup Weekend.
I have pretty much my dream job.
I also have at least some kind of an idea what I’m doing.
As icing on the cake – and most importantly – a whole lot of new, amazing people in my life.

That is the beauty of Startup Weekend.

Préparez votre pitch de vendredi

Le vendredi soir, c’est le début du startup weekend. Certains d’entre vous viendront avec une idée qu’ils souhaitent travailler durant les 54h. Il y a plus de propositions que de projets pouvant être retenus. Vous allez donc devoir vous démarquer.

Le protocole est assez simple. Chaque participant dispose d’1 minute chrono avec le micro pour convaincre de la pertinence de son projet. Puis durant une petite heure, vous allez pouvoir recueillir les votes des autres participants (chacun a deux votes).

Votre objectif est donc d’être parmi les 10 à 15 (en fonction des années) idées qui auront fédéré le plus de participants.

Voici quelques conseils pour mettre le plus de chances de votre côté. Et parce que c’est chacun pour sa peau, je vais vous parlez à tous séparément. Commençons par toi, derrière ton écran.

Photo de Pierre MOUILLARD
Photo de Pierre MOUILLARD

Tout d’abord, sache que tu vas devoir t’exprimer devant plus de 100 personnes. Si c’est la première fois pour toi, tu peux essayer de minimiser les effets du stress :

  • écris ton texte, et mieux, apprends le par cœur. Dans le pire des cas, fais toi une petite antisèche. C’est moins charismatique mais un charisme sans message sera moins utile qu’un message sans charisme.

  • Prévois un contact visuel unique. Le mieux est d’avoir un ami dans le public sur lequel tu concentreras ton regard.

Organise ton temps. Tu as devant toi 1 seule minute, c’est vraiment très court. Voici une proposition d’organisation du temps :

  • 5s pour te présenter. Pas la peine de raconter ta vie, dis nous ton nom, ton prénom et ce que tu fais dans la vie si c’est en lien avec le projet.

  • 40s pour présenter ton projet. Il faut être synthétique. Ne présente pas toute ta vision mais uniquement les éléments qui font du sens pour tous.

  • 10s pour expliquer quelles compétences tu cherches pour compléter ton équipe. Ce serait dommage d’être retenu et de ne pas arriver à rassembler les compétences suffisantes.

  • 5s pour résumer ton projet et finir sur une phrase choc pour marquer les esprits

Prévois une tagline, c’est la phrase que retiendront les participants à l’issue de ta minute. Quand les 40 projets sont passés, chaque participant doit se rappeler des deux projets pour lesquels il va voter. La tagline va l’aider à se rappeler de ton projet. Une tagline ça peut être lié à ton projet “Footibus, le service qui amènera toutes les équipes de foot à tous leurs matchs” ou non “Vous aimez les carottes, moi aussi, votez pour mon projet”.

Enfin, pense à te démarquer. Tous les ans, des participants plus ou moins créatifs tentent des choses pour se sortir du lot. Tant que tu restes dans le domaine du raisonnable, tu peux te déguiser, porter un chapeau, montrer un objet lié au projet, etc… L’intérêt est de te reconnaître à la fin des nombreuses présentations. Le Startup Weekend reste un événement qui se fait dans la bonne humeur, et souvent l’humour est un vecteur de cohésion.

Ces conseils ne t’assurent pas d’être retenus, mais ils pourront t’aider à ne pas rater ta minute.

Meet our #swCPH mentors: Zenia Francker

Zenia as a general manager at Founders House is in very close touch with startup community in Copenhagen. She listens to a lot of pitches every month and possesses valuable knowledge in this field. And therefore will be available to guide teams so they have a great chance to win at the end of the Startup Weekend Copenhagen 2014Hear Zenia’s advices before the actual event:


She also observes startups in different areas of tech, following them closely as they go from the idea to the venture. Zenia is ready to mentor all attendees on business opportunities/business model, important network creation and professional pitching suitable for the given audience!

If you haven’t yet, now is a great change to grab your ticket via following link:

Startup Weekend Day by Day Breakdown: Sunday


Its 9AM and you only 8 hours left and there is still so much to do!


Validation never stops. You can never have too much feedback from your potential customers. Keep at it.

Your MVP

By now you should have a refined MVP that is either working on the web or on your local laptop. You will be working on it till the last minute before your presentation so keep building!


There will be some coaches and mentors coming around on Sunday as well. Use this time to get some feedback on what you have done over the 24 hours.


Preparing your presentations

All work stops and presentations start at 5PM sharp. You will have 5 mins to present your idea and demo the app. The presentation is followed up with 5 mins of QA from the judges.

Nick Stevens, an awesome organizer out of the UK has put together a great mini-guide on creating your Sunday presentations: and

In NYC, we like to hold “presentation dry runs”. We have the teams pitch what they have done so far in front of some coaches/mentors to get some feedback. Each team will get 10 mins (5 mins for presentation, 5 mins for feedback). This is completely optional.

So hopefully this mini-guide helps you throughout the weekend. This guide is a living document and will get better over time with feedback from you folks. So if you have a suggestion on how to make this guide better, send them along!

-Andrew Young
Startup Weekend NYC

Startup Weekend Day by Day Breakdown: Friday

swpgh-day-3-40So its Friday evening, the ideas have been pitched and voted on. What happens now?

Forming teams

Forming teams is an organic process. You can join any team that you want to join. If you like someone’s idea, talk to them and see how you can help the team.

Some ideas will attract more people to it. So the way you pitch your idea is important ( Some ideas will find it harder to build teams. You may have to go out and talk to people individually to get them to join your team. You have to sell people on your idea and tell them why they should be helping you with your idea. This part of the evening is most chaotic and it is designed to be this way. Its going to be a tough process to recruit people to join your team. So push on through and build your team.

We found a correlation between successful pitches and team building: the better the pitch, the easier to build the team.

All teams must have a minimum of 2 people and at most 8 people.

What if I am unable to build a team or my idea wasn’t picked. 

This is a natural occurrence. Some ideas will not be able to put together a team before the night is over. It happens. The WORST thing to do is to just leave and not return on Saturday. Please dont do that. You came all the way to Startup Weekend to learn about building startups and to challenge yourself. If you leave now, you will miss out on the learning you can do over the weekend. And worst of all, you will miss out on building new friendships with all the people around you.

So if your idea wasn’t wasn’t picked or you are unable to to build a team, find a team/idea that you like and join it. You will learn so much that weekend so you can apply it to your own idea after the weekend is over.

Cool, I got a team! Now what? 

The clock is ticking away! Get to work! Get to know your team. Exchange contact information with each other. Start to discuss your various backgrounds and expertise. Asses what each other can do and get yourself ready to hit the ground running on Saturday morning.

-Andrew Young
Startup Weekend NYC