Two entrepreneurs tackle pitching head on

Series: The art of pitching

12 June 2019

Whether you like it or not, learning to pitch is a rite of passage for entrepreneurs looking for funding, partners, clients, or to rally the troops in their business. Two young business leaders explain how business presentations can also reflect a state of mind they learned to cultivate.   

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Amélie Richard: List your achievements

One of the rare women at the helm of a 2D and 3D animation and video design and production studio, Amélie Richard describes herself as a humble, reserved person. The CEO of Eltoro Studio (which created the generic animations for the shows Passe-Partout and Les enfants de la télé) had to learn to overcome her qualms about public speaking before becoming a master of pitch.

“When things were one on one, I could sell my company no problem,” she said. “Because of my sales experience, I had strong persuasion and negotiation skills. But pitching in front of a group of strangers, on stage—that’s a whole different ball game.”

Her hesitancy went even further. “I’ve always felt uncomfortable bragging about my achievements or talking about how well things were going. It didn’t come naturally to me. When I realized that my friends and family didn’t know anything about my professional life, something dawned on me: I can pitch to foreign companies, but my own mother doesn’t even know what I do for a living!”

The entrepreneur began to perfect her business pitch by participating in Parcours Innovation PME Montréal in 2017. “Delivering a pitch in front of people from the City of Montreal was very destabilizing for me, but I gave it everything I had. That year, the experiences that had the biggest impacts in the long term were those where I went above and beyond what I thought I was capable of.”

“Whenever I had to pitch, I felt either very uncomfortable or overly prepared, as if I was getting ready to present a Master’s paper. The thing is, I know my business like the back of my hand. I learned to list our main achievements in a few words, to summarize what we do and to explain how we set ourselves apart.”

This showcasing ability became a powerful lever for changing the culture at her company of 22 employees. “The members of my team are proud of what we do, but they don’t have the reflex to shine the spotlight on it. We set out to shift this paradigm by changing the way we do things, especially in sales and social media communications.”

Learning to focus on your own strengths and those of your team, both in your personal life and in your professional life, is a skill everyone should learn, says Amélie. “I’ve come a long way and it has changed the way I view pitching, which is first and foremost a discussion on what you can bring to the table.”

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Alexandre Gauthier: Tell your story

“We really crafted our pitch around our history to make it more personal. To talk about our successes, but also our failures.” Did you say “failures”? In a business pitch? Alexandre Gauthier, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Amilia, a company with 105 employees that offers management and online registration software for sports and community organizations, doubled down. “People learn a lot from counterexamples. Success stories are too polished, they are not interesting. We identify much more with those who dare to talk about their obstacles, their challenges and their vision for the future.”

Trial and error is a hallmark feature of Alexandre’s career, which he launched as the owner of a painting business. “I went door to door to sell my services,” he says. “It wasn’t easy at first. I’d stray from my talking points and change my pitch. Then, I realized that it might be helpful to talk about the person’s house. That’s kind of what a business pitch is. Observing your audience, watching for reactions and understanding what works and what doesn’t.”

Alexandre and his team are no strangers to pitching. “For our 10 annual conferences, we had 10 different pitches. After my year at Parcours Innovation PME Montréal (in 2017), we decided to develop a single pitch with maximum impact. We prepared it better and made sure that it delivered real value.”

Having only one pitch does not mean becoming complacent. Quite the opposite: “We are always improving it. We know our pitch so well that we can make adjustments as soon as we see that one part does not work as well, or if we repeat ourselves somewhere else, or if a slide does not have the desired effect. We’re not trying to achieve the perfect pitch. We practice it, we improve it along the way, and we leave some room for creativity in the storyline.”

In addition to his bread-and-butter sales and funding pitches, Alexandre says there is one more type of presentation that he considers essential: the internal Monday alignment presentation. “For me, this is the most important presentation, because it allows the company vision to evolve in a way that onboards both the old guard and new employees. We make sure employees stay motivated and that everyone is going in the same direction. We eliminate silos between departments. By the time we “pitch” a new project to a client, we have already been presenting it internally for the last six months…”

Be sure to follow us! Next week, we will explore how to apply design thinking to your pitch!

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About the author

Mélissa Proulx

About Mélissa Proulx

Editor

Mélissa Proulx is a journalist, news contributor, and copywriter. Passion and creativity have been driving her to create rich and diverse journalistic content since 2002.