Not long ago, I found myself pitching GAN. The conversation was going well, I felt like I was able to convey all of the main points I wanted to, and our rapport seemed solid. During the first 20 minutes of the chat, I gave background on accelerators, corporates, and the startup studio industry, trends we’re seeing, opportunities in front of us, and a variety of other important data points describing GAN’s work. I nailed it. Or at least I thought I had.
So, when I stopped to ask them if they had any questions and they responded with, “I don’t really understand what you do,” you can imagine my disappointment.
I’d communicated well and I’d shared what I wanted to share. Still, they had no idea what we do in the world—which felt particularly hard to hear after all of the branding work we’ve done in the last two years.
So, what was I missing?
As I thought about other examples where this has happened, I realized that—as companies pitch me for investment dollars from GAN Ventures—I often don’t immediately understand what their companies do, even after their first 15 minutes of presenting to us.
So, I spent some time thinking through the reasons we all do this, some pretty helpful research I’ve found on this particular topic, and one simple thing I’m doing to fix my own pitch.
Why This Happens
Reason #1: Assuming Someone Else’s Knowledge of a Topic
When I pitch GAN, I’m usually speaking with a fairly well-known investor or someone at an executive level, which means I tend to assume that whomever I’m meeting with has a base-level understanding of the startup ecosystem, including the accelerator industry. Given that, I very rarely talk about how accelerators operate—jumping straight into data surrounding them instead—because I believe that they’re smart people and that means they probably already know what accelerators are.
Another way of saying it: I want the person I’m talking with to feel like I think they’re smart. In reality, though, because I’m starting off my conversation at the 301 and 401 level, I’m losing people before I even begin. I’m overcomplicating a discussion.
Reason #2: I Either Know Too Much or Too Little About a Topic
I know GAN inside and out; so it’s incredibly familiar to me. But, I sometimes find that—when I overcomplicate a subject—I might not know as much as I wish I did or I might know a little too much, causing me to talk about the subject in way more detail than is necessary. We all do this. But it can be useful to ask yourself (when you find that you seem to be talking with less clarity and covering it up with a lot of words) whether you’re doing so in order to cover up a lack of knowledge or nervously overtalking about something someone else might not understand. I’ve heard people refer to this as getting to the “essence” of what you’re trying to say. Unless you boil your points and supporting research down to their essence, every time, you might botch inevitable questions that come up during your pitch.
What the Research Says
Last week, I happened to come across this great study by Peter Gloor, et. al. called, “The Impact of Virtual Mirroring on Customer Satisfaction.” The research wanted to uncover the kinds of interactions that lead to the best outcomes when an account representative speaks with clients.
As it turns out, the study’s most important finding was that client satisfaction increases by 17% when “employees reduce the complexity of their language and make communication with clients much simpler.”
So it’s not about is trying to showcase how smart you are. Or trying to be on the same level as the person you’re speaking to. And, you shouldn’t assume (as I had) that the person you’re speaking with is looking for something complex.
In other words: Simple wins. Complexity doesn’t mean you’re smarter, or more advanced, or more worthy of investment.
What I’m Doing About It
The best advice I’ve ever received on this idea came from my mentor in college. He’s an engineer working for W.L. Gore and Associates, the makers of Gore-Tex. As you might imagine, it’s a world full of engineers who want to overcomplicate pretty much everything.
When getting my start in business, he would repeatedly tell me that the reason he was so successful and able to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as he did was that he thought a lot about the “KISS” idea.
In case the acronym isn’t familiar to you, it’s short for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
Now, the second I start to overcomplicate something, I come back to this idea. Because, if we keep it simple, we’re actually able to communicate an idea, theory, business, or basically anything else in a way that’s easy to understand. Not just so that we land more clients but—as the research shows above—they actually tend to be far happier.
Of course, I forgot to do this in my opening pitch to the person I met with recently. But, as soon as he came back to me with a question around what GAN actually does, I remembered—go back to simplicity. And, as I’m moving forward, I’m trying to start off my conversations by not assuming anything about the person on the other side of the table and whether they know anything about my world. I’m trying to avoid overcomplicating things. And, I’m trying to do my best to understand the essence of what I’m communicating before I speak, and definitely before I have to respond to questions.