For the last few years, I have been mentoring a bunch of start-up company founders about how to make their investor presentations better. The goal is to get these entrepreneurs ready to stand in front of investors, in the hopes of convincing them to write checks (preferably containing a couple of commas). Many of the companies I’ve worked with have gone on to do exactly that, and are doing quite well. A couple of them even made it to “Shark Tank.”
However, because of the COVID-19 crisis, the days of in-person pitches are on hold, as business has switched to online platforms such as Zoom. Therefore, I have spent several sessions providing advice on how to make teleconferencing from home more professional. Based on lots of positive feedback, I’ve decided to compile those suggestions into this list and share it with you. Whether you’re pitching potential prospects or investors, or just catching up with family and friends, I hope this will help. At the very least, it might make those meetings in front of your laptop more appealing.
1) Lighting. The most egregious problem with a lot of video teleconferencing is the way it’s lit. Be sure you don’t sit with your back to a window or you risk being washed out by the light behind you. You may not be aware of it, but you’re creating a lot of eyestrain for the person on the other end. This is even true if you have blinds that are closed, as sunlight still sneaks in around the edges and ruins the focus of the shot, turning you into a silhouette. Even a desktop lamp or overhead light in the room (or even a bright reflection!), when caught on camera, can ruin the shot. You want your viewers to be able to see your facial expressions as well as hear you clearly. Also, some home lighting can give off a yellowish hue that’s painful to look at for extended periods. If you can’t move into a position where there’s natural or soft light on your face, consider spending a few bucks to get a fill light.
2) Look them in the eye. Just as I encourage you to make eye contact with the people in the room — particularly the decision maker — when you’re doing an in-person pitch, the same applies to teleconferencing. One of the standard sins is looking at the incoming video on the screen. But that means the viewer can’t see your eyes because you’re not looking at your laptop camera. You’re not being rude by not looking at their video — you’ll still be able to hear and react to anything they say, and can glance down occasionally to make sure you’re on the right slide in your PowerPoint/Keynote presentation — but you’ll make a better personal connection through the camera than through your laptop screen. Also, raise your laptop — on a pile of books, or whatever — so the camera is at your eye level or higher rather than shooting from below. It will help frame you in a much more flattering way, especially for those of us with double chins!
3) Energy. I prefer you do your presentation on your feet because it tends to make you more energetic than sitting in your favorite chair. However, when teleconferencing, that’s often unwieldy. Therefore, be sure to psych yourself up ahead of time and be as upbeat and positive as you can — a challenge especially when you’re meeting virtually late in the day and your energy levels are lower.
4) Don’t read the screen. Just as with an in-person pitch, you must have your script memorized. Don’t rely on having it on your laptop screen. As in #2 above, if you’re constantly looking down at what you’ve written, you’ll lose eye contact with your viewer. You’ll also sound much less conversational when reading, which impacts the personal connection you want to make.
5) Platform. Have a backup plan in mind just in case the teleconferencing software you’re on doesn’t work as it should. For instance, I can’t get Google Hangouts to function correctly on my laptop. Even Skype can be problematic. But I’ve discovered that Zoom is easier and more compatible with my hardware, so I have it ready to go when the others can’t connect. Similarly, you should have 2-3 platforms that will always work for you — just in case.
6) Clothing and Food. I very rarely give anyone advice on how to dress — if you’ve met me, you understand why — but remember, even though you’re working from home, you’re still dealing with people who expect you to maintain a certain level of professionalism. Go ahead and wear your sweatpants, since they won’t see you from the waist down, but don’t complement it with that loose t-shirt you’ve slept in for years. You know what to do; this is just a reminder. Also: NO EATING! While it’s fine to sit down with a potential investor or partner over lunch in a restaurant, it’s quite different to conduct business via video while watching someone else eat an egg salad sandwich. Beverages are fine, but no food (this also prevents the embarrassing “what’s that in your teeth?” moment).
7) Screen-sharing. Some teleconferencing software lets you choose which individual tab or file you want to share. If yours doesn’t, be aware of all the other tabs you have open in your browser, which the viewer will be able to see. Use your imagination. In either a business or personal setting, there are plenty of sites you probably don’t want others to know you’ve been browsing in your free time.
8) Notifications. Similarly, if you’re sharing your screen or pitching in person, be sure to turn off notifications on your laptop. You never know what your crazy college friend is going to text you at just the wrong time. Or, imagine you’re applying for a job when a notification from another potential employer pops up in the corner of your screen. Oh, and mute your phone, too!!
9) Appendices. Be ready to bring up and refer to information you couldn’t — or shouldn’t — include in the main body of your pitch. If you get a question about something that you have graphics ready for, bring them up from your Appendix files. This includes footnotes and links. The viewers will be pleasantly surprised (impressed, even) that you were so prepared.
10) Follow up. If you have a separate leave-behind deck, don’t send it ahead of time. Instead, tell the investor/viewer you’ll be happy to send it after your presentation. This keeps them from reading ahead or being distracted while you’re doing your thing. Also, try to use the end of your session to set up a time and day for your next communication with that person. Then, as soon as your teleconference is done, send a followup email of thanks, with a confirmation of your next meeting.