How to start a presentation: Start the pitch like an olympic sprinter

How to start a pitch like an Olympic Sprinter & mistakes to avoid when starting your presentation.

Table of Contents

Introduction - How to start a pitch?

Both sprinters competing in a race and founders pitching their business need to:

  1. Explode out of the starting blocks – start strong and stand out instantly
  2. Prepare and train – practice hard for this one demonstration of skill and expertise 
  3. Control the power and flow of energy – have sustained momentum for the beginning, middle and end of the race and pitch
  4. Inspire the audience – give an impressive display of excellence and mastery, prove you are world-class

Analogy breakdown - how to start a presentation

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1 – Explode out of the blocks.

Start your pitch with focus and passion, a pitch needs to start quickly and be impressive, as your audience’s attention is not guaranteed. Your audience has no extra brain energy to listen and process new information unless it gives them value. Respect the audience for being there and share what will help them make a clear decision of whether to engage with you in future conversations.

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2 – Prepare and train.

Prepare for the pitch opening eight seconds and start strong as this shows mastery of the subject and the context. Starting a pitch with a slow story, or dense information that is not a priority for the audience shows that you don’t understand the pitch context. If the start of the pitch is slow, then the audience starts to think, wow, how long will this take? Do I want to spend time listening to this? What’s in it for me? It also shows you do not respect their time and attention. 

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3 – Control the power and flow of energy.

It is not about starting strong and then burning out before the end. A sprinter needs to save a burst of power for crossing the finish line. A pitch needs to start fast but controlled so that the end doesn’t fizzle out, missing a call to action or by running out of time and crashing into the end. Starting and finishing strong shows a high level of control.

4 – Inspire the audience.

Being in control inspires the audience, it commands attention. People are willing to give you attention if they can see what is in it for them and how they get an ROI on their investment of time. The audience of a stage presentation or pitch is there because they have a notion there is value to be found. Place the value you share front and centre, do not bury it under facts which may be true yet have little impact and use in the pitch.

BUT

Starting you pitch like a sprinter does not mean having uncontrolled energy which starts off at breakneck speed out of control. 

It does not mean speaking so fast that the audience has trouble following your points and amplifies your nerves. 

Neither does it mean that the fastest pitch wins, it’s not just a case of getting it done. 

It means pitching with an explosive controlled start.

Pitching Online

Starting a pitch strong is relevant for both in person as well as online pitches. Pitching online is part of modern work, whichever tool or platform you use the principles of pitching are evergreen and having a sprinter’s mindset will always help you. Click here to read another blog post sharing ten online pitching tips.

 

In 2020 I was involved in a wide range of online pitching events, as a coach, mentor and panelist at demo days and I want to share some common errors I have seen which don’t have to happen and which stop you pitching like a sprinter.

Mistakes to avoid in the start of your presentation

Mistake #1, Starting slow

I have seen countless founders start slow, not with controlled intention but unprepared for the pitch race’s starting gun. 

For example, when it comes time to share slides, they were not ready, they had too many non-essential apps and windows open on their computers. This results in the start of a pitch having massive potential for confusion and loss of focus. It is like you still being in the dressing room, and stretching whilst your fellow sprinters are taking their position in the starting blocks. 

As the sprinter prepares herself for the race, a moment she has invested hours of her life in being ready for. You the founder should do the same – at this moment be prepared to do nothing else except to deliver a standout pitch. 

Answering a quick email two minutes before the pitch is not smart work. Tweaking a slide just before showtime is a sign of indecision and will more likely trip you up rather than improve your pitch. Not clearing your desktop of other windows and apps means your focus is not 100% on the upcoming pitch. 

Remember, scheduling a pitch takes a ton of time and effort. A sprinter lives for the moment to perform. Despite all the other demands on your time, you need to think of your pitch in the same way. Nothing else matters right now apart from a strong start and an impressive display of expertise.

Mistake #2, Starting at the beginning

A chronological story is not the right content for a pitch. 

The start of a race is not when a sprinter tells the crowd how long they had trained for, when they first started competing or how many other medals they have won. The race in front of them is the time to show all the hard work results, not describe the work itself. 

The feedback I often share with founders is to start a pitch with the most exciting, inspiring and relevant content first. There is no value in starting at the beginning. Start with the action, excite, engage and command attention. The prize of a pitch is awareness, interest and a future conversation. 

An about page on a website, a resume, a handout provides important context; the pitch is the best content for the audience in front of you—stories of success which will inspire future action.

Mistake #3, Too much detail

Whilst important, they are not essential for the sprint to audience attention and awareness. 

A stadium filled with race fans wants to see the outcome, the thrill of competition, and world-class performers proving their ability. In a pitch, the audience wants to see results in action, proof of future potential and growth.

The finer details can be discussed and analysed after the race. Whether 60 seconds or six minutes, a pitch is the time to start strong and define enough context to guide the audience but not overwhelm them with technical explanation or details. 

Define context by sharing who you help, why this matters and an overview of how it works. 

The prize of a pitch prize is the opportunity to race again and take your audience on a more extended, more in-depth reveal of what you do. 

However, you need the audience’s permission first, and this will come once they see the value and ROI of their attention.

Mistake #4, Where is the hook?

A story hook takes your audience from where they are in their heads to where you want to take them to be. 

I feel the hook at the start of a pitch is often overlooked because it is designed from the founder’s viewpoint and not the audiences’. Starting your pitch strong requires a hook, a relevant story which catches attention. 

A slow start to a pitch shifts the responsibility onto the audience and makes them do the hard work of turning into you. Yet you have the stage; your pitch is the tool to transform the moment of focus onto what you want other people to become aware of. 

Time and attention are non-refundable assets. Do not waste them by taking too long to get to the point. 

Conclusion

A sprinter invests hours training and preparing for one moment, they work on their physical strength, their psychological toughness. 

They build routines and habits designed to help them be in an ultimate state of body and mind for the moment when it counts. No matter if they are competing in the 100m or 400m. Years of work have been invested in being ready for a 10-60 second display of their expertise.

A pitch can be your opening line at a networking event to hold your audience’s attention or six to ten minutes in front of investors introducing your business and seeking investment. 

Regardless of the duration, a pitch needs to start strong, so your audience is with you from the beginning. 

Pitch like a sprinter and explode out of the starting blocks, start strong, and stand out instantly. 

Prepare and train, practice hard for this one demonstration of skill and expertise. 

Control your power and flow of energy, you need sustained momentum for the beginning, middle, and end of the race and pitch. 

Inspire your audience, give an impressive display of excellence and mastery, prove you are world-class.

Pitch your ideas at every opportunity you can and start strong, pitch like an Olympic sprinter.

Martin Barnes is a pitching coach who has worked with 100’s of founders and entrepreneurs, inspiring them to pitch their business stories and pitch for attention because attention is the bridge from your business to creating value.

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13 thoughts on “How to start a presentation – Pitch like an Olympic sprinter”

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