Thursday, May 22, 2008

Communicating with Dragons - or anybody else

Across Canada, dozens of excited entrepreneurs are nervously preparing the pitches they will deliver to the Dragons when CBC’s Dragons' Den show starts taping next week.

One of them called me this week about helping prepare her pitch. So we talked. And I was pleased to see that a six-step formula I use for helping entrepreneurs market their business works just as well in pitching to fire-breathing multi-millionaires.

That formula: Know your objectives; Understand your audience; Identify your message; Communicate it as concisely and effectively as you can (painting word pictures where possible); Find creative, memorable ways to communicate; and Encourage audience feedback.

Here’s what we did:

1. I asked the entrepreneur to identify her objectives. Did she really want to win Dragon capital, was she out for the publicity, or did she want to win the “people’s choice” award of $75,000 cash?

2. Once we settled that, we determined how to reach our goal. We decided we needed to present the most credible pitch we could. We didn't want to shock, surprise, or impress anyone with our arrogance. In the context of Dragons’ Den, that meant three things: positioning the business as a legitimate growth opportunity; presenting the entrepreneur as a credible, capable business decision-maker; and explaining why the Dragons’ participation would make a big difference.

We even ended up changing the amount of money the entrepreneur would ask for, to ensure it matched our strategic goal.

3. We then wrote up a one-page pitch that met those three criteria. That meant discarding a lot of details about the business and “future plans” that would be nice to mention, but aren't essential when you only have a minute or two to pitch. Knowing that the Dragons may interrupt and start throwing questions at you after 15 seconds helps concentrate the mind wonderfully.

4. Once we knew what we wanted to say, we focused on how to say it memorably. That meant using specific, visual imagery and examples – and the occasional saucy quip - that will resonate in people’s minds and help this entrepreneur make a direct connection with the Dragons. We also worked on concise, focused descriptions of what the business does – a new set of verbal branding tools – to help her make a more professional impact.

5. Then we took that a step further by developing a creative framework for the presentation: an introductory “hook” that would create immediate reactions and invoke favorable impressions. To communicate with impact, you have to stand out from the crowd.

6. There’s one thing you can count on in the Dragons’ Den: feedback. We thought carefully about what the Dragons might say and the questions they might ask, and we incorporated many of the answers back into the presentation (to discourage interruptions until she’s finished her pitch). We also took a little content out of the presentation and held it back for the Q&A session, so the entrepreneur would have some creative, credible responses ready to go.

Will it work? I think so. Thinking strategically about your messaging always pays off. If a message is worth communicating, take the time to focus it, and then deliver it in a memorable way.

But we’ll all know for sure when the Dragons return to TV in October.


Anonymous said...

It's always a good idea to practice your pitch beforehand. It can be brutal watching that show with people who haven't put enough preparation into their presentation because the Dragons can make even the sharpest person look like a total idiot in a couple of minutes. I think more women on the Dragon panel would definitely soften things up.

Anonymous said...

I think the panel need to hard on everyone that is trying to pitch their deal and if they are not prepared then they should be dragged through the coals. They already know what to expect and if someone can't even get something as simple as registering their (idea) or company domain to increase their leverage then they certainly don't deserve to be there. I look forward to this season...


Unknown said...

Sound advice. I am a UK based investor and had some dealing recently with TV channels following businesses. (see It is a little dificult to control how you can come across as they have so much footage but your process will certainly help here also as it focusses the conversation

Anonymous said...

Good advice. I'm looking forward to the show's premiere in Octobe. A buddy of mine is working on the set right now, but he's pretty tight lipped about all the filming.