Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave . . . Words from Sara Bareilles’s song “Brave.”
In the early days of start-ups, particularly at the incubator stage, pitch presentations are a well-used form of attracting attention, from informal pitches and investor meetings to demo days and pitch competitions. Pitch presentations are more than words, more than slides. They should convey your point, your story, “say what you wanna say.” But, when it comes to presenting your technology, there are some opposing considerations at play.
On one hand, you want to tell the audience about your cool tech platform or exciting product development. On the flip side, you can lose your audience when you dive into the weeds. And then, even though your audience may be totally missing the point, your early disclosure of inventions can result in a loss of protection, either because you’ve created prior art for yourself on the patent side or you have let the cat out of the bag for trade secrets. Yet if you hold back on the detail, will you look squirrelly or not get the investor attention (and $$) you need?
Never fear, there is a happy medium. And one key aspect here is being comfortable and focused in your presentation. I reached out to Decker Communications (https://decker.com) to get some professional tips in the communications and presentation style arenas.
The view from a communications expert
In the discussion with Decker, we covered key points for making a start-up presentation. We also considered how these interact with your IP strategy, namely what to disclose and what to hold back, while still being able to get your story across.
Top 5 Tips for Start-Ups and the Investor Pitch
Start with a memorable hook – this can be a story about your company or why your focus came to be. No matter what, start with something more than thanking the audience for their time. Decker advises using a SHARP, their acronym for something interesting and memorable. SHARP stands for Stories, Humor, Analogies, References & Quotes, Pictures & Visuals. This is the easy part from an IP perspective – no trade secrets or patentable subject matter. It’s just artistic license and practice.
Get everyone on the same page – We are used to speaking with our internal team and close colleagues. But in a presentation to investors, you may be speaking to an audience that operates in a broad arena of technologies. Make sure they understand your foundational points – what problem does your innovation address, and why is it the best solution? Analogies can be a helpful way to get others to see the importance in your niche. Your goal is to get everyone in the room nodding their head “yes,” as early as possible.
After you align the listeners and get them nodding their heads, speak in concrete terms rather than abstract ones. Give examples. Get as specific as you can. Provide details. For instance, if you are explaining why you have chosen to work on making a synthetic protein source from microbes, explain what human foods and animal fees rely on expensive protein ingredients, how your system addresses costs and why your method will make proteins in a cheaper and better way.
Related to this point, curb your use of jargon. Many of us use acronyms all the time, realize that this short hand is often meaningless to many audiences. Also, be aware that different fields may use the same term for an entirely different meaning. An example from my own experience. I meet folks, I tell them I advise companies on IP – meaning intellectual property. But at an event that attracted a large number of software engineers, for some, IP meant “internet protocol,” and what I said made no sense in that context!
Now, on explaining technology, the more general you go, the less likely you are exposing trade secrets or giving away patentable territory. Most explanations in this territory are too general to create much of a problem.
Tell a story with focus. Audiences connect with passion, especially when its directed at a meaningful goal. Try centering your pitch around a story: why you are doing what you do, where you want it to lead and why your approach is different or improved from what is out there in the competition.
But here’s the catch. As you get into details, particularly about what differentiates your innovation from the competition, this is where you want to bring in your IP strategy. What information have you already included in a patent application (e.g. a provisional patent)? This information is typically ok to include in the presentation at some level. Other information you haven’t yet filed on, such as detailed method steps, active ingredients and formulations, new project ideas, should be left out from the presentation to protect as trade secrets. Even with a patent application filed, there may be some details you may want to hold back and not give away to your competition as an early heads-up. Instead, leave them untold until they publish with the application (typically 18 month after the application filing date).
This is a balancing act. Investors often want to understand what makes your start-up or your idea different from the existing landscape. Here is where gaining confident communication skills and integrating your communication strategy with your IP strategy comes into play. Looking at the IP landscape, you can identify key areas of differentiation and where and how you have (or will) protect these features. Then, you can weave these differentiation highlights into your story while maintaining solid IP protection.
Don’t wing it. Decker calls it one of the white lies of communication, “I don’t have to prep. I can wing it.” See more here. Outlining your talking points and practices serves dual purposes. First, from a presentation standpoint, you gain confidence and flow. You can time your talk and make sure it fits in the appropriate slot. Most audiences are not tolerant of presentations that go well beyond their allotted time. Also, by knowing your talking points, when an investor starts to lose attention or look a bit sleepy, you can easily transition to a new and more exciting point to grab back attention.
Preparation is also key from an IP protection standpoint. By planning ahead, you can decide what details are already protected and therefore can be disclosed publicly and others that need to remain under wraps. You can think through potential questions and formulate answers that provide a meaningful response, again without giving up ground on your IP protection strategy. Finally, advance preparation also allows you to consult your IP counsel ahead of the presentation and to safeguard your IP through proactive provisional patent filings before your talk.
Like many facets of starting a company, communication skills are a key piece to align with other strategy inputs including IP.
For more information on the offering Decker Communications or contact Jeanel Carlson directly at 415-543-8100. For more from Decker Communication on key skills, checkout the following Decker blogs:
- Be Brief. Be Bright. Be Gone
- SHARPen your edge
- Become aware of your curse of knowledge
- Cut down the jargon
- Hook your audience
- Tell a story
For more on synergies with other facets of start-up life, as well as general IP strategy tips, see more at http://ingensity.com/blog/.
The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and does not offer legal advice. Circumstances are fact-specific and you should consult an attorney for legal advice concerning your individual issues.
 IngensityTM IP and Decker Communications are independent businesses, with no agency for profit between them.