"*Article originally published on CityBizList"

Our last ReSET focused on the clarity and chaos of pitching to a panel of judges you’ve never met, all while facing a room of entrepreneurs who weren’t as lucky as you to get into the light… This all happened at TEDCO’sannual Entrepreneurs’ Expo. Sound like this experience isn’t relevant to you (or me)? Think again.

Yada Yada. I don’t care whether the pitch is to a venture capitalist or a potential customer; whether you’re a company of one or a thousand; whether it spontaneously occurs at a networking event or at a meeting you scheduled weeks ago. Odds are those listening would rather be doing something else, or there’s something more pressing on their mind, or whatever. They might hide it well, perhaps being patronizingly pleasant, asking politely the wrong questions; or perhaps they’re not that agreeable, glancing at their watch, or sitting in silence simply letting you atrophy while your 15 minutes wind down.

Warhol was Wrong. You don’t get 15 minutes; you barely get a chance to tell your story. And if you approach it wrong, you will have failed long before the bell tolls. “Fast Pitch” was the event I moderated at TEDCO’s Expo. Three minutes with no Q&A, no time to prepare, just feedback. While the businesses presented were incredibly varied, those that succeeded told a story, with clarity and cadence; they didn’t view their three minutes as punishment for those listening, packing everything imaginable into the moment.

What to Pack. Few nail their shtick with such simplicity. It is tempting to pack everything into the moment – ensuring every crevice is seen. Spend too much time on technology, you get questions on market; too much on customers, concerns arise on distribution strategy, or competitors, or price... Those that nail their shtick cover far less, knowing that they’ve missed some areas. Counter-intuitive and fraught with risk, right? Wrong. They don’t cover less; they cover what matters.

The End in Mind. Therein lies the challenge (and the opportunity). They focus on a story with a few themes which they’ve worked hard to identify as of potential concern. They focus not features and benefits, but target anticipated pain points. When I debriefed with the judges at TEDCO’s Expo, I learned that every presenter left them with unanswered questions. That didn’t matter. For a few presenters, their curiosity wasn’t idle; they genuinely wanted to know more. And, whether you’re big or little, or raising capital, or seeking customers or partners, isn’t the goal to pique actionable interest and not idle curiosity? To get another meeting and hone in on the opportunity with greater clarity? Hopefully, if you’re paying attention to the roots of the questions asked, not to “what” they’re focused on but to the “why”, you will have greater clarity around the opportunity. Then you will know what to pack next time. By the way, it will still fit into a carry-on.

With more than 25 years’ experience in law and business, Newt Fowler, a partner in Womble Carlyle’s business practice, advises many investors, entrepreneurs and technology companies, guiding them through all aspects of business planning, financing transactions, technology commercialization and M&A. He chairs the Board of TEDCO and serves on the Boards of the Economic Alliance of Baltimore, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake.