How to run a Demo Day pitch event

I’ve run more than 100 demo days and have learned the hard way what to do and what not to do. Follow these tips to make sure your event runs smoothly and your startups look their best!

Participant Instructions

Be draconian strict about the slide format. Make everyone follow it and don’t let them make changes at the last minute. Here are the instructions that I send to the people who are pitching:

  • Be visual. Use big pictures and bullet points to remind you of the details that you will explain, but don’t write the details on the slide. You want them to be listening to you, not reading the slide.
  • Slides must be in 16×9 format (this is the wide-screen version — the alternative is standard 4×3)
  • Slides must be provided in PDF format. You can create them in Keynote, Powerpoint, or any program you want as long as you export them to PDF. Even if you used the same program and version that I am using, you must export to PDF and we will import the slides. That’s the only way to make sure they look right and have the correct fonts.
  • No animations are allowed. They are rarely necessary, usually problematic, and won’t work with PDFs. You can create simple animations by using multiples slides. Most presentation software has an option to do this automatically when exporting to PDF.
  • If you want to include a video, provide the video as a .mp4 or .mov file separate from the PDF with a placeholder slide where the video should go. We will insert the video manually and set it to autoplay as soon as the slide loads.
  • We will play a fun, high energy song as you walk on stage (here are some examples). If you have any preferences send me a link to the song on iTunes and we’ll do our best to accommodate.
  • Your slides must be received 72 hours before the event and cannot be changed after that time. It takes many hours for us to compile the master deck. Making last-minute changes is error-prone and puts other people’s presentations at risk in addition to yours.
  • Your audience is broad including consumers, entrepreneurs, investors and press. You should focus on clearly explaining the problem you solve and how you do it as well as what your basic business model is. Make sure that it is clear what stage you are at — is this an idea or is it a product that in available for the public to use? What kind of customer traction do you have?
  • End with an ask of the audience. How can they help you? “Come by booth #54 after the pitch” or “Back us on Kickstarter” or “Follow us on Twitter” or “We’re looking for a lead developer.”
  • Bring lots of business cards and be prepared to stay around and talk to people after the pitch.

The Master Deck

All of the decks they send you get compiled into one master deck — often with hundreds of slides and hundreds of megabytes in size.

This way there is no switching between decks and once you have it set up and tested nothing changes that can mess up the display systems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the projector get confused when switching from one presentation to another. Even the music can be built into the presentation deck so that it automatically starts and stops by itself.

I recommend using Keynote on a Mac. Powerpoint works well too. I would avoid Prezi, Google Slides, or other network dependent solutions. Make sure you have the latest version of whatever you are using.

  1. Start with last year’s deck. This is always a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  2. Order the presenters to create strong beginnings and endings. Put the best presentation at the end and the second best presentation at the beginning.
  3. Update all obvious things that are out of date such as speaker names and dates
  4. Create a title slide for each team presenting; put them in alphabetical order
  5. Use PDFtoKeynote to convert each file back to Keynote. Choose the correct size and save to Keynote ’09 format.
  6. Drag and drop each presentation under it’s title slide (indented one level). Spot check them to make sure the slides look correct and are sized properly.
  7. If any presentations have video, insert it into the deck on the correct slide. Check that it has the correct starting point and also check the sound levels so that all of the videos are the same.
  8. Put transitions on all of the slides — Dissolve .75 seconds
  9. Put intro music on each title slide and make sure the song is set to autoplay as soon as the slide comes on (here is a playlist of good ones).
  10. Compress the Keynote file into a .zip file
  11. Upload to Dropbox and also put it on a USB thumb drive. Test it on 2 laptop computers that you will have available at the event.

Pitch Practice

Leading up to the event, have multiple opportunities for the participants to practice their pitch and get feedback. Practice is the most important factor in how the finished product looks.

It’s a good idea to preschedule a few practice sessions in-person and also encourage teams to record their pitch and send you the video to review. You don’t want to be seeing their presentation for the first time on stage!

5 Secrets to a Killer Elevator Pitch

Audio-Visual Setup

Every venue has different requirements but here are some general suggestions.

Try to have two microphones available so that the person speaking can use one while the person “on deck” is getting ready with the other one.

If possible, have a “confidence monitor” facing the presenter so that he or she can see the slides that are displayed on the screen without turning around.

Have a handheld clicker for advancing the slides and make the exact same one available for presenters to try out during the practice run so they know how it works.

On-stage Instructions

It’s a good idea to get the presenters up on the stage before the event so they are comfortable with the environment and know what to expect. Here are a few tips to give them the day of the event.

  • Line up backstage or sidestage in the order that you are going to present.
  • Walk out slowly and calmly when you hear the music start and you logo is on the screen.
  • Stop on the X taped on the ground that shows you where to stand.
  • Take a deep breath and look at the audience. When you are ready, click to advance the slide which will stop the music and show your first slide.
  • When you’re finished, advance to the next slide so that you hear the music start playing.
  • Walk off stage and hand the clicker to the next presenter.
  • Hand the microphone to the presenter on deck.

Panel Instructions

Many pitch events have a panel of judges to score the presenters or ask them questions in front of the audience.

If you have a few minutes for Q&A with the panelists in addition to the presentation time, suggest that each panelist to try and ask one question of each presenter.

Suggest that the panelists keep their questions short — around 10 seconds — to leave plenty of time for the answer.

Give the panelists a scorecard that shows them what criteria you want to judge the startups on. Are you evaluating their business or their pitch? Something else? Make sure everyone is clear.

Email the panelists 2–3 days prior with basic information about the startups that are presenting — company name, tagline, website URL, AngelList URL

Email the presenters 2–3 days prior with basic information about the panelists — name, title, company, LinkedIn URL

Awards are less about how rigorous the judging is and more about getting extra exposure for the presenters. We usually do the judging after the event so that the audience doesn’t have to wait. The main benefit at that point is so that the presenters can announce on social media that they won an award.

Run of Show

Have a master spreadsheet in Google Sheets that is shared with everyone who is helping to coordinate the event. Include contact info for all participants, the budget, the run of show, and any other details in this one document.

Script everything down to the minute.

Start asking everyone to be seated 15 minutes before you want to start. Have a group of volunteers ready to assist with the cat herding.

Start with a video. Dim the house lights and start playing the video with the volume fairly loud and people will naturally quiet down and start listening. As the video ends, the first speaker can walk out and start talking.

End with the pitches. If you want to have announcements or guest speakers do that before the pitch session. The pitches can take a while and people are usually tired by the end.

Have an intermission if your entire program is longer than 2 hours.

Bring everyone on stage for a photo at the end.

How to run a Demo Day pitch event was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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