How Not to Piss People Off When You Present to Them


This is part of my series on Entrepreneurial Culture and University Entrepreneurship.

I was recently part of a pitch competition event which was actually pretty important for the entrepreneurs doing the pitching. I saw some things going on which frankly amazed me. Some were extremely humorous but frankly some troubled me because in several instances the presenters started royally pissing off a few of the judges. Obviously no one caused a scene or was carried out on a stretcher- but as a result, some young entrepreneurs with some very decent businesses blew themselves up and were eliminated in the closed-door session afterwards. I was of course inspired to write this only slightly tongue and cheek post with some real suggestions about how not to piss off people to whom you are presenting. I hope this helps.

  • Don't start all your responses to questions with the word "So". You really do come off sounding pompous and signal that you have never operated a business.  ie., "So I conceived of this idea whilst swimming across the Hellespont with a good friend from B school", or, "Soooo we're thinking that the pre-money valuation is.....". This will mostly piss off any entrepreneur/investor in the room over the age of fifty.
  • Don't say "that's a good question" back to the person who asked you the question. It sounds completely inauthentic and ridiculous. One presenter said this to an 85 year-old guy worth $500M+ who has launched some massive businesses in his day. The old fellow reddened visibly but kept his cool (until the closed-door session afterwards where he unloaded on this presenter). Of course he asked you a good question you jackass! He doesn't need you to tell him that you approve of and are judging the quality of his questions. Just answer the damn question and stop pissing him off!
  • If one person is not really going to present don't have them on stage with you. Often in certain student business competitions "co-founders" just stand stiffly to the side of the main presenter, often scanning the faces in the room like a secret service officer working his detail. They look ridiculous and the question surfaces at some point in people's minds- why is this guy standing there? Is he a prop, is he packing heat, is he unable to speak, what value to the venture does he add? It just ends up making people feel uncomfortable and pissing them off.
  • If you are asked a question, don't bob and weave. Either answer the question directly or tell the questioner that you do not know the answer and will get back to him or her. Anything else is disrespectful and will piss off your questioner.
  • Try not to wear a tie, especially if you don't wear one every day- remember, startups are not a fashion show. If you don't wear a tie every day- you will definitely look like you are wearing a costume. Be and dress as you always do. Also, if you insist on wearing a tie, please don't show up with a massive tie knot, (like they wear in London), that has a larger circumference than your neck. It will definitely piss people off!  
  • Don't give a canned talk with slick and practiced answers. Be prepared of course, but also be in the moment so you can really respond to the nuances of what happens during your pitch and the subsequent Q & A session. Be authentic or you will piss people off.

My point in all this is that you can have an awesome powerpoint and be super-prepared for your presentation- but if you piss off the judges/investors- all that effort has gone for naught!


For Part 26 in in this Series, click here