Pitching practice

At least once a year, there are lots of sweaty palms and dry throats at the University Club.

That might seem strange at an establishment where most normally go to relax, but plenty of people get the jitters when the MIT Enterprise Forum conducts one of its elevator pitch sessions.

The program allows entrepreneurs the opportunity to stand in front of a roomful of investors, professional service providers and fellow business owners and give a 60-second pitch for their business.

The sessions serve several purposes. They give the money people an opportunity to sniff out potential investment opportunities, and onlookers get a chance to see others try out their pitches in front of an audience and gain valuable pointers for themselves. Entrepreneurs with the gumption to speak publicly about their enterprises get valuable practice for their presentations and feedback to help them improve their pitch.

The most recent crop of presenters ranged from a film producer looking for cash to finance a project to a wireless telecommunications company. Most were selected before the evening of the program, but a few were offered the opportunity to give an impromptu pitch.

One of the objectives of an elevator pitch is to pique the interest of a potential investor as quickly and poignantly as possible.

“The goal is to have someone say, ‘Tell me more,'” says Mel Pirchesky, principal in Eagle Ventures and an investor who has put together more than $50 million in equity in more than 30 deals.

Pirchesky, a proponent of entrepreneurs taking the opportunity to practice their pitch every chance they get, was one of four panelists on hand to offer critiques of the pitches. Much of the advice centered on what potential investors are looking for and on presentation styles.

Debra Fox, founder and president of Fox Learning Systems, a former television reporter and another panelists, put a lot emphasis on the subtle messages sent by the presenter’s body language.

Several of the pitches, the panelists offered, lacked an understandable explanation of what their business proposed to do and why it would be an attractive investment opportunity.

Ultimately, entrepreneurs looking for money need to be passionate about their business proposition, clear about its value proposition and natural in their delivery.

Says Fox: “One of the most important things about elevator pitches is that you’ve got to sell yourself.” How to reach: MIT Enterprise Forum, www.mitforumpgh.com