Recap: What you (would) have learned at the “How to Pitch your Startup” Workshop

It’s in the packed conference room of the Desjardins Lab that the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship hosted the “How to Pitch your Startup” workshop on February 2. More than 150 aspiring entrepreneurs and curious students attended – to receive tips on how to pitching your startup in 5 minutes in a convincing, powerful, and interest-arousing manner.

The workshop was divided into two parts: first, a presentation addressing the content and structure of the pitch was delivered by Maher Ayari, President of the Dobson Student Executive Team and Renjie Butalid, Marketing & Operations Advisor. Guest speaker Sebastian Tory-Pratt, from Weave Marketing then guided the audience through his presentation on Deck Design for Non-designers 101 presentation.

A photo posted by renjie (@renjieb) on

Maher and Renjie first went through the many topics that a startup pitch should address: a precise definition of the target customer and the market potential behind it, the merits of your product as the perfect solution to the consumer’s need, the business model that will turn your startup into a profitable venture, your competition and your relative positioning, the uniqueness of your team, and finally what’s next in the development of the project.

“The content is the engine of your presentation”

Quite a lot of information to fit into a 5-minutes pitch… but that’s why the Q&A session exists. Overall, getting the content of your pitch right hangs upon three things:

Maher Ayari and Renjie Butalid teaching some tips on how to pitch your startup
  • 1. Do your homework

The people to whom you are pitching (especially in the context of the McGill Dobson Cup) should not be able to call you out on anything inaccurate or fundamental gray areas in your presentation. The presenters pointed out that while it is OK to still be in the process of tinkering around a little, it is essential to show your potential investors and mentors that you put a lot of thought and work into the project you are developing.

  • 2. Invest in your team

Renjie and Maher also stressed how important having a solid team is. In the life of a startup, and especially at its earliest stages, the product, business model, and target consumer will probably evolve a lot. But what judges (and investors, for that matter) want to know is that your team is strong enough to be able to manage upcoming changes to finally develop the right offer.

  • 3. Practice. Repeat.

Finally, your pitch is your chance of getting a second meeting. Getting the people to whom you’re pitching to interested in your project is essential, and the best way to get them on board is to take them along on a 5-minute journey through your idea. For that journey to take place, you’ll need to come prepared: practicing your presentation many times is the key to being able to pitch your beloved startup smoothly and articulately.

Designing: “It’s not about the tools”

The second part of the workshop was animated by Sebastian who used his experience as a web designer to give the audience his best tips on how to design slides that effectively convey your message and help make your pitch stand out from others.

For illustrative purposes, Sebastien used a set of (really) terrible slides from the US government that he completely redesigned in order to make the best practices for slide design evident for everyone. As with the first part of the workshop, I tried to distinguish key takeaways from Sebastian’s presentation:

Sebastien Tory-Pratt giving tips on how to design slides for geared towards non-designers.
  • 1. Conveying your message

“The main and only role of the deck of slides displayed during the pitch is to support you, not to replace you,” Sebastian first asserted. What’s on the slides should serve three purposes: 1) add emotional impact to your words, 2) summarize information, or 3) highlight key points of the presentation. Keeping it simple is the best way to ensure that the slides display useful information, without distracting the judges from listening to you.

  • 2. Reducing clutter

The initial slide from the US government was striking because of how crowded and overall unreadable it was. Sebastian walked the attendees through progressive alterations to the slide, illustrating his guidelines on how to make your slides impactful along the way. Some of his tips included using no more than two fonts, minimizing text, or using analogous colors to set the overall aesthetic of your presentation.

Attendees at the “How to Pitch Your Startup” Workshop on February 2, 2017 – hosted at Desjardins Lab

The workshop was a great learning experience and both presentations were followed by dynamic Q&A sessions during which attendees were able to ask for clarifications.

The Semi-Final and Final of this year’s McGill Dobson Cup 2017 powered by National Bank, held respectively from February 14 to 17, and March 22, and with the Awards Ceremony hosted on March 30, will be the perfect occasions for the contestants to apply everything they learned during that workshop to win the votes of the judges.

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Charlotte Gauthron

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Sciences Po Paris, Charlotte decided to join the Desautels Faculty of Management, where she’s now pursuing a BCom, majoring in Information Systems. Now a staff writer for The Dobson Chronicles, she loves learning about new ideas. She hopes to one day be able to find her dream job - one that will allow her to reconcile her deep interest for social enterprise with her love of food.