Preparing to judge a business plan competition: what should one look for in a presentation?

The final round of TowsonGlobal’s Business Plan Competition is almost here, and I am very excited to be a part of the panel of judges for the final presentations. I am especially looking forward to learning more about each company and want to see how creative and effective the participants can be. After all, pitching a business idea in front of a panel of judges is a great opportunity, and having a good presentation is key. Even the smallest details can make the difference between getting funded or not.

Because I am a newcomer in the entrepreneur world, I conducted some research to prepare for judging. I asked myself two questions: What do prospective investors look for in a business pitch? What “seals the deal”? According to Inc.com, one mistake entrepreneurs usually make is to focus presentations on their business or technology, instead of talking about financial opportunities. Investors are more interested in learning how the person will make money, rather than what the product or service is about. Entrepreneurs should focus on how they will benefit a target market, know their competitors, and define marketing strategies.

Most presenters use PowerPoint slides, so it is important that they are well done and organized. The presentation should be no longer than fifteen slides. Fonts should be large and readable from a distance. Concise slides with bullets, graphs, tables and numbers, are helpful. Preparing handouts is also a must. Sometimes technology fails, and it is best not to be empty handed.

Investors also focus on demeanor and speech. One has to be as clear, direct, and use terminology that the audience will understand. Investors do not want to be dazzled by rich vocabulary; they want to know exactly what they are getting themselves into. Being aware of body language is important. Moving around too much, or not maintaining eye contact could send off the wrong message and make a presenter look unapproachable.

Above all, one must be prepared. Knowing the presentation well increases confidence and enthusiasm, which is exactly what investors look for the most. If the speaker trusts himself, and truly believes in his business, investors will too.

I am very thankful to be a part of this competition and experience first-hand how entrepreneurs and investors come together. I cannot wait to see what will happen on April 11th. Good luck to all participants!

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