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The ABC show ‘Shark Tank’, now in its sixth season, is indeed a masterclass in negotiation, pitching, presentation and influence, all rolled into one. A show where hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to investors (sharks) to convince them to invest in the entrepreneur’s venture.

Having been through pitching my new business over the last two years, I resonate with the passion I see in the show. During these two years, I have also had the opportunity to coach entrepreneurs, business leaders, chief executives and sales teams to communicate with impact and help them fine-tune their presentation process. As I watch ‘Shark Tank’, I can see there are tonnes of lessons an entrepreneur can derive from the show—on negotiation, the art of listening, valuation, scalability, leverage, etc.

However, today, I would like to share some lessons on pitching that I have gleaned from all the binge watching. Tips on how to get a pitch to be credible, viable and persuasive enough for someone to believe in you and want to put their money on your idea.

1. Personalize your presentation

Customizing your message for your audience pays rich dividends. The entrepreneurs who do their research about the investors are able to tie their idea into the investors’ personal interests, or explain similarities with ideas they have successfully backed in the past. These are the entrepreneurs that have the best chance of getting a deal with the sharks.

This seems like a really simple idea, but I have rarely seen people make this effort. How many times have we been guilty of making a “canned" presentation?

How many times have we started working on a new presentation on the remains of a previous one?

Most people—from leaders to business development managers—give the same presentation over and over again irrespective of the audience in front of them. The excuse is always lack of time.

Well, as everywhere else, even in impactful communication, there aren’t any short-cuts. While I have my list of questions about the audience that I like to have answers to before I start working on the presentation, I’d like to point you to a brilliant free resource available online. Google Mackay 66, a detailed battery of questions about the audience designed by Harvey Mackay, bestselling author of the book ‘Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive’.

Simple things like using title slides customized for the audience, using the tribal language of the group, referring to people in the audience by their names and referring to specific challenges you know they have can all go a long way to establish the connect. People care when they see that you have made the effort. As a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt says,“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care."

2. People buy you first

Taking the liberty to remould the quote above, I would say, “People don’t care about your idea before they care about you."

Episode after episode, I have heard the sharks say, “I can’t invest in you" more often than “Your business plan doesn’t deserve this valuation."

When you are presenting your idea, ask yourself: would people invest in me? This is about personal credibility and believability. Any angel investor, venture capitalist, or anyone from a private equity fund will tell you that they invest in the founder as much as in the idea.

This is where beginning your presentation with your personal connection stories becomes so powerful (read about this in my column published on 14 April, ‘Connection stories to build rapport’). Connection stories help your listeners make an inference about your character and help you build rapport.

3. Know your math

Knowing your numbers increases your credibility. After all, the sharks will put money if they believe you know exactly where you are going. If you asked for a crore for 10% equity, then you must know all numbers that support the 10 crore valuation. The investors would want to know why it is worth that amount. Sales projections (unit, revenue), asset values currently held and required, margin, overheads, costs, advertising-sales ratios.

The dump yard of the ‘Shark Tank’ is heaped with entrepreneurs who did not show an acute understanding of numbers along with their display of passion. In my 21 years across corporates, I have seen potential partners come to sell us everything from hardware to software to services of every kind. And I have seen many perish because they responded to questions on facts, figures and numbers with “may I get back to you on that" or with an answer fabricated on the spot and demolished within seconds.

4. Show and tell

With show and tell, the narrative moves from an idea to something real. When abstraction moves to concreteness, it makes it easier for people to be persuaded.

Many an unsuccessful contestant in ‘Shark Tank’ floundered when they couldn’t bring alive their idea and couldn’t give a demonstration. One of the most successful pitches was by an entrepreneur named Adam Riley with a foldable electric skateboard.

One of the judges even used it on the spot and it worked perfectly.

Riley had all the sharks battling each other to invest. Can you think of how you can bring your product or service alive in your next presentation and make it tangible?

5. Tell a good story

As a communication consultant and coach, my clients and I have time and again seen the impact that a well-told narrative can have. It is also a very important skill to influence the sharks. My definition of a story is: a fact wrapped in context and delivered with emotion. A good approach to sharing a business story or a vision is using the clarity story pattern I described in detail in my previous column on 26 May, ‘Why don’t strategies stick?’

Without a good story, your product or service is just another also-ran. It is like many other product and service pitches that the same audience has heard before. Persuasive stories add context, emotion and relevance to your offering, and raise it from being something mediocre to something magical. Something we all want to be part of. So go ahead and add these tips to your next pitch and then let me know how it went.

Indranil Chakraborty is founder, An unabridged version of this column is available on

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