Pitching: it’s become part of the zeitgeist of not only the startup world, but also modern culture at large. High-profile success stories combined with shows like Shark Tank have made pitching a hot topic for most aspiring entrepreneurs, but unfortunately it’s not as easy as many might think. In fact, an astounding 1 in 2000 startups actually receive VC funding – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to work on a pitch. While it’s a longshot, VC is always possible, and even if you don’t pursue or secure VC funding, you’ll likely need to make hundreds of pitches over the life of your startup – to family, to friends, and to prospective partners and customers. And thankfully, there are a few simple tips that you can apply to take your pitch from awkward to Angel-ready.

KVP’s & USP’s – Acronyms That Make A Difference

Perhaps the most important part of your pitch is your Key Value Proposition (KVP), also called your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This is your ‘secret sauce’ – it’s the number one thing that makes you and your business special, that puts you above the competition, and that primes your business for long-term success. One thing that’s critical to understand about your KVP, though, is that it isn’t a feature – it’s a benefit. If you’re Uber, your KVP isn’t that you have a map built into your app, that you have social logins, or that you have a real-time tracking function that allows users to see their cars as they arrive. Uber’s KVP is that it can get its customers a ride in less than 5 minutes – at the tap of a screen. When talking about your KVP or USP, always frame it in terms of what benefit it delivers to the customer – not the nuts and bolts features that make the benefit possible.

Projecting Your Assumptions

Chances are if you’re pitching, you’ll need to go over your projections. These are the financial forecasts you’ve made for your business, and they outline how much money you expect to need, how significantly you’ll turn a profit, and – most importantly – how fast you expect to grow. The key here, though, isn’t just having projections for formality’s sake. It’s critical that your projections be based on real data, and when you pitch, you’ll need to know that data like the back of your hand. Any experienced investor will have come across hundreds of pitches with faulty projections before, so you have to be prepared when they try to tear yours apart with questions. Anytime you deliver projections of any kind – user base, financial, or otherwise – always be prepared with what information your projections are based on and how you will achieve those projections.

Write Your Own Story

On one level, a pitch is a presentation of factual – or at least factually-based – information: it’s you telling people about your business. On another level, though, a pitch is a story. For five, ten, or fifteen minutes, you have the opportunity to tell your audience a story about your business. So use it that way! Take the data, the analytics, and the critical thinking you’ve put into creating you pitch, then weave all of it into an engaging narrative. Remember, you’re not just pitching people for their wallets, you’re pitching them for their emotional buy-in – and doing that relies on a convincing, effective narrative just as much as good projections and sound assumptions.

Close Pandora’s Box

Here’s a simple tip that will take you miles in any competitive pitching competition, and it’s ludicrously easy to implement: never, ever, ever, ever, ever use the word “hope.” No matter how true it may be, never explain that you “hope” to reach a certain level of users, that you “hope” to pull ahead of your competition, or that you “hope” to generate a 10x return for investors. Say you believe you will, and more importantly, explain what facts that belief rests on and what actions you’ll take to make it a reality.

While pitching may not be as common, easy, or effective of an endeavor as popular culture leads us to believe, it’s still a critical part of the startup community and a crucial skill for anyone who wants to start a business. These tips aren’t all inclusive, but they’ll help set you on the path to a more effective, engaging pitch – so get out there and get pitching!

Creative Commons untitled” by JoeyKyber is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.