Why the way to the angels lies through the subway, how to make venture capitalists laugh out loud, why the morgue audience is “content” and what’s easier to forgive: mistakes, terrible English accent or debt?
Honestly, there is no chance to find an investor there. Though there is a small possibility, as the size of the atomic nucleus, but you’d have to spend a dozen years in the subway and continuously present your project to the passengers.
Actually, I needed to practice my English speech in front of business angels and venture capitalists. My English limps on both hands, because the legs are just dragging behind (if you didn’t get it, my English is very poor :)). For this reason, all my English speeches start with this introduction (with an outstanding accent, of course):
– Тудэй ю вил лёрн эбаут зе грэйт продукт энд инджой май фэйбулос инглиш!
After a few silent seconds the audience understands that this was a joke and they start to laugh. From this point, I am excused of all my mistakes and terrible English accent, because people can turn a blind eye on flaws, if they like the speaker, who doesn’t try to act like a smarty-pants.
But that’s not enough to make the pitch sound convincing and remarkable. You need practice and constant rewriting. On the demo day, at the Starta Accelerator, I used the sixth version of my presentation, which I had prepared two months before.
I had spoken on several occasions: press conferences with journalists, public speeches, live broadcasts on TV, radio, etc., so I was pretty calm.
Upon arrival, I collected the Sonr (our new project) pitch according to a standard plan and presented it in English in front of the partners. And… it was my worst presentation in 20 years, though I had quite a lot of experience: press conferences with journalists, public speeches, live broadcasts on TV, radio, etc. Well, the thing is, I always spoke in my native language and in front of the people who knew me. This time, it was all different.
While speaking, I started forgetting English sentence structures, so I was getting nervous, I was going back, I was messing up, blushed, turned pale and freaked out, and it seemed that it was my first public speaking experience.
Every week we performed to improve the presentation. When I realized how the presentation structure works, I started working on how to speak without stammering, because every speech pause (regardless of language or nerves barrier) creates an image of an insecure speaker. And since the dude doesn’t know what he’s talking about, why believe him?
A month later, I memorized the whole text presentation and I learnt to feel more confident, though it still seemed that I didn’t understand what I was saying and that I didn’t believe in my own product. So, a week before my “graduation”, which would be attended by over a hundred of venture investors, I realized that I needed a “quantum leap”, so to speak, in order to stop worrying about the language. This is how I came to the idea of presenting my project in front of the most merciless audience and in the most uncomfortable place: the subway. My teammate and I prepared our cardboards, put on the branded T-shirts and went down to the subway…
Now I know where to find the most neglectful people in the world: in the New-York subway. It’s definitely true. Probably about a thousand people passed me by, but only one would stop for about 10 seconds, listen and throw some change in the box. The other 999 passengers didn’t even bother to turn their heads, let alone to stop. It seemed that they hear presentations about underwater walkie-talkies every day on their way to work.
After hours of laying myself out in my “фейбулус инглиш” in front of people who thought of me as of pain in the neck, and after receiving glances of unhappy faces instead of applause, you learn a lot. When I came out exhausted, I realized that I can speak in front of any kind of audience. I can do it even in the morgue, not to mention nice people who want to listen to you and who smile back.
The demo day proved that I came out of the subway with a new experience. Of course it wasn’t the best speech in the world, but I sounded convincing. When our video about the subway experience was displayed on the screen, as the last pitch, people started laughing out loud. By the end of the presentation, people came up and shook my hand saying: “Great pitch!”. At that point, I realized that it was our small victory on the long road to successful product sales in the US market.