How to Pitch to Speak at a Large Tech Event

Along with everything else that comes with running a startup, founders are well aware of the need to get their brand name out there. And while there are many ways to do this, there is no doubt that one of the most credible ways to grow a startup into a robust company is through public speaking opportunities.

The calendar of tech events that provide public speaking opportunities across the globe is long, and some of these public speaking opportunities act as pitching rounds to investors.

Potentially securing a funding round is naturally a big advantage to speaking at an event, but other benefits (including networking opportunities) are worth their weight in gold too.

Greg McCafferty and I are the co-founders of Sherpa (a British and Maltese insure-tech startup) and we recently pitched at SXSW, in Austin, Texas. Sherpa is changing how insurance works for individuals, and is doing that by starting with the largest growing professional demographic in the world – freelancers. We wanted to share some tips on how we got ourselves pitch ready.

  1. Build your personal brand from the start – Yes, you want to get your startup’s name out there, but it’s you who’ll be representing your startup. Use social media channels to build your own brand that showcases your thought leadership and style. Event organizers need to get a feel of your brand before they can decide whether you’ll add value to their event, and smart use of your social media presence will help them in this regard.
  2. Understand who you want to reach – There is a lot of wisdom in the saying that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. This is true too if you’re too vague in identifying who you want to reach via a speaking opportunity at an event. Understanding who your target audience is key to identifying the events that will deliver the most value to you and your startup – and help you write a proposal/pitch document that captures attention for all the right reasons.

  3. Be personal and timely in your approach – Keeping your finger on the pulse of what is happening in your field is a good idea anytime, but this habit really pays dividends when it comes to pitching a topic that’ll engage an audience at an event. A timely topic, taking into account an ongoing issue or trend in your industry, will be a winner every time. Secondly, inject some of your personality into your proposal. Speakers need to connect with event organizers and audiences, and you’ll only do that if you give people a real sense of who you are.

These are our top three pieces of advice for other tech founders who want to pitch:

1) Decide who it is you are pitching to

2) Be laser focussed on the one or two points you want them to take out of your pitch

3) Simplify everything

Here is a more specific Q&A on how we approach speaking and events, and how we prepared:

How often do you pitch at big events? We do a few events a year, but try to focus on three or four big events either pitching or speaking every year.

Is SXSW the biggest event you’ve ever pitched to? It’s definitely the biggest event by far in terms of the pitch itself, but maybe not in terms of numbers of people.

Apart from SXSW what other events have you pitched? We have been at the DIA where we were lucky enough to be given a diamond award, The MIT Innovation challenge, and ToA Future Finals amongst others.

How did you secure your invitation to pitch at SXSW? Put simply, we applied. We didn’t last year because we just didn’t feel ready, but the application process is quite simple (and rigorous!). Then it was down to answering the supplementary questions and waiting to hear.

How did you prepare? SXSW has a great process where you are assigned a coach to help with your preparation. You then have an opportunity to rehearse when you are there. We spent quite a bit of time figuring out who would be in the room, who we wanted to communicate with and distilling down our pitch into the shortest and most impactful package we could.

What aspect of Sherpa’s story surprises people the most? The quality of our team and what insurance could look like for the individual in the future. The time and money people could save and the worry that would disappear.

Have you invested in presentation/public speaking training? As a partner of one of the worlds biggest consulting firms, I have had plenty of training. In fact, the whole team are very experienced presenters to small groups and big. If someone hadn’t had training and experience, I would always say its time and effort that is well spent.

Apart from possible investment, what was the biggest benefit Sherpa could gain by pitching at SXSW? Ultimately its a great experience seeing and meeting so many inspiring entrepreneurs and startups. From a company view, its very much about the company you keep. Being one of only 4 UK businesses pitching at such a high profile event is a great story in itself, for our people, investors and partners.

Will you be pitching or presenting anywhere else soon? Yes, although these things can be a little time consuming so we will pick and choose carefully. Our aim is to do 3 or 4 a year if the opportunity arises. Ultimately our ability to be given these platforms is down to the progress we make to achieve our vision. That has to be the priority. If we get that right then the opportunities to pitch take care of themselves.


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