How to Deliver a TED Talk-Worthy Startup Pitch to Investors


You have a great new business idea and potential investors lined up. You have one opportunity to make a good first impression. Your presentation is everything. Do you have what it takes to deliver a compelling pitch?

If you want to become an influential speaker, you’ll find your best role models on TED (the acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design). TED talks have become the gold standard for presenting ideas in a persuasive way that resonates with listeners. They are a phenomenon, and have succeeded in captivating millions of viewers and opening up new ways of thinking on a broad range of topics.

You may never aspire to give a talk on a TED stage, but with practice and preparation, you can raise your skills to a TED-style level that can persuade potential investors to act on your ideas. These pointers can help.

Engage your audience

An engaged audience is an interested audience. To capture your listeners’ interest, clearly present your business idea within the first one to two minutes of your talk with a story that makes them care about what you have to say. Give an example of a need that people have and how your business idea will help fill that need. Use humor, a relatable example or a few bits of trivia — whatever approach feels natural and suits your personal style. This will help you establish a connection that keeps your audience engaged and listening.

Keep it brief

A distinguishing feature of all TED talks is their length at 18 minutes and no more. According to TED curator Chris Anderson, 18 minutes “is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”

Attention spans are short, and people on the receiving end of a long presentation or too much data won’t remember what you have say. They may even tune you out. So keep your pitch short and succinct. Distill your thoughts down to the essential points you want to communicate and eliminate unnecessary details. For example, your competitive analysis and long-term projections can be topics to discuss later, when the investor is onboard with your idea.

Take your audience on a journey

Present your business proposition in the form of a journey, with every point supporting your main idea in a relevant way. Share what inspires you about your idea and why. Identify the business problem it will solve and how, and how your customers’ lives will be improved as a result. Back up your statements with a maximum of three to five pieces of strong evidence that also convey to investors your knowledge and experience within your market.

But avoid bombarding your listeners with data or overselling your idea with larger-than-life projections of future success. Instead, be conservative with your predictions and sculpt an interesting story based on key facts that make you and your pitch credible and convincing.

Use just a few slides

Slides should enhance your main message and not be the main feature of your presentation. Abandon slides packed with words and bullet points. Instead, use just a few images that resonate with your audience or capture complex visual concepts. Include infographics or simple charts and graphs to present statistics and financial information. After all, you want your audience to be listening to you, not studying your slides.

Show your passion

Passion is contagious. If you’re passionate about your business idea, there’s a good chance your audience will be, too, so allow your positive emotions to show through. You’ll not only be a more effective presenter, but you’ll also be more convincing to your investors.


It’s not unheard of for TED presenters to practice their talks hundreds of times before facing a live audience. Practice internalizes your message so that you can share it with confidence and not sound over-rehearsed.

You may not need to practice your pitch for weeks in advance, but practice is essential to delivering your best. Rehearse your talk exactly as you’ll be delivering it—seated or standing, out loud, and with the passion you want to convey and the movement you’ll actually use.

Deliver your best

When the day comes to deliver your pitch, arrive at your destination early so you can set up your slides and ease comfortably into your presentation. You should have your script and stories memorized, but it’s fine to use note cards if you think you might forget something. When delivering your pitch, maintain a conversational tone and make frequent eye contact with your listeners. Project your natural enthusiasm. If you’ve followed these principles for a TED-style talk, you’ll improve your chances of ending with a handshake on a deal.

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