How to Give a Great Presentation

In this blog post, you will learn five important aspects of pitching your startup.

Published on
January 17, 2023

This blog post is from the Calacanis blog - 2015.

I’ve been coaching folks on how to present at conferences for almost 10 years. Among the amazing people I’ve had the honor of giving feedback to–on their launch–include: Dropbox (now worth $10b), Mint (sold to Intuit for $170m), Yammer (sold to Microsoft $1b+), Clicker (sold to CNET/CBS for $100m), Powerset (sold to Microsoft for $100m), Red Beacon (won best overall at the LAUNCH Festival, sold to Home Depot), (I’m an investor, they won best 2.0), Boxbee (I’m an angel investor, they won best overall), AdStage (I’m an angel investor, they won best b2b) and countless others.

I’ve got a small set of rules on how to present well. Here they are:

1. Show the product in the first 15 seconds. A demo is worth 1 million words, and the people who have great products show them. If you don’t show your product we assume it’s because your product is bad.

2. Show don’t tell: Instead of telling us what your product does, show us. Have an awesome ‘driver’ giving your presentation and just walk us through how it works.

If you were demoing Uber here is what you would say:

  • “Hello my name is Travis and today I want to show you the easiest way to get a car to take you anywhere.
  • Here I am coming out of a Warriors game in Oakland and there is massive chaos in the parking lot and I’ve been out drinking with a client — we shouldn’t be driving.
  • I open the Uber app and you can see me creating an account. Now I’m taking a picture of my credit card and entering in my security code. After that 20 second signup I see this map with a bunch of cars on it and my location.
  • I’m going to adjust the pin to my exact location, in this case I want to have the Uber meet us on the service road next to Oracle arena because I know that’s the quickest way out of the stadium’s lot. I can type in my address as well of course. Now I click confirm and my Uber is on the way. I can see the seven minute estimate, and the Uber itself as it is driving toward me.
  • Now I’ve received a text message that my Uber is here and I get in the car. We’ve arrived at my house and I simply leave the car — everything is paid for, including the tip.
  • I rate the driver on a scale of one to five stars, and here I’m going to give a three-star rating because I felt the car was a little dirty. I type that in, and I’m done.”

All of this is active, and since you are demoing in real time folks are going to pay attention.

3. Synchronicity: What’s happening on the screen must match what you’re saying. So, if you want to go off on a tangent about a topic related to your product — which is allowed — make sure you have something on the screen. In the case of demoing Uber, here is what might happen.

  • “Now, you might ask yourself right now how we are able to keep prices so low with UberX. Here is a table showing the number of rides a typical car service driver does over a 10-hour shift.
  • Jason, who is driving the presentation, is now zooming in on the cost of an expensive Lincoln Town Car that has just horrible gas mileage. Now Jason is zooming in on column two which shows an UberX driver with a more affordable Prius that is half the price of the Tow car — and that also gets 3x the gas mileage! The fifth row shows that if this Uber driver does 30% more calls we can offer the pricing that is roughly 40% of what was capable of pre-Uber”

In that scenario we’re showing NOT telling, and the driver of the presentation is zooming in on a table with a bunch of numbers on it that supports the presentation. This is the best possible presentation style because it keeps the audience engaged visually and with the sound of your voice.

4. Examples matter: Always give amazing examples that demonstrate your product’s value. In the example above I use the example of having too much to drink with a client and getting in an Uber during the chaos in the parking lot. Why this example? Well, we can all relate to it. We’ve all taken clients out, we’ve all had more than two glasses of wine, and we all know the madness of getting out of a sporting event.

The examples we give help folks understand our product’s value proposition. It’s up to us — as founders — to make people understand our products. If you use fake examples, or worse, fictional characters and locations, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to get folks to understand how your product might help them. Don’t use Micky Mouse and Gotham City in your presentations.

Jason Calacanis

Jason Calacanis is a technology entrepreneur, angel investor, and the host of the popular podcasts This Week in Startups and All-In. As the first “scout” for Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and later as an angel investor, Jason has invested in 300+ early-stage startups including eight "unicorns" (billion-dollar valuations). His book "Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups: Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000" was published by HarperCollins in July 2017. He lives in San Francisco, California.

Learn more from the Founder University Podcast