Practice Pitches -- Much More Than Delivery

I was telling an entrepreneur friend that at the Batchery we put much emphasis on practicing startup pitches with founders. She replied "I guess it's good to polish the slides and practice how to stand if the founder is about to do the rounds of angel groups or VCs." "Woa!" I said, "practice pitching goes wayyyy beyond presentation style".
Pitching is about much more than raising money. Founders pitch their companies in various ways many times a day. They pitch to attract employees or contractors. They pitch to make service providers understand the business and give them more attention. They pitch to potential partners to build new relationships. They even pitch at social events, including their kids' soccer games -- partly to be sociable and partly in hopes the person they are talking to has helpful suggestions or network connections.
Effective pitches set the hook in the first minute or two. Sometimes that is all the time they have. It keeps the speaker from becoming a bore. But most times the opening lines are critical to getting the attention of the audience ... to keep them from looking at their phones, leaving to take another call, or looking around the room for someone else to talk to.
Packing the core story into the first minute or two forces precision about what is unique and important about the company. It prevents the spray-and-pray technique of listing multiple things the company could do in hopes that one of those catches the attention of the audience. "Stop me when I say something you like."
The pitch must make it clear who is the target market, their current pain points, what the product does, and the core value proposition. Answer the question "why does this matter to someone?"
How many times have we heard "if we get just 1% of this $10 billion market we will make so much money for our investors" when the product may not be the first choice for any customer? Or "we are part of the (insert word: cloud/security/mobile/solar/etc.) revolution that is doubling in size every year" when the company is not doing anything distinctive in that market? One useful (and sometimes hilarious) test is to substitute the name of another brand (such as McDonald's) into the pitch and see if it still mostly makes sense.
The product-market fit is so important to a company that most founders we work with end up redefining their target market (usually narrowing the definition), modifying their product specifications, and tightening up the value proposition statement as a result of working through practice pitches. They often iterate the offering many times. Some product features deserve to be part of the headline, some are key supporting points, and some once thought important fall to the six-point font on the back page of the brochure or slide deck.
At some point in the pitch explain why the product is better than the competition. Most savvy audiences groan when they hear founders say "we have no competition". Everyone does. There are always other ways to solve a problem, including ignoring it. Every successful product solves a problem better than the alternatives. Be sure to explain it.
Refer to the market traction and the team, and other particularly strong suits for the company. Traction with customers is a great indicator of market demand. A strong team has several advantages, including: capable people have other options for where they can work, so by choosing to work there they must believe in the company; capable people attract and hire the best employees; and a great team will know how to change the strategy if they encounter new changes in the market.
Once the founders have the story right they can focus on the delivery. Punchy slides. Eye contact. Standing in the right place. And so on. All these are important, but only after getting the story right.
Practice those pitches!