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Jim Treliving, Kevin O'Leary, Arlene Dickinson, Robert Herjavec, and Bruce Croxon from the CBC show Dragons' Den.
Jim Treliving, Kevin O'Leary, Arlene Dickinson, Robert Herjavec, and Bruce Croxon from the CBC show Dragons' Den.

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'You have 30 seconds' for reality-TV pitches Add to ...

An effective elevator pitch should articulate a business idea so succinctly and with such panache that potential investors are hooked by the time they reach the ground floor.

Experts say entrepreneurs who aspire to use reality shows as launch pads for their products or services would be well advised to master the elevator pitch before delivering on-camera. The narrow attention span of television audiences for shows such as Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank means competition for every second of air time is fierce. If a message cannot be conveyed almost instantly, it may not be heard at all.

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“If you can’t say it in a couple of sentences, then the essence of what it is you’re trying to say probably isn’t clear to you,” says Jim Gray, a presentation skills coach and principal at Toronto-based Principal of Media Strategy Inc., who works with senior executives, physicians and public figures across North America. “The business audience (in particular) wants information given to them more quickly than ever before. The most common mistake people make on shows like Dragons’ Den or with any other high-end organization is making the pitch too long.

“You have 30 seconds.”

If the delivery can be distilled down to a few sentences, it frees up energy for what Mr. Gray says is the most important part of a successful presentation: developing a rapport with the audience.

“They say the better you know your story, the freer you are to be yourself. I think this is especially true in television, where there’s a huge premium on authenticity.”

Though he’s far from seasoned, 22-year-old Toronto entrepreneur Pranav Sood knows this from experience. Last spring he applied and was chosen to compete on the CBC version of Dragons’ Den, where he pitched his idea for a start-up called Smart Casing, which produces digital accessories for mobile phones. Though he had never formally pitched an idea, he knew from his days as an HBA student at the Richard Ivey School of Business that before he could sell the “dragons” on his plan, he needed to know something about them.

Mr. Sood learned that he and Kevin O’Leary both attended Ivey, in London, Ont. He worked the detail into his introduction and used it to establish a connection.

“I saw him smile when I mentioned Ivey and after that I felt we clicked,” Mr. Sood recalls. “And that made the atmosphere more comfortable.”

Mr. Sood says that despite his lack of professional experience, his educational background meant he was better equipped to make an on-camera pitch than many of the other participants. In fact, his exposure to those other entrepreneurs during the taping of his episode – which airs March 21 – was the inspiration for a second start-up, Dragons' Training Camp.

The concept is still in its early stages, the website currently offering free and paid memberships, with a fee buying greater access to industry resources as well as opportunities to participate in workshops Mr. Sood plans to lead. In addition to teaching business basics – such as valuation, income statements, balance sheets, and uses of funds – Mr. Sood says his boot camp will prepare entrepreneurs specifically for TV pitches. He points out his business is not affiliated with the CBC, adding it is “not too keen” on the concept.

“I had watched so many episodes in preparation for my on-camera pitch, so I was looking for what someone would do well or what someone didn’t do well. And one of the things I realized was that I needed some kind of demonstration to get the dragons involved in what I was telling them,” Mr. Sood says.

He collected each of the dragons’ phones, equipped them with his company’s technology featuring individually tailored designs, and then returned them to their owners. “Just the act of collecting them provided some movement, some interaction and gave the dragons something tangible to work with. When the potential investor is involved it becomes a dialogue.”

Mr. Sood’s observations resonate with Joseph D’Cruz, professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management, who says one of the things he teaches his MBA students is that the more involved the potential investor is with the pitch, the greater the chance it will be successful.

“One characteristic of a good pitch is when it gets the listener – the venture capitalist – talking. Most people don’t think about that, but it’s good to get the people you’re talking to involved; do a demonstration of your product, get them to try your service,” Prof. D’Cruz says, adding entrepreneurs need to meticulously prepare of their business plans, research their target markets, and know their numbers inside out.

“Once it’s a conversation, then you have to be prepared to go with the flow.”

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