How to Handle Q&A After a Pitch
Preparing for a pitch is one of the most valuable, difficult, and time-consuming activities a founder will partake in. Done right, founders will effectively communicate what their company is, why it’s valuable, and why their audience should be a part of their vision in just a few minutes. However, how the founder prepares for and manages Q&A (questions and answers) after the pitch could make or break their efforts. On one end of the spectrum, a challenging question about the business model that the founder has not thought of could suck the air out of an audience that was previously smiling and nodding. On the other end, founders that leverage Q&A to invite hard questions that they have great answers to will be rewarded with supportive murmurs and ballooned confidence from their audience.
Balancing the Scales of Question Management
To effectively manage Q&A, envision an equally weighted scale. On one side of the scale is thorough and superb knowledge on: the business model, potential markets, and future business steps (both short term and long term). There is nothing that replaces understanding the company inside and out because this knowledge is the backbone of a start-up’s validity. If the founder knows what the company is doing, why customers will pay for it, and what the market potential is, then the start-up has a strong case for existing. A founder that is not yet knowledgeable on these fronts will always have a hard time proving the validity of her company, because she herself does not yet know how valid it is.
On the other side of the scale is managing the questioner. Managing the questioner means that the founder does three things in the following order before addressing the question (notice I didn’t say answering). 1) The founder really understands what the questioner is asking. 2) The founder accurately assesses how important the question is to the audience. 3) Lastly, the founder accurately assesses how relevant the question is to the company’s pitch and business model.
1) Understanding the Question
To avoid launching into an unnecessary five minutes of prose on their start-up, a founder should repeat the question or ask for clarification if there is any haziness in what is being asked. This proves to the audience that the founder listens as much as she speaks, which gives them confidence that she will steer the company towards success. Additionally, understanding the question means that they can respond to it properly.
2) Assess How Important the Question Is
Not all questions are created equal. Some deserve a one-sentence response while others should be discussed as if it were another talking point. The key here is understanding how important the question is to the audience, not to the founder. Speaking in front of a group of green energy activists? Don’t focus on how injection molded plastics is a great cheap route for scaling. Instead talk about how injection molded parts will stand the test of time and not need replacing.
3) Assess How Relevant the Question Is
This is where founders most often trip up. They put too much effort into irrelevant questions about their company. If an audience member expectantly asks what the company’s plan is for something that is not part of their core value add, the founder should say exactly that. Founders should not waste time on questions that divert attention away from the company’s core competencies. This is not to say that the questions should be ignored, just that the founder should clearly communicate that they don’t have a good answer to that question because that’s not what their company is about. The founder should then take that opportunity to refocus on what the company isall about. For example, with a company focused on growing pesticide free food inside, they may be questioned on their opinion on GMOs. In this instance, the company’s value is not about whether or not their seeds are genetically modified. Their value comes from their products being pesticide free and able to be grown indoors. Thus a good response is, “We have the ability to grow both GMO and non-GMO crops. Our focus is to do so indoors and in a completely pesticide-free environment.”
To learn more about how the Reno InNEVator and the University of Nevada, Reno, Innevation Center – Powered by Switch, please reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.
About the Author
Crystal Harvey is the Reno Innevation Center Assistant Director, and InNEVator Program Manager. The University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center – Powered by Switch acts as the University’s avenue for supporting funded growth companies in the region. The InNEVator is a fully-funded 8-week bootcamp for start-ups in the field of IoT. Crystal’s expertise is in communicating both technology and business needs and has a background in project management, operations, mechanical engineering, and business development.