If you’ve ever been in a high stakes pitch, you know considerable anxiety is caused by trying to assess the personality and priorities of your audience. What do they want to hear? What do they hate? Where’s the fine line between ‘Count me in’ and ‘You’re out’?

That’s why I found the recent Metabridge conference fascinating. If you’re unfamiliar with Metabridge, it’s essentially pitch trial by fire for tech startups. Sure, the event features panels of VC’s relating their experiences as well as networking, but the big deal is 15 startups pitching onstage to a group of very vocal VCs and the audience.

So what were the most memorable insights on the pitches? I’ll tell you momentarily. But first, I’d like to make a pitch of my own.

My pitch to you

 I’m going to be interviewing VCs – if all goes well, one every 10 days for the remainder of the year. I’ll simply be asking them what they look for in a pitch. Then, I’ll turn each interview into a podcast and blog post.

My goal in doing so is to provide a steady stream of insight to startups who want to position themselves properly to land investment.

The team at YourUltimateSpeech will also be busy with other activities capturing VC reactions to pitches in real time. Again, we have plans to distil these reactions and share them as insights. Stay tuned.

By the end of 2016, if all goes according to plan, we’ll release a book with our compiled learning.

Sound good? If so, here’s my pitch to you. If you’re reading this as a blog post, you can get my interviews with the VCs first  by clicking here to sign up for our newsletter. Of course, if you’re reading this as a newsletter, you’re already prepped to get the insights first.

There. That was an easy pitch.

So what did the Metabridge VCs say?

Start with traction

Think of any James Bond movie. In the first few minutes, you’re presented with an incredible hook – high flying action, plot foreshadowing, a main character or two, all the essentials. If you’re a Bond fan, you immediately know if this is going to be a good Bond or a bad Bond.

That, in essence, is how the Metabridge VCs felt about pitches.

As Paul Singh of Result Junkies said to one startup CEO “Don’t use dinner party etiquette in a business meeting. Lead the conversation with facts on your traction. Because nobody bets on an idea – they bet on ROI.”

If you don’t have ROI to report yet, say something that grabs attention relating directly to traction. How many people are using your product? How many people tried your product and came back? How much have you grown?

Once you’ve presented this statement of success, you can launch into your story. Satisfied that your idea has proven itself in some way, shape or form, your audience will give you license to tell your story.

Let your character shine

Tom Williams of Better Company underlined the importance of character and charisma: “Do I love the entrepreneur standing in front of me? That’s 90% of the equation.”

A number of VCs recounted stories of failed pitches that came down to nothing more than ridiculously bad habits, etiquette and lack of manners. The one that stuck in my mind was the startup CEO who took a call while standing in front of the VC. The CEO chatted a few moments, then told the person on the line he’d have to ring him back because he was in a meeting.

There are enough legitimate reasons to lose a pitch. Don’t add Neanderthal social skills to the list.

Have a story

You’ve gotten their attention with your ROI opener. You’ve worked hard to present yourself as personable and professional. But the ‘story’ you tell is 50 bullet points that read like a stream of consciousness laundry list of product attributes.

Fail.

Paul Singh hammered home the need to tell the “Why you? Why now?” story. If you can tell a good story about the idea behind your company and the global trends conspiring in your favour, you’ll build empathy with your listeners and give them a sense of your company’s personality.

Know when to bend

There are times to bend, there are times to stand firm. Several VCs emphasized that both qualities were important in a pitch.

As Tom Williams said, “Everyone is stress testing you in the pitch.” Several anecdotes were shared about entrepreneurs losing pitches because they simply couldn’t accept advice to incorporate useful changes into their company and pitch. There were just as many stories about CEOs who lost out because they were all too happy to accept every change suggested. As angel investor Tim Eades said, “Don’t ever ask about next steps. When you do that, you hand control of your destiny and the process over to the investor. Instead, tell the investor how you envision things moving forward. Take control.”

If you’re passionate about your idea, you need to know when to hold your ground, and when to accept a good idea for what it is.

 Know how your VC thinks

Sometimes, the first time you meet the VC is when you’re standing in front of him / her pitching. But that doesn’t mean you can’t know what makes them tick. It all comes down to homework.

Thanks to tools like Linkedin, you can get a very sharp picture of someone’s personality without ever meeting them. Is there anyone in their profile you know? Anyone you might chat to about the VCs preferences? Doing this sort of homework in advance is sound preparation. Neglect it, and you may step on a land mine.

More to come

As I mentioned, you can look forward to a series of insights from VCs in weeks and months to come.  You never know, they may tip the scales and help you land your investment.