By @SimonCocking

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Interview with Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh @Clearpreso from Startup slides @startupslides . A company and a mentor you will often see at important pitching events around Dublin and further afield. Ed helps fledgling and established companies to nail their pitches for maximum success. It was a successful 2014, and he has now launched his latest venture startupslides  as well.

Your background?

Hey Simon. Well I started with a Commerce degree in UCD, with a marketing specialisation as part of that. I finished that up in 2008 and after that a few completely unplanned things happened. Firstly I stumbled into a job I was recommended for with with a pharmaceutical company and after that I further stumbled my way into working as the one man marketing department for an Irish startup for half a year.

It was a fantastic experience that led me down the road of realising that maybe I had some skills that I could turn into a full time job for myself.

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What led you into specialising into helping people with presentations?

From day 1 in college I was the resident “powerpoint nerd”. I really wanted to learn how to make presentations that were effective and impressive, which was the opposite of what I was seeing from my lecturers most of the time! Over the years I became pretty good at them too, and I got the chance to compete for the university at various case study competitions around the world.

The startup I worked with after college was actually based down in Tralee, but I was working from it home in Dublin, so that was one more domino that fell, realising that I working from home was something a) I could do and b) quite liked.

I suppose the final straw was when I finished 9th out of a few thousand entries in “The worlds best presentation contest” which slideshare used to run, that made me realise “hey… maybe I’m actually pretty good at this” and I guess it was at that point the whole self-employed experiment began.

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It’s an important skill, but a lot of people have a real fear of speaking in front of people. How do you help them to deal with this basic but major issue.

Look, I think everyone is scared of public speaking, it’s normal. And being frank, I’d say that if you aren’t nervous in the run up to the presentation it probably means that you don’t really care enough about the outcome… and if you don’t care about the outcome you probably shouldn’t be presenting.

I present pretty frequently on content that I am really comfortable with, but I feel nervous every time! So first thing is to be ok with feeling nervous, its normal.

The one thing I think makes a huge difference is when people make time to properly rehearse their presentation. And by proper rehearsal I mean doing many, many run-throughs of the content, out loud, and ideally in front of people (or a camera). The more you rehearse the more comfortable you’ll be with the content and the less nervous you will be!

When you really look at it great presenters, actors, athlete all have one thing in common, practicing to a truly unnatural level to make it look natural, or easy.

 How much of impact do you think the pitch has on affecting whether the candidate gets the deal / funding / award?

It matters hugely! Your startup may indeed be a snowflake, but it’s easily lost in the blizzard of the startup scene, getting noticed is tough.

People judge books by covers, and if you only have 5 minutes to present to a prospective investor it had better do a good job of representing all the hard work you have put into the business!

I heard Des Traynor from intercom talk about a fascinating concept around “quality” recently in a podcast interview. “Quality is fractal”, fractal essentially meaning that “any single piece is like all of it”. So if you put together a shoddy presentation that is poorly thought through, poorly presented  and is disrespectful of the investors time then they will able to infer a lot about the rest of what your business is like.

There are interesting parallels with recruitment I think, recruiters are looking for a reason to toss your CV in the bin because there are so many other applicants… crappy formatting? BIN. Typo? BIN.

As a startup a bad presentation is an excellent way to get thrown in the investors “bin”.

Do you have a set strategy to help people that you are mentoring, or does it depend on the strengths and weaknesses of each client you deal with?

Each case really is different, it depends a lot on where down the journey people are with deciding what they want the story of their business to be. Sometimes people have a really well thought out messaging, and just need their slides to look as amazing as the rest of what they do. Other times I am working with people who have a product, but have never pitched before, so in cases like that its a ground up process of starting with the story and then moving on to visuals.

What tips would you give to startups planning their pitch, (as well as hiring you of course)?

  1. Keep it short – for a first interaction with an investor you want to keep the pitch short and to the point. As John O’Sullivan from ACT ventures: “The purpose of the first meeting is to get a second meeting.” So keep it short, exciting and respect the investors time!
  2. Be sure to address the main points they really want to know (and it probably isn’t your product/solution). Jon Bradford from Techstars in the UK said that when evaluating a startup he looked for “Team, team, opportunity and team”.
  3. Don’t leave preparation till the last minute. The amount of times I see startups leave hugely important presentations till the last minute is astonishing. If the continued existence of your startup relies on getting that investment… put a bit of time into it!

You’re not a fan of prezi, too many bells and whistles, glitchy? Any new presentation tools you would recommend?

It’s funny actually, in my “presentation on presentations” I have an entire section devoted to this called “just say no to prezi”, but in reality the software you use to put the thoughts in your head onto a projector screen is largely unimportant. The principles of good presentations remain pretty constant and you could make most of the slides I make in Microsoft paint if you tried hard enough.

I dislike prezi because it focuses on what I would consider a bit of a gimmick (zooming/panning) but at the same time removes some pretty core functionality you would get in the likes of Powerpoint or Keynote. If the zooming and panning is what makes your presentation exciting… your presentation probably needs more work…

How was 2014? 

I’ve been really happy with how the last year has turned out, it’s been a great journey as always.

Top successes?

Hmmm, tough one…

– Worked on 3 presentations for clients presenting at TechCrunch disrupt (and they kicked ass)

– Mentored at in 4 Startup weekends throughout the year (these are the best events I’ve ever been to)

– Managed to take the first steps in scaling my business somewhat

Anything you would do differently?

I would have taken more breaks, ideally full proper breaks. You can forget sometimes that it’s actually beneficial to take time off to recharge the batteries.

Plans for 2015?

I’m really excited about this year, I’ve just launched a new project www.startupslides.com this week. It’s going to be a video course on crafting your own pitch deck that will be full of loads of practical tips and examples. (You can follow progress over at @startupslideson twitter)

I think I need to experiment around with a few things to see what works for me in terms of productivity… I’ll give becoming an “early morning” person another go (but I think I am forever cursed to live/work “west coast” time.

Your blog is good, interesting monthly pieces, , is it something you do when you get the chance?

Yeh I suppose I should write more, but it’s pretty tough to write good stuff, for me anyway. Every so often I go to a really cool event, or something semi-profound happens in my life and it’s then I get motivation to sit down and put something in to text. Lesson to be learned here is I clearly need to go to more cool events and have more profound experiences in my life!

How do you manage your presence on social media?

I love twitter, probably a bit too much. It’s a fantastic platform to follow like minded people and to share content that you think your followers might find interesting.

In fact in the early days of my business using twitter to promote free trials was a great kickstarter. I didn’t have many followers, but if I got a few retweets from relevant people who did then my message was suddenly being seen by hundreds of people! And one of the first people to take me up on the free trial offer would later be the guy who brought me in to work on a Techcrunch presentation 4 years later.

 

 

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