The coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing have forced millions of Americans to work from home. That goes for startup founders and CEOs and sales teams, too.

And that means ditching the in-person meeting and pitching potential investors and prospects remotely via Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing platforms.

But problems with video equipment, as well as the awkwardness that comes with trying to impress prospective investors or clients remotely, can make pitching via video chat more challenging than a traditional face-to-face meeting, says Luis Vasquez, associate director of Venture Capital Collaboration at UC Irvine Beall Applied Innovation.

“A face-to-face pitch gives the presenter a better opportunity to show their personality and communicate intangible attributes like confidence that are important for any CEO or founder of a startup company,” Vasquez says.

Another important key for successful pitching, whether in person or via video chat, is clarity, says Dennis Leonard, an innovation consultant for the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). The EDPA operates Alabama Launchpad, an entrepreneurial support program that hosts startup competitions throughout the year.

“You want to come across with clarity,” Leonard says. “You want the people you’re pitching to understand what your business is about, why they should invest in you and understand that their investment will lead to a return.”

So, because meetings by way of video conferencing will likely be commonplace for the foreseeable future during the pandemic, Vasquez and Leonard offer the following best practices for nailing a virtual pitch.

Make your slides simple.

Keep in mind that unlike an in-person presentation, your audience will watch your virtual pitch on their laptops or some type of external monitor. Consequently, your slides are going to look a lot smaller to them than what they are used to. Therefore, avoid making slides that look cluttered, Vasquez and Leonard say.

“Don’t put too much content on the slides,” Vasquez says. “Make sure there’s enough white space on each slide, and make the text large enough so audience members don’t have to read each slide furiously or squint during your pitch.”

And Leonard warns against displaying slides loaded with technical information.

“If you have highly technical slides,” says Leonard, “use only the ones that are critical for the overall impact of your presentation. Move the rest of the technical slides to the appendix and reference them only if you need to.”

Invest in quality equipment.

For any video conference event, you need a strong internet connection and the right systems and equipment, including a fast computer processor, a high-resolution webcam, video conferencing software, and a laptop or desktop monitor or some other external screen like a television monitor.

Several experts recommend using an external webcam and USB microphone in particular for a crisper sound and image quality.

“For a few hundred dollars,” says Leonard, “you can have a really nice webcam and nice speakers. Your presentation will have a higher quality look and sound to it, and, you’ll look like you’re there to succeed.”

Also, think about lighting. For your presentation, you’ll want to choose a well-lighted room for the pitch, Leonard says. A space where the lighting is too dim could distract from your overall pitch.

Fixing the problem might be as simple as using daylight LED bulbs, rearranging lampstands in the room or buying video conference lighting kits that are available for under $100.

Use the videoconferencing software your audience uses.

“If, for example, you’re presenting to investors, ask what software they would like to use,” says Vasquez, “and, as a CEO or entrepreneur, you should be able to adapt to that software rather than imposing your own software on the audience.”

Leonard says software programs like Zoom Meetings, Microsoft Teams and Skype all have advantages and disadvantages.

“But you want to make it easy for the audience to connect,” he says. “After all, it’s not about your ease. It’s about their ease because if they’re frustrated with connecting with you, they’re probably going to remain frustrated.”

Watch your background.

Plan ahead and make sure the background in the room where you will be presenting is clean and uncluttered, Leonard says.

“Beforehand, take pictures or video of where you’re going to be sitting and look at what’s in your background view because that’s what other people will see,” he says.

If, however, changing up your background isn’t an option, video conferencing apps like Zoom offer virtual background features as an alternative, Vasquez says.

“But, if your background isn’t distracting,” says Vasquez, “I recommend not using a virtual background. With virtual backgrounds, you can lose some of that high definition so it can look a little ghostly around your head. That can take away from the connection that you’re trying to make with your audience.”

Don’t read from a script.

“There’s a greater temptation to read from a script when you’re presenting virtually than when you’re standing in front of people,” says Vasquez, “because when you’re in front of people, it is human nature to want to make that eye contact. But when you’re presenting virtually, the temptation is to forget to look at the camera and, therefore, the audience.”

Instead, learn your script beforehand, he says. Then, during the pitch, maintain solid eye contact with the camera so the audience feels like they’re connecting with you.


It is also important to smile during your presentation, Vasquez says. “When you’re on a call and you’re by yourself, sometimes it is natural to not smile unless you find something funny or amusing. I try to remind myself to smile at the camera because that helps you to make that emotional connection with the audience. That’s the whole goal.”

Practice. Practice. Practice.

“One of my pet peeves is when a presenter asks, ‘Can you see my slides?’” says Vasquez. “That tells me that they’re not confident in the technology that they’re using. Practice using the equipment before the presentation so you look confident to your audience.”

Leonard recalls watching a presentation by a startup entrepreneur who reported having practiced his pitch more than 40 times in front of a mirror and even in front of his wife and children.

“He was a great example of someone who really understood the pitch,” he says. “If you’re going to give a presentation virtually, it’s even more important that you practice, practice, practice.”