3 Lessons from Shark Tank: How to Present Your Big Idea to a Client

At some point in your career as a content marketer, you’ve probably had to lead a client presentation. And if you’re anything like me, the thought of presenting (regardless of how many times you’ve done it) makes you feel like this:

We all fear rejection, which is why presenting ideas we’re passionate about, ideas we’ve spent hours brainstorming and fleshing out, can be terrifying. Luckily though, not many of us have to sell our pitches on national TV, like the contestants on Shark Tank, a hit show on ABC where entrepreneurs present their ideas for business services or products in exchange for financial backing from an investor, or “shark.” The show has become not only a guilty pleasure of mine but also a way for me to learn a thing or two about being a better communicator and presenter. Here are some takeaways:

Tell a Story that Connects

Despite the fact that the show is called Shark Tank, and that the investors are referred to as sharks, the reality is that none of them are actually dorsal-finned, cartilaginous fish.

“That seems painfully obvious, Alex,” you say. And you’re right. It is.

But it’s easy to forget. If I’ve got my mind focused on the pitch, I can get so immersed in what I’ve got to say and what talking points to get across, I might forget about actually being human and connecting on a personal level with the client right in front of me.

Remember: Your client probably hears pitches all the time. How will you set your pitch apart and make it memorable? One way to do it is by weaving in a story. Maybe it’s a funny anecdote about how the idea came about during brainstorming, or a success story of a real-life person who already benefits from the idea somehow. It’s a good way to help your client connect and resonate with your idea. After all, isn’t storytelling the foundation to success in content marketing?

Check out this pitch from Dominique Barteet, the inventor of Onesole. She began with a story about how she came up with the idea for the product, and quickly followed up with a story that illustrated a problem the product solves. The sharks took the bait, and Barteet received offers from four of the five potential investors.

Don’t Forget the Numbers

No question about it, believing in your idea and having passion for it goes a long way. But if you don’t have the numbers to back up your claims, woe is you on Shark Tank, because you’ll more than likely swim away without a deal. Numbers are essential to a successful pitch because they’re your proof of concept: the value of your idea, and the reason why a client should approve it.

If you watch Shark Tank for any length of time, you’ll notice the vast majority of successful deals happen because entrepreneurs have impressive numbers—whether that’s in sales or subscriptions or purchase orders, etc.

Take The Green Box, for example. Due to nerves, the company’s founders flubbed up the beginning of the pitch, losing some of the high energy they started with. But what they lacked in a strong intro, they made up with in numbers, resulting in two offers.

To really push your idea along, you should share research numbers that show where consumer interest lies and how your idea would meet those needs. Knowing the consumer research data to better understand your client’s target market can also help you show the client the bigger picture if they’re not initially willing to consider it.

Entrepreneur Jason Woods is an extreme example, but one that plainly illustrates the importance of numbers. During his pitch on Shark Tank, he presented a respectable case for his idea, but as soon as the sharks asked for numbers, Woods started to sink. He had no sales, and his particular product cost a lot of money to make.

Don’t be like Woods. For best success, go into your pitch knowing strong numbers at the top of your head—that’ll impress your clients and show that you’ve already done your homework.

Brace Yourself. The Questions are Coming

It amazes me how many entrepreneurs walk into the Shark Tank without having done the proper preparation and research. Within minutes, their ideas are ripped to shreds by even the sharks’ most basic questions. Here’s the bottom line: Don’t pitch a half-baked idea. Take the extra time to flesh out the details, to anticipate what concerns your clients may have and to address those concerns effectively.

In what shark Mark Cuban deemed the “worst pitch ever” in 2013, doctors Richard and Albert Amini wanted funding for a health app called RoloDoc in order to “bring social media and the social network to the medical profession.” Unfortunately, they weren’t prepared for the questions that followed, and you could see it in their flustered faces.

Here’s how to not be the Amini brothers. After drawing up your key points for the pitch, compile a list of questions the client may ask you. Enlist a couple of co-workers to help think of questions too. Write them all down, no matter how crazy they seem, and then come up with succinct answers for each one. As Ryan Hecht explains in his post “Now Accepting Failure,” doing a “premortem” exercise is a great way to prepare for a project, or in this case, pitch, since it anticipates what may go wrong. And when you have answers at the ready, you can handle just about anything that gets thrown your way.

So take some deep breaths and hold your head high. You’ve totally got this.

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