Yesterday at the Angel Fair West Africa Entrepreneur Boot camp, the organising committee invited me to coordinate the proceedings. I had to MC the session, hold the timer, decide who talked, when they could start talking and when they had to stop — in effect making me most powerful person in the room.

Having been on both sides of the pitching table — believe me, I have — I have an appreciation of the things that panels are looking for and the nerves that presenters experience. One of the best things about the TechCabal Battlefield Academy was that it tremendously honed the delivery of the finalists. AFWA’s boot camp idea is the same. The entrepreneurs who will participate in the event have come in from all over West Africa. Before they get in front of the investors, they need to be ready.

With only a few hours to prepare, beating the startups into shape for their pitches on Sunday and Monday would require the administration of some tough love. Halfway into the bootcamp, AFWA co-founder, Tomi Davies announced that the entrepreneurs would have to deliver their pitches without the aid of a projector or slides.

Entrepreneurs are constantly having to communicate their idea to other parties whether it’s investors, clients or customers. A good deal of that happens via presentations. Like all standard pitch scenarios, the AFWA Lagos entrepreneurs came with decks to accompany their presentations, but as things progressed, it became obvious that the slides were getting in the way. A lot of them were using the slides as a presentation crutch for themselves rather than as a comprehension aid for their audience, and were literally tripping over themselves. The organisers first mandated that deck be no more than 3 image slides. Then they decided to “ban” slides altogether.

“Only a percentage of the total number of investors who will listen to your pitch will be in the same room with you. The rest of them will be listening in via Skype and Hangouts”, Tomi Davies told the startups. “Awkward pauses occasioned by reading slides will make it hard it hard to catch and keep their attention,.talk less of impressing them”.

Once the presenters did away with the slides, the improvement was instant and marked. Their delivery became smoother, crisper and many times more efficient than in the first round. Most of the startups were able to make compelling pitches with lots of time left on the five minute clock.

Presentation theory is a broad subject, and the utility of slides is relative to the circumstance. But yesterday, I saw that having your pitch down cold and ready to go off the top of your head is absolutely essential for any entrepreneur. To use Eric Osiakwan’s analogy, you don’t get the benefit slides if you were to have a fortuitous encounter with Dangote in an elevator. You have to internalise the most concise version of the pitch. You have to become the pitch.

Suppose you did meet Dangote in an elevator what you would in fact try to do is tell a story so compelling that the man would feel obliged to invite you to a proper meeting so he can hear the proposition in detail. That will not happen unless you pique his interest first. Like Eghosa Omoigui, principal of San Francisco based EchoVC said to the entrepreneurs yesterday, the sole suppose of meeting with an investor is…to get another meeting.

That in not so many words sums up the purpose of events like Angel Fair. It’s not about raising money right there and then — that rarely happens in practice — it’s about initiating attention-arresting conversations with investors. Trying to convey all the information about your awesome idea at once would be like trying to reach third base with a romantic prospect within 5 minutes of meeting them for the first time — the odds are good that you’ll spook them and they’ll take off. Rather, entrepreneurs and investors want to carefully cultivate these relationships and peel the onion one layer after the other.

As soon as we have the definitive list, we will be sharing the names of the startups that will be pitching their businesses to investors from all over Africa and beyond at the Lagos edition of the Angel Fair. Before that, see images from the Entrepreneur bootcamp.

Bankole Oluwafemi Author

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox