5 years ago

Make the most of your travel innovation pitch… or just go home

As a judge at the Phocuswright Travel Innovation Summit last week, I had the honor of having 30 companies present their businesses to me and my fellow judges in eight-minute slots during one day.

Exhausting yes, but exhilarating, too – 30 ideas presented by passionate, earnest and smart people who believed their work could make a difference to the travel industry.

Those ideas ranged across the travel spectrum, from predicting airline delays (KnowDelay) to an online travel agency dedicated to family travel (MiniTime).

Also on display was a tremendous range of presentation styles.

Seeing 30 different presentations in eight hours was educational, entertaining and often cringe-inducing, so here’s a totally unscientific, non-professional set of rules for presenting (and, obviously, my personal own tips rather than those of the entire judging panel).


First let’s talk about visuals. Video was obviously the trend of the day; every other presentation had some type of video embedded in it. Now there’s nothing wrong with video – used well it can be a really great illustration of an idea – but it can go very wrong.

But here are a few things to avoid:

  • The video is too long – why even bother to present in person if the video takes up more than half your presentation slot?
  • The video is poor quality – bad video is WAY worse than no video. Always.
  • Video as a crutch – judges want to hear what you have to say, not what you paid a production company to say

Where video really works is to augment a demonstration of how a product works, like how data is entered, while the presenter describes it.

One of my favorite videos (Mr Arlo) was when a presenter showed a time-lapse video with some funky music of all the travel research sites used to find a hotel and events for a girls’ weekend in a single city.

The purpose was to document the frustration of the user, and as a judge, I found it a fun departure from talking heads, and a great illustration of the problem the business was trying to solve.

We also saw a lot of graphic illustration – animated stick figures popping in and out, and dancing around, screens.

The same rules of video apply here – bad animation is a just a bad idea (no matter how gifted your friend/spouse/sibling/child is). And if you’re going to use Photoshop to manipulate images, make it obvious – no one likes to be fooled, and everyone appreciates a good fake, especially a funny one.


Humor is a must, especially if you know you’ll be presenting as one in a line-up of presentations. We saw some good stuff – good-natured mocking of competitors’ names, fun tips about praising waiters in another language, fun graphics and appropriate self-deprecation.

We also heard a few good jokes about the limits of technology during the few tech malfunctions on stage. Humor relaxes everyone and for judges, it’s a really nice break and makes the presenter look more likable and confident.

And speaking of, being confident as a presenter is absolutely key – confident in your product or service, and in your ability to present that product or service.

Pairing that confidence with a comfort in your own skin makes for an unbeatable presence. The most compelling presentations were made by presenters who really, really knew what they were talking about and who let their personality show.

Everyone gets nervous so figure out how to channel your nerves. Some people find endless practicing to be useful; others memorize every word, and yet others just wing it (not advisable, FYI). You want the judges (or whomever you’re presenting to) to be able to focus on your message, not on you.

Speaking of, here are a few things that can be so distracting:

  • Dress appropriately. If your outfit is distracting, your message obviously won’t get across as well. Wear clothing that reflects who you are, that fits, that’s comfortable for you and that is appropriate for the venue. If you wear a costume or something funky, your presentation had better match the mood of your outfit. Otherwise, you just look like a dork!
  • Low energy is a killer. Vary your tone, move around, speak up, show some passion for your business, and for goodness sake, smile! Please.
  • Don’t talk down to your audience. Perhaps your product is quite technical but smugness or underestimating the audience (or the judges) will get you absolutely nowhere.
  • Don’t cram too much in the presentation. Too much information makes everyone’s head hurt and dilutes your message.
  • If something goes wrong with the AV, take a deep breath, smile and make a joke if you can. Judges notice.
  • If two of you are presenting, match your presentation styles. It’s disorienting to have a high-energy presenter turn it over to a speech-reading, nervous presenter.
  • Having a client onstage as a testimonial can work ONLY if the case study is directly relevant, proves your point and the client is a great presenter. Generally though, judges want to hear from you, not your clients.
  • Be grateful. You’ve got a wonderful chance to present your ideas to a roomful of smart people who really want to hear from you. Plus you paid for it.

NB: Presenter speaking image via Shutterstock.

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Valyn Perini

About the Writer :: Valyn Perini

Valyn Perini is a contributor to tnooz and the Vice President of Strategic Relationships for Nor1.

She was most recently the CEO of the OpenTravel Alliance, where she oversaw the operations of the organization, including developing and executing strategies to reach the goal of standardized electronic distribution of travel and traveler information.

Her travel career includes stints with InterContinental, Westin and Swissôtel, with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a travel technology consultant, and as the director of product strategy for Newmarket International.

Valyn speaks on industry topics at events around the world, and writes about travel when she can find the time.
Originally from Atlanta, Valyn now lives in Boston.



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  1. Charlotte Lamp Davies

    Well done Valyn on a sterling job at PhoCusWrighrt. .A real mix of presenters and presentations last week at PCW, most very good I thought.
    Great article. A very useful A to Z on presenting, in general. So many points seem self explanatory but are often not followed. A grand reminder to anyone who presents.
    For me a presenter gets my attention if a combination of product knowledge, passion and energy is displayed – and the appropriate attire to go with it, of course…

    Now all I have to do is come up with something truly innovative ( over and above my day job, which I can confirm is innovative already) – follow the rules above and find an investor who wants to support me. How hard can it be?? 🙂

  2. Michael

    Having been to a number of pitch days here in Silicon Valley I have seen pretty much everything you outlined and would like to add my two cents on what I think makes for a good pitch/ demo.

    1. Tell a story – if you can guide the audience through a journey you are more likely to retain their attention (make sure the audience and judges can relate to the story, keep it interesting and concise)
    2. Outline the problem you are trying to solve then explain how you will solve it.
    3. Show how the product works – too many people get hooked on statistics and infographics these days and at the end of the pitch the audience is left wondering what they product actually does.
    4. Be prepared – this is very broad but possibly the most important. Know your competitors, know your market, know your product so you can fire off answers to any questions that come up afterwards.

    • Rentini Travel

      Valyn, 8 min slot per company sounds very long. With a single weakness described in the article any elevator pitch could turn into an elevator music never ending rhapsody:) Michael may correct me but Silicon Valley’s standard for a demo is 2-3 min – if presenter doesn’t kick it then it’s not enough time to drop dead off the chair.

      • Michael

        As a very general rule you are allocated 3-5mins for the actual pitch followed by another 3-5mins of question time. So if the 8mins included question time I would say it is pretty normal.

  3. Peggy Lee

    Nice article and very good advice. Thanks, Valyn


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