Presentation Lessons from the Shark Tank

By Jim Endicott

So here’s the setting: Standing in the wings, a nervous entrepreneur has an idea. He or she is not just looking at their product pitch as a quick path to personal wealth. It also seems a part of their DNA – to create something from nothing.

But they have a problem. Not enough cash to make their dream a reality and they need to get more of the stuff from probably the most intimidating audience they’ll ever encounter: venture capitalists. You see, those investors’ motivation is rarely altruistic. It has everything to do with making money…lots of it and with deal leverage that feels like your children, dog and golf clubs may be included.

What I’m describing here  is one of the most highly-rated TV shows going, The Shark Tank.

So let’s see if we have our arms around this high-pressure presentation scenario:

  • The stakes are huge
  • They only have moments to make their case – not hours
  • The message has to be crystal clear and uniquely solve a problem
  • There are no do-overs – they have one shot
  • And their audience sits through countless pitches every day and they need to stand out!

Hmm…this situation sounds vaguely familiar. It seems to also describe the vast majority of the presentation scenarios each one of us find ourselves in on a regular basis. And if it’s not related to funding or budgets, it most likely has something to do with your career, reputation or influence with important people.

So how can you best leverage your shark tank scenarios in the workplace? Here are three simple ideas for you:

1) If you aren’t connecting with real issues in seconds, you lose.

Think about it, budgets are allocated to address needs. New products to solve problems. Company policy changes to address potential issues or partner planning presentations to improve on last year’s challenges. Just about every presentation these days has something to do with addressing needs or issues in some way, shape or form.

Here’s a model to heighten engagement with the sharks in your life, featuring an actual Shark Tank example, called The Inventioneers

Set expectations:  “We’re here to ask for $100k for 15% of our company

Pain:Distracted driving is a major concern for most families

Effect: Over 18 children die every day in car accidents”

Need: “So how can we raise the focus of teenage drivers to this issue?”

Solution: The Smart Wheel!

Benefits: Parents are notified via text when unsafe driving is detected

Differentiation:Today we only have a child’s promise they will be careful”

Validation: And we are currently in negotiation with major car companies…

Close: Partner with us so you can make money and we can save lives

2) If you aren’t passionate about your idea, don’t expect others to be.

I understand not everyone is wired with the high energy gene – but people rarely engage with others who don’t appear to be enthusiastic about their own idea. I guarantee you that many of the inventors coming to the Shark Tank were probably not cheerleaders in high school, but that changes nothing. They practiced at least the perception of passion and had to reach down deep and find a way to convey enthusiasm.

For you, find someone to be your “passion barometer.”  We are our own worst measuring stick for this attribute and need to use others to honestly tell us… I’m just not getting very excited about this idea because you’re just not there yet either.

3) The perception of confidence can be learned.

Confidence is infectious. And those who appear confident and comfortable in their own skin put us at ease too. Unfortunately, there are many people we encounter every day who look anxious and uncomfortable and sometimes it’s just plain hard to listen to them much less buy into their idea or plan.

Well, the good news is that there are very specific skills that can be learned to convey the perception of confidence – even though there may be a great deal of turmoil going on inside you. (Only you know that).

This starts with keeping your head up…eyes engaged and making the complex simple for others to understand.

There’s a reason the Shark Tank is one of the most popular shows on TV.

We admire those who have the courage to take a chance in the tank. We’re fascinated by their ideas and how simply they explain them. And when they succeed and get some money for their ideas, we share just a little bit in their success.

So take on your Shark Tank this week!  Make the complexities of your message so simple people can understand your idea in seconds. Keep that head up and help others get caught up in your enthusiasm. Those are the things that make the difference  between being heard or quickly forgotten in a sea of other voices.

Don’t just survive in your personal shark tank. Thrive in it.

About the Author:

Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching. For more information about the company, visit

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