Be Brief. Be Smart. Be Gone ... And Other Presentation Advice from ACG Cup Judges 

The ACG Cup competition extends over two rounds, the first round intraschool and the second and final, interschool. Teams are given a case study in each round that provides them with a unique opportunity to present valuation, capital markets and M&A strategic advice to a panel of seasoned M&A professionals from within the ACG community. Judges, posing as a board considering a proposal, challenge the teams with questions and evaluate them on both the technical and presentation aspects of their pitches. Because there is no right answer, students learn how to focus on developing a rational solution and defending it.

Opportunity and Feedback for All 

Participating in the ACG Cup offers unparalleled opportunity for students to gain access and exposure to M&A professionals and to real-world dealmaking experience—in addition to the potential for significant financial reward. The experience enables student participants to hone their dealmaking skills and enhance their presentation, networking and team building abilities. 

Judges also benefit from the opportunity to expand their connections, learn from both peers and students, and give back to Colorado’s business and academic communities. Their feedback to the student teams provides value to others of us in the business community as well, whether it’s dealmaking or simply making a pitch for business to a board or other decision makers. We’re pleased to share their insight and advice with you as the final phase of the ACG Cup process.

Judges’ Advice

On Audiences:  Most important, understand your audiences and what they need to hear from you. Be clear on how they make money in their business.
Recognize that each listener comes from a different background. Balance the type and level of detail appropriately.
Everyone is looking at something different, so drive the presentation in the ways you’d like it to proceed. Assume that everyone is with you and don’t give too much information. Let them ask questions.
You won’t convince a board (or any other group) of anything. Make your points and they will make their own decision. 

On Collateral Materials: Be clear about the purpose of your handouts and presentation and include what’s appropriate.
The best way to go on your PowerPoint is with simple slides that provide an executive summary followed by a detailed appendix.
Get a "cold read" on your presentation and proposal from a colleague or friend who is not familiar with the situation and can catch the little things you don’t see.

On Presenting:

  • If presenting as a team, briefly lay out each team member’s expertise and role up front so that questions can be addressed to the right person. Team members should play to their strengths and passions—and play off one another.
  • Start with the end in mind; then go back to it in a recap at the end of your presentation. In other words, begin your pitch by explaining what solution you recommend, what the risks are, and how you got there.
  • After your recommendation, explain all opportunities and why they would or would not work in the situation. Think through and be prepared to answer questions and challenges.
  • Figure out what the key quantitative theme is and keep coming back to it. Extrapolate the risks and environment as the basis for making your points.
  • Own it, feel it, believe it. Speak firmly with your answers and back up what you say. ("Often in error, never in doubt," to borrow from cartoonist Paul Szep.)
  • Present options, not one "right" solution. Offer scenarios such as, "If you want to achieve this, then option X is your best choice. It you want that, option Y is best."
  • Don’t include everything in your presentation. Keep your message clear and simple and lead your audience to the questions you want them to ask you.
  • Maintain eye contact with your listeners rather than turning your back to use the screen as your prompt.
  • If people aren’t asking questions, pause and ask them yourself: "What are your thoughts or do you have questions at this point?" Or offer, "If I were in your position, I’d be wondering about X."
  • Understand and own your role in working with the client and clearly explain what you can do for them, from taking a simple to a complex role. Give them something to hang their hat on, and ask for the business. Remember, you want a relationship, not just a fee.

Boards and management teams hear pitches frequently; their attention spans are short and their impatience runs high. You need to be engaging and you’d better have the answers. Be brief, smart and then gone.