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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 12:15 GMT
Chastening the dragons
Investors from the BBC Two series

When seeking money from investors, does a slick pitch mean the difference between success and failure? Dragons' Den presenter Evan Davis offers his tips.

Making a presentation to potential investors would be nerve-wracking enough. But to do so for the entertainment of a television audience must be doubly so - especially when, as in BBC Two's Dragons' Den, each hopeful has to first climb a flight of stairs before facing five hard-nosed business people [pictured above] who might, just might, offer to part with the wad of cash stacked at their elbows.

The show, now in its second series, is filmed in a former warehouse, and the physical environment compounds any discomfort the budding entrepreneurs must feel.

"It's known in broadcasting that if you're nervous and a little bit out of breath, those two effects compound one another. That's why you're advised never to run to a radio studio, and that's why quite a lot of them lose it at the top of the stairs," says presenter Evan Davis.

"But it's not about deliberately making them nervous. We needed an entrance, a way into the Dragons' Den. It's about the theatre of the experience."

Find out what happened to entrepreneurs from the first series

Davis, whose role is to debrief each entrepreneur, says that while first impressions count, someone put on the back foot by the climb can go on to impress.

What is most important is their product, their big idea, he says.

"No amount of good pitch is going to make up for a bad product. Second is the personality of the person - investors don't invest in people they don't like, that they don't trust.

"Third is the actual pitch. If you present it badly, you can lose it even if the idea is very good. I have seen that. But if you're a good investor, you can see through the pitch to work out the value [of the business]."

Act natural

But his top tip to wannabe entrepreneurs is to be yourself, whether making a pitch in front of the TV cameras or not.

"I wouldn't worry too much about first impressions. Peter Jones famously doesn't like the ones who dress in jeans; the others don't feel as strongly about that. Be yourself. Be on top of it and in control. Be charming, pleasant, look into their eyes and show that you're on top of it.

Evan Davis
BBC economics editor and Dragons' Den host Evan Davis
"I think and I hope that investors give people more than 30 seconds consideration. People are not always at their best when they've climbed the stairs and the television cameras are on them and they're trying to gather their thoughts.

"It strikes me that the ones who are very good are the ones who catch their breath, look at the dragons fairly confidently, don't waffle, don't talk for too long, and then answer the questions put to them."

Props, too, are invaluable. Power point presentations are, mercifully, banned. "Pictures, props, models, demos, all add punch and give a sense of having got some way into the process," says Davis, who is also the BBC's economics editor.

And the worst things to do?

"Not knowing your figures. Not being honest about your weaknesses. And not being prepared to answer the questions put to you. There have been numerous cases where the person has challenged why the question is being asked. It's a very bad way to 'impress' the dragons."

And he admits to wanting to shout at the monitor when an entrepreneur turns down an offer of funding because they're unwilling to hand over the chunk of the business the dragon wants in return.

"That is frustrating. You're better off with a smaller percentage of a realistic opportunity. But then I'm maybe a more cautious person than some of them."

See how the entrepreneurs from the first series of Dragons' Den have fared. Evan Davis presents Dragons' Den: Where are they now?, Wednesday 21 December, 1900 GMT, BBC Two. See internet links on the right for more information.



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