Jay Bigelow’s column is part of a regular series. Why Jay? Because he’s charged with meeting and learning the needs of entrepreneurs all over this region and connecting them with the resources and people to help achieve their goals.

I was driving to work this week and heard a good story on NPR’s Marketplace on how to make effective tech company pitches.

We are beginning the season of pitches and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the founder/CEO being able to deliver an effective pitch for his/her company. It is mission-critical!

You’ll need to pitch well if you want to gain customers. You will need to pitch well if you want to attract top-notch talent to your team. You will need to pitch well to land that major partnership. And you absolutely need to have a great pitch if you want to raise capital. I have seen innovative technology at good companies not get funded because of bad pitches. I also have seen mediocre technology get funding because of a superior pitch.

Learning to pitch is an art that can be learned and developed with practice. That said, I am constantly amazed at how poorly many founders perform at pitching.

Here are three things you can do right now to improve your pitching ability:

1. As the NPR story pointed out, most technical founders spend way too much time talking about the bells and whistles of their technology. The hook isn’t in the features – the hook is in the benefit and getting the audience to see/understand/relate to that benefit. Make it clear and make it compelling. Which leads to #2

2. Tell a story. To make a connection with the audience and grab attention, you must entice people to come along on your journey. A really well-told story – especially a personal one – is one of the best ways to do that.

3. Lastly, be prepared. Practice. It becomes really clear very fast when founders have not thought through and prepared their presentations. They wander around (both physically and mentally), they dive down rabbit holes. In short, they lose the audience.

It’s certainly not easy to get up in front of hundreds of people and talk. Even the most polished presenters still get nervous (That’s natural). It’s how you handle those nerves that will separate good from bad. The more you prepare and the more you practice, the easier it will be to overcome those butterflies. Leverage your mentors, coaches, etc. and run through your presentation dozens and dozens of times.

For extra help, Chris Heivly, managing partner of The Startup Factory wrote a great primer for Inc. last year. Check it out here.

So if you are getting ready for the CED Tech Venture Conference or TechCrunch Disrupt or the NCIDEA grant, start now.

Prepare, seek advice from your best advisors, and by all means practice, practice, practice!