I spent today listening to presentations from contestants in the University of Oregon venture contest. It was amazing how the presentations gave life to some business plans that had been less than impressive when read in a vacuum.

During today’s presentations, a company that had nearly been discounted based on the quality of their business plan gave a stunning presentation. Not only was the opportunity excellent, but the team presented their material clearly and easily answered every question with immediate access to back-up PowerPoint slides.

Unfortunately, the reality is that for most companies seeking venture or angel funding, the business plan is the only presentation they ever get to make – it’s what filters out the wheat from the chaff and how VCs decide who they are actually going to invite to give an in person presentation.

The discrepancy between today’s presentations and some of the business plans that accompanied them underscores the need for entrepreneurs to review their business plans carefully before sending them off for review by VCs and other investors. Plans must be clear, easy-to-read, direct, and well organized. It can even be beneficial for entrepreneurs, particularly those trying to get funding for highly technical products, to work with a professional writer to help clean up the business plan text before submitting plans to investors.

A helpful exercise can be to work on an ‘elevator pitch.” Try to describe your business in 60 seconds or less. Try different versions with different audiences – friends, family, and business associates. Once you have a pitch that anyone can understand, convert it into the first paragraph of your executive summary.

AvatarNoah Parsons

Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. You can follow Noah on Twitter.