Very few experiences in my life have been as terrifying as the moment I put what seemed like the cumulative accomplishments of my life on the line. Everything I had worked on over the past years would be judged in five minutes by a seemingly cruel and unforgiving arbiter whose whims could seal my fate.
Was I pitching a startup?
No. I was asking a girl to see Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
For an entrepreneur, it can be just as scary to put years of blood, sweat and tears on the line in a five minute pitch to potential investors, as it was for me to ask a girl on a date.
I’ve worked as a public speaking coach for almost ten years, have coached national public speaking champions, and am obsessed with the social research that explains the science of public speaking.
I have seen entrepreneurs pitch at several New Media Ventures events over the past few months and I have noticed three small things entrepreneurs can do that can make a big difference.
- Look ‘em in the eye. We all know that good eye contact is critical to good presentations. In fact, researchers at Cornell University found that eye contact was so potent that manipulating the eyes of the cartoon rabbit on the Trix box could significantly influence purchasing decisions. People were far more likely to buy cereal if the rabbit was “looking them in the eyes.” But what is good eye contact?Good eye contact means looking someone in the eye long enough to complete a thought, and then switching over to the next person. Good eye contact means never turning away from the audience, and if possible, not looking at your slides. Good eye contact means narrowing your eyes when making particularly poignant points in order to maximize the emotional connection.
- Be enthusiastic. Most startups fail and most investments fizzle. You know this. Your investors know this. There’s a dizzying amount of data available to suggest you’re not going to be the next Uber or Upworthy.So why are you here? Why are they here? Because a startup is a leap of faith.
A leap of faith, at the end of the day, is not a purely calculated decision. It is also an emotional response. As an entrepreneur it is not enough for you to provide the data necessary for that calculated decision—you must also provoke an emotional response. Psychological research indicates that mirror neurons in our brains play a key role in shaping our emotions; when we witness others exhibit certain emotions, it’s hard for us to avoid mirroring them. So be loud, be bold, be energetic. Smile, with your eyes and your mouth and your entire body. You have to be full of passion to create a startup in the first place. Let your investors see and feel that passion.
- Show them what it does. One of the most common problems I see in pitches is that the basic “what does this product do” portion of the story is unclear.Tell them how the product works from the perspective of the user. One of the most effective pitches I’ve seen was done by the founder of ShareProgress, Jim Pugh, who used the story of a user “Maria” and how she uses their technology. It was effective because it provided a grounded, clear, step by step explanation of how the product worked to make Maria’s life better.
A surprising number of entrepreneurs forget this step. I think that’s because when we spend a lot of time immersed in a project, we are unable to see it as someone else would—their brain subconsciously fills any gaps in clarity, making what is mystifying to others clear to them.
To address this challenge, find fresh eyes. Pitch your deck to your grandparents. Pitch it to your kids. Record yourself and watch your own presentation. Practice, practice, and practice some more.
I have seen these 3 simple tips work in practice. They helped one entrepreneur I coached go from being quiet and reserved to being full of power and passion.
This is an example of the value of New Media Ventures. We not only invest in progressive startups, we work with them every step of the way, from polishing their pitches, introducing them to potential customers and investors, and providing strategic advice. Of course, there are limits to what we can accomplish—even NMV can’t salvage the sad spectacle that is my dating life—and we certainly don’t have it all figured out.
What about you? What are your favorite pitching tips? Tweet @newmediaventures with #pitchtip to let us know.