Body Language Tips for Pitching to Investors
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A few years ago, a group of rising-star executives gathered
at MIT to take part in a special competitive event. Each was to present
a business plan to be evaluated by the entire group. The best ideas
would then be recommended to a team of venture capitalists for final
evaluation. Participants saw this as a great opportunity to see how
their ideas compared to others in an elite peer group.
If you had been one of those chosen executives, how would you
have prepared for the event? Would you have focused on formulating a
coherent and convincing description of your business plan? Developed a
clear and compelling story story? Prepared power point slides?
Rehearsed every word of your presentation?
The leaders at the MIT event probably did all of these. But on
the day of the competition, an additional component was added to the
mix – one nobody had prepared for. Each presenter was outfitted with a
specially designed digital sensor, worn like an I.D. badge. This
device, called a “Sociometer,” would be taking notes on each
presentation along with the rest of the group, But not on the merits of
what was being said. Unbeknownst to the presenters, the Sociometer
would be recording what wasn’t being said:
tonal variety, vocal nuance, physical activity, energy levels, even the
number of smiles and nods exchanged between presenter and audience.
At the end of the meeting, the group selected the ideas they
agreed would sell best. And, with no knowledge of any actual content,
the Sociometer readings also predicted (with 87% accuracy) which
business plans the presenters would choose. That’s because, while the
group thought they were making rational choices, the researchers at the
MIT Media Lab, who had developed the digital device, knew better. What
convinced the executive group was a subtle set of nonverbal signals.
Like the MIT entrepreneurs, your success at pitching to
investors is also strongly influenced by unconscious factors such as
the way your body postures match the other person, the level of
physical activity as you talk, and the degree to which one of you sets
the tone -- literally -- of the conversation. If you are an
entrepreneur preparing for an investor pitch -- or just a fan of "Shark
Tank" -- I think you'll find this post interesting. Here are five body
language tips for pitching to investors:
1. Let the audience see your passion.
I know, I know. Venture capitalists are analytic types, and
the last thing you think would attract them is passion. Think again.
Pitching is emotional. As Bill Reichert, Managing Dirctor of
Technology Ventures says: “VC decisions are not a logical
process. Investors decide first in their hearts and their guts. Only
then do they validate those decisions analytically. You've got to get
them to 'wow!' Your job is to excite, not to educate.”
Body language is the prime communication channel of emotion.
Which is not to say that a display of unbridled emoting is the answer.
But neither is a stoic recitation of facts and figures. What works best
is to allow your natural enthusiasm for your company to come across in
your vocal tone and emphasis, your physical energy, and your animated
expressions. But keep it in check by limiting most of your gestures to
waist height (never above the shoulders – it looks erratic), keeping
your weight evenly distributed, and by standing perfectly still when
making a key point.
2. Look confident and warm.
From a body language perspective, the most effective
“pitchers” send two sets of nonverbal signals. One set of signals
conveys status, authority, and confidence. You send these signals by
standing tall, holding your shoulders back, keeping your head straight,
speaking clearly and in a lower vocal range. The other set of nonverbal
signals conveys warmth, empathy, and likeability. These signals include
open palm gestures, leaning slightly forward, giving people eye contact
when they talk, smiling, and mirroring their posture/gestures.
The problem is that we often see confidence and warmth as
being negatively related -- warm individuals don’t appear as
intelligent or skilled as those who project authority, and high status
individuals can come across as arrogant and are judged far less
likable. If you want your body language to present you at your
charismatic best, remember to balance confidence and status cues with
warmth and empathy.
3. Make sure that your verbal and non-verbal
messages are aligned.
When your body language doesn’t match your words, your verbal
message is lost. Neuroscientists at Colgate University study the
effects of gestures by using an electroencephalograph (EEG) machines to
measure “event related potentials” – brain waves that form peaks and
valleys. One of these valleys, dubbed N400, occurs when subjects are
shown gestures that contradict what’s spoken. This is the same brain
wave dip that occurs when people listen to nonsensical language. So, in
a very real way, when your words say one thing and your gestures
indicate another, you don’t make sense. And if forced to choose between
your rhetoric and your body language, people will believe what they see
and not what you say.
Imagine that one of the investors at the table has expressed a serious
concern about your company’s product or service. If you smile while
responding, you will look as if you are being sarcastic or not giving
that issue the thoughtful response it deserves. (This is especially
important for females, who tend to over-smile – often when delivering
potentially distressing news – and in doing so confuse their audiences.)
The problem when pitching is twofold: First, stressful
situations make us behave in ways we’re not entirely aware of, and
second, we are poor judges of the impression we make on others. Seeing
ourselves on video for the first time often makes both points quite
clearly. I remember the shocked reaction of a client I was helping
through job interview jitters when I played back the practice interview
I taped with him: “Hell, I wouldn’t hire me,” he declared. “I look like
4. Perfect your handshake.
Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. We are
programmed to feel closer to someone who’s touched us. The person who
touches also feels more connected. It’s a compelling force and even
momentary touching can create a human bond.
A study on handshakes (by the Income Center for Trade Shows)
showed that people are two times more likely to remember you if you
shake hands with them. The researchers also found that people react to
those with whom they shake hands by being more open and friendly. When
meeting possible investors, make sure to shake everyone’s hand. Just
follow these guidelines to be sure you are doing it perfectly:
• Make sure your right hand is free to shake hands. Always
shift any briefcases, papers, or cell phones to your left hand before
you begin the greeting so your handshaking hand is ready for action.
• Offer your hand with your palm facing sideways. When a
person offers his hand with the palm faced upwards, it is considered to
be a submissive gesture. Conversely, when someone offers his hand with
the palm faced downwards (or twists his hand downward during the
handshake) it sends a message of superiority. But people who offer a
sideways hand to shake send a message of equality and confidence.
• Don’t be a bone-crusher, but do shake hands firmly --
especially if you are a female. Women with a firm handshake make a more
favorable impression and are judged to be confident and assertive.
• Look directly into the other person’s eyes. (A tip is to
look at their eyes long enough to know what color they are.)
• Keep your body squared off to the other person – facing him
or her fully.
• Make sure you have palm-to-palm contact and that the web of
you hand touches the web of the other person’s. Research indicates that
if people don't get this full palm contact, they wonder what the other
person is hiding.
• Start talking before you let go: "It's a pleasure to meet
5. Watch the audience to gauge how you are being
In a pitch, engagement and disengagement
are the most important signals to monitor in your audience’s
body language. Engagement behaviors indicate interest, receptivity, or
agreement while disengagement behaviors signal that a person is bored,
angry, or defensive.
Engagement signals include head nods or tilts (the universal
sign of “giving someone your ear”), and open body postures. When people
are engaged, they will face you directly, “pointing” at you with their
whole body. However, the instant they feel uncomfortable, they may
angle their upper body away – giving you “the cold shoulder.” And if
they sit through your entire presentation with both arms and legs
crossed, it’s unlikely you have their buy-in.
In general, people tend to look longer and with more frequency at
people or objects they like. Most of us are comfortable with eye
contact lasting about three seconds, but when we like or agree with
someone we automatically increase the amount of time we look into his
or her eyes. Disengagement triggers the opposite gaze reactions. The
amount of eye contact decreases, as we tend to look away from things
that distress or bore us.
When you see signs of engagement, it is a signal that you are
on the right track and should continue. When people look disengaged,
it’s a good time to stop pitching and check-in with the audience. Bill
Reichert advises entrepreneurs to ask a question or at least confirm
that the listener understands the point.
Think of it this way: In any pitch both you and the audience
are communicating over two channels – verbal and nonverbal – resulting
in two distinct conversations going on at the same time. While verbal
communication is obviously important, it’s not the only message being
sent. If you focus on the verbal and ignore the nonverbal element, you
stand a high chance of coming away from that pitch wondering why in the
world your brilliantly constructed strategy didn’t work the way it was
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2013-11-06 11:24:41 in Personal Articles