An Athlete’s Approach to Startup Pitching and Adrenaline Management

“How does one get into shape for public speaking?”

I was waiting to go on stage to pitch my startup, and became quite aware of my heart rate. My Fitbit registered 145 beats per minute, an unusually high rate for me akin to when I go jogging. I felt my body was betraying me, amping up my adrenaline when I didn’t want it to. To make things worse, today’s pitch wasn’t even that important. In that moment, I decided to get in shape for public speaking, particularly startup pitching.

Adrenaline is an issue. Along with anxiety, it can cause anyone to jitter, nervously step back and forth, talk too fast, feel like their vision just came out of warp speed, or forget what they were going to say. Adrenaline often accompanies exciting activities like kiteboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding, skydiving . But bad public speaking habits also come from adrenaline.

So here, in all their glory, are the sevens tactics you need to help you manage your adrenaline and knock that pitch out of the park.

Heart Rate

High heart rates can be key for athletes. Getting up to the mid 100s is an accomplishment for most professional athletes, as it shows them they are working hard.

In the case of pitching, however, high heart rate is a negative. The lower your heart rate, the more progress you’ll make when it comes to swaying your potential investors and future customers.

Practice Makes Permanent

Practice is the only way to really make something stick when it comes to pitching. If you want to reap the benefits of practice, you need to do it a lot.

Create rules for your during these practice sessions. Whether you need help plowing through mistakes or need to work on eye contact with the audience, make sure to stick to your guns and be honest about what you need to improve.

Note: Pitching while driving is hard The theory was that it would simulate a distracting environment. In practice, it’s amazing how much attention an unprotected left turn takes.

Win the Crowd, Win Your Freedom

Most public presentations have low entertainment value and even lower presentation quality. Commenting on virtually anything that was said previously that is not a cliché  (“I love this city” or “let’s put your hands together for [previous speaker]”) will get you a laugh or applause. It must only show the slightest wit, or even that you were listening to previous speakers.

Not only will it keep the audience entertained, but it will give you the freedom to relax and enjoy pitching rather than stress uncontrollably. As soon as you get the first inkling of joy, stick to it.


Note: If you’re in a series of speakers, listen to every other person’s hook. If they use what you were going to use, you have to find a new hook or your funny line is going to go over poorly.

Embrace the Script

I personally don’t believe in scripting a pitch first. It doesn’t work for me and it feels fake. What I do believe in now is that pitching from something like an outline can go a long way in helping you prepare without being bogged down by scripts.

The startup world thrives on improvisation. If you can’t show your potential investors that you are capable of thinking on your feet, the chances of getting that funding round are slim to none.

Staying in Shape

So, how do you stave off the effects of adrenaline? You need to stay in shape phsycially and mentally.

To broaden my abilities, I enrolled in an improv comedy class with Jet City Improv to up the ante. I have no idea what my partners will do. I have no message or point to deliver, my objective is to be funny for people who are expecting entertainment. Luckily, there are rules and even an ethos that messing up can be just as funny.

So what was my heart rate prior to a live improv performance in July? It was a nice 115 BPM. This means I have regulated my heart rate to not be stressed when I’m speaking in public. I’ll take that as a win.

Photo: Flickr / Scott Boone

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