August 14, 2015
College students, engineers, and dreamers all over the world are tinkering in their garages, striving to create the next big tech innovation. And the amazing, exhilarating truth is that they might just do it!
The tech startup world has evolved into an idea meritocracy. Today’s kings and queens of Silicon Valley aren’t necessarily those who earned prestigious business degrees or aced their public speaking classes. Instead, many shy, nervous tech geniuses find themselves pitching big ideas to cynical VCs who have tighter-than-tight grips on their purse strings.
Most tech entrepreneurs would probably prefer to take their chances swimming across a piranha-infested river in the Amazon jungle. If you’re in this boat, don’t worry — you’re not alone.
Even though I fancied myself a performer and actor all through high school and college, I still get nervous every day for one reason or another. Honestly, as an entrepreneur, if you aren’t getting nervous at least once a day, you’re not challenging yourself enough.
The simple truth is that nerves are a fact of entrepreneurial life.
Simple Tips to Beat the Jitters and Prepare Your Pitch
When I coach clients for media interviews, I always start by telling them a very powerful public speaking secret: Most of the time, even if your heart is jumping out of your chest, nobody can tell you’re nervous.
It’s true! The abnormal amount of sweat trickling down your back, or your more-expressive-than-usual hands, mean nothing to them — the people sitting across from you don’t know your normal mannerisms. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on your demeanor. Sometimes, nonverbal gestures can speak louder than words.
Many of my clients are tech startup CEOs who feel much more confident behind computers than in front of audiences. Here are some of the simple public speaking tips I give them:
- Slow down. When you get nervous, you naturally speed up your speech. Make an effort to slow down by at least 20 percent, and be sure to articulate so your ideas can have the greatest amount of impact.
- Be concise. VCs aren’t in the mood for long, rambling explanations. Be direct and get to the point. Wow them with as few words as possible, and keep it clear and simple while you’re at it.
- Ditch the filler. We all tend to fall back on filler words like “um,” “uh,” and “like” when we get nervous. Hemming and hawing tells investors you’re not confident or prepared, so practice kicking these annoying and useless words to the curb.
- Practice with an audience. Practicing in front of a mirror isn’t the same as facing a group of busy, overworked VCs. Instead, ask a few friends to listen to your pitch (and to grill you with questions) to simulate a more realistic environment.
- Record yourself. It can be painful to watch yourself on camera, but recording yourself gives you an opportunity to see, study, and correct your weaknesses up close.
- Take time off tech. Power down for five to 15 minutes before your big pitch. Take this time to quiet your busy mind and focus on your upcoming task. You’ll be surprised how refreshing it can be to unplug yourself from all the ringing, buzzing, and pinging.
Entrepreneurs tend to walk into pitching sessions thinking they must “win” funding, but this focus puts them in the wrong mindset. Even the greatest ideas accompanied by immaculate pitches aren’t right for every VC firm. Rather than trying to win your pitching session, concentrate on creating a dialogue and a connection.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. No pitch ever goes perfectly: An “um” or two will sneak in, you’ll stumble over a slide, or you’ll forget a statistic. VCs don’t expect you to be perfect, and they don’t care if you were captain of your high school debate team. They care much more about you being a coding wizard.
You still need to give a strong, concise, and compelling pitch, but if your idea is truly brilliant, it will outshine your speaking jitters. Good luck!
Image Credit: Flickr/Benson Kua
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