Both humans and animals make up their made very quickly. The cognition process is highly influenced by the very first moment when we map the object using affective cognition. They either like you or not. They either buy your pitch or not. It is also true that both humans and animals express power through their bodies. They tumble in on themselves when they feel unsure, making themselves smaller by hunching over, crossing their arms over their chest and avoiding big movements. When they feel on top of the world, they sprawl out. The fact is that we trust those who act like experts and like the own the universe and we tend to… ignore or (even) pick on those who present themselves as weak.
The beginning of each pitch is the moment when you will be judged. You must catch the attention (in a good way) or you are doomed. And you must prove trustworthy or your message will not be trusted. Starting great will not help you close the deal but it can lead to it. Starting poor will note only minimise your chances but also leave you more and more frustrated. Luckily there is science to it. Yes, the science to start you pitch well. Well, fucking great!
Bad Brain, Bad Brain
Our brain and our psychophysiology (that it controls) can become our greatest enemies when it comes to public speaking. Your prefrontal cortex comes up with great ideas and complex messages and then the very primitive limbic system is responsible for decoding it in the brain of the investor or any other person listening. Initially it’s like Stephen Hawking talking to a fruit fly. But that’s not the only problem. The other is simply stress. This simple physiological mechanism is good for us. Only we do not seem to view it that way. Yes, you’ve heard it, stress is good for you. It can prepare your body for a better performance. It can help you see better, listen better and… it should help you present better. The problem is that most people I know and most startup pitchers I coach suffer from stage freight that jeopardises even the best communication efforts.
So you start your pitch, you are already stressed. Your cortisol levels are high and your testosterone levels are dropping. You feel stressed and you stress about being stressed. You notice the adequate physiological reactions–palm sweating, dry mouth, shallow breath and you get even more stressed as you view stress as your greatest enemy. The one you blamed for bad performance in the past. You body acts accordingly. You tumble in on yourself when feeling more and more unsure, making yourself smaller by hunching over, crossing your arms over your chest and avoiding big movements. The audience reacts to that instantly. They value you and your work as less interesting and they even pay less attention to what you say. You notice their reactions (or worse the lack of it) and stress even more.
It’s a vicious circle. The one you can break. How? Well by reversing the process and tricking your mind. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy proved that postures change a person’s internal state and make them feel more powerful in a series of studies. Cuddy, along with her collaborator Dana Carney of Berkeley, ran an experiment in which people were directed to adopt either high-power or low-power poses for two minutes. Then they were asked if they wanted to gamble. Cuddy and Carney found that 86% of those who posed in the high-power position opted to gamble, while only 60% of the low-power posers felt comfortable taking a roll of the dice. So people who were just „power posing” for two minutes were more willing to take the risk – they felt more confident.
Even more interesting — there were physiological differences between the two groups, as shown by saliva samples. While high-power posers showed an 8% increase in testosterone, low-power posers had a 10% decrease in the hormone. Meanwhile, the inverse relationship happened with cortisol, the hormone related to stress. While high-power posers experienced a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, low-power posers had a 15% increase in their stress levels. It means that not only brain has the power to control our body but the way we act can influence our brain. It turns out that not only our nonverbals govern how others perceive us but the way we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds. And then our minds are better at pitching. And we perform better. It’s a win win.
With her research and science backed tips Cuddy offeres a free, low-tech life hack: assume a posture for just two minutes — and change your life. Change the way you view yourself and the way others view you. It takes two minutes and some practice. It’s a low price for a good pitch.
Don’t stress. Don’t stress.
„Don’t stress. Don’t you dare stress.” No matter how many times you say that this may not work. Actually when people tell me to get a grip and not to stress I stress even more. But I have changed my perspective after I have discovered some interesting research on stress by Kelly McGonigal. Her techniques can be complimentary to the „fake-it-till-you-become-it” attitude by Cuddy. Stress has always been viewed as the culprit. But the new research by McGonigal suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive simply by reframing it. Stress may only have negative health consequences if you believe that it will. McGoningal’s radical suggestion? Instead of fearing stress, befriend it.
The three most protective and helpful beliefs about stress are:
- to view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as energy you can use;
- to view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life; and
- to view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is.
The emerging science on stress mindsets shows that it is possible to change all of these attitudes, even if we are used to thinking of stress as harmful. For example, when you feel your heart pounding from anxiety, you think about how your body is trying to give you the energy you need to rise to the challenge. More importantly, changing any one of these attitudes can help you thrive in the face of ordinary stress as well as chronic or even traumatic stress.
Starting the pitch can be stressful and should be. But you can reframe your thinking and you can strike a pose. After all, there’s nothing to it. Pitch like a pro!