Hone an Elegant Performance for Investors

By Nicole Gravagna, Peter K. Adams

To ensure that you’ll be well received by venture capitalists (VCs), when preparing your pitch to investors, add one more level of preparation: identifying and eradicating any bad habits or behaviors that can be distracting.

When getting to know VCs, you need to make a great first impression. Bad habits can turn investors off before they really have a chance to get to know you. Remember, VCs are people who meet tons of entrepreneurs; they tend to get a little jaded and can be quick to judge presenters after seeing a couple hundred pitches.

Eradicate your physical and verbal tics

Everyone has little gestures and habits that are magnified in a presentation. Your presentation style can attain a certain polish if you identify your own quirks and avoid them during the pitch.

When speaking in public, people display quite a few really common nervous habits. You can videotape yourself giving the pitch and then watch the video. These ticks will become apparent to you when you see yourself on the video:

  • The leg slap: With every point that a leg slapper makes, he slaps his thigh. The sound is loud enough to bug the people in the front rows, and once it becomes apparent to the audience, they begin to listen for the slap rather than to the presentation.

  • The lip smack: The lip smack is a tsk sound that some people make at the end of sentences. It’s the oral equivalent of the leg slap.

  • Playing with hair: If you know you are likely to play with your hair (both men and women exhibit this foible), style it or cut it in a way that makes you leave it alone.

  • Flailing: In an effort to be enthusiastic and energetic, some people wave their arms and bob their heads a lot. The cure comes with being conscious of your movements and practicing to eliminate them.

  • Looking back at the slides: Some presenters actually turn their backs to the audience and talk to the slides. Practice the pitch so that you never have to look over your shoulder or turn your back to the audience.

    Turning your head when using a lavalier or podium microphone can be especially frustrating to the audience. The audience will experience big changes in volume as you move your head in and out of the microphone’s range.

  • Saying “um,” “ah,” and “er” a lot: Using a verbal pause like this is so common that Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, designates a person in every meeting to count the speaker’s “ums,” “ahs,” and “ers.” The best way to avoid reflexively using these breaks is to practice your pitch so that you know it backward and forward.

Be “on” even when you think you’re “off”

You are always being interviewed. Sometimes VCs invite prospective companies to lunch, dinner, or some other social affair, like a baseball game. They may invite your spouse and children as well.

Even though these situations feel more casual, you — and your family if they’re invited — still are being interviewed. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and stay on your best behavior the whole time. Just because your tie has come off does not mean that you get to relax.