The art of pitching

Source: Trends (28/09/2017); Author: Veroniek Collewaert

Hurrah, Dragon’s Den is coming to Flanders! The Belgian spin-off will probably bear a different name (Leeuwenkuil, ed.), but the concept remains the same and it is set to be broadcast on Vier in the spring. Will it be worth watching? That largely depends on the quality of the participating investors and entrepreneurs, as well as their ideas. For the record, I don’t know who they are, but I’m excited to find out! The programme will showcase up-and-coming entrepreneurial talents and give the average Flemish viewer a better insight into the phenomenon of business angels and venture capitalists. After all, you can’t appreciate what you don’t know, and for young companies with the potential and ambition to grow, they remain key sources of financing.

Another reason why I can’t wait for the programme to start is to hear the entrepreneurs’ pitches – messages to convince investors to hand over their hard-earned cash. Pitching is an art. Convincing someone to get on board in just two minutes? It’s no easy feat, that much is certain! Still, it is important and to be honest we all pitch, everywhere – whether we are trying to convince a potential customer to buy a product or a potential employee to join the company, or encouraging manufacturers to choose us as a partner. You always know just a little bit more than the person facing you across the table. Can you actually supply that particular product and if so, in which condition? Is your company really that cool to work for? The person you are trying to convince rarely has any option but to take your word at face value. The more experience you have as a person or as a company, the easier it is to convince people, because you can present them with evidence. And the younger you are, the more difficult it is. Convincing someone to use their valuable resources – be it time, money or people – on your behalf is not something that happens in the blink of an eye.

Convincing someone to get on board in just two minutes? No easy feat, that much is certain!

And that is exactly what makes it so important to prepare your pitch with meticulous care. What should you say? But also, how should you say it? A quick Google search reveals a tsunami of tips on what your message should include. Typically, a corporate pitch consists of four key factors. What is your value proposition? Have you got any figures to prove it is worth it? Who are you and what makes you the best person for the job? And where do you stand at present? What you say is important, but how you say it is equally crucial. That is sometimes underestimated. Then there are also things you have little or no control over. Physically attractive people and people with a deeper voice appear to score better, for example. That said, there are many other factors you can control. Smile, make sure you have an open posture – do not fold your arms! – and turn towards your audience. All of this contributes to a more positive assessment. It also helps if you convey your story with passion and conviction. These factors help others perceive you as a ‘warm person’.

It is also interesting to note that extensive psychological research has revealed that when we first meet people, we judge them on two levels, namely warmth and competence. How much do I like you? And do I believe you are good at what you do? We form an opinion in a fraction of a second, which is why stereotypes are so important. Older people are generally seen as warmer but not as competent as their younger peers. Men can easily be perceived as both warm and competent, while women usually achieve a high score for one of these traits. When they are considered very warm, their competence is questioned. The opposite also applies. However it’s not always that simple. We carried out a study in collaboration with BAN Vlaanderen (Business Angels Network Flanders) in which we collected about 1,000 pitches that were evaluated by business angels. Initial results show that under some circumstances, business angels may actually attach greater importance to warmth than to competence, or the other way around. In a nutshell, pitching really is an art. I am curious to find out how this art will be portrayed in an exciting TV show this spring.

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