Monday, January 30, 2006

Great Elevator Pitches: Delivery Matters

Elevator Pitch Series Table of Contents:
While the content of your pitch is its real meat, the way it is delivered has a dramatic impact the way it is received. Charlie Chaplin’s ability to create unforgettable characters and hilarious moments in silent movies demonstrates the power of non-verbal communication, which is at least 50% of your message. The most important factor is to ensure that the pitch conveys passion, but entrepreneurs should also definitely consider how their voice, facial expressions, body language and dress affect the reception of their elevator pitches.

Passion

Passion cuts across most forms of non-verbal communication. The tone of your voice should convey enthusiasm, your facial expressions should be excited and your posture should be upright and alert. Investors will feed off of the signals you give them and a boring monotone speech certainly won’t be compelling and may even distract from your message. Furthermore, passion is one of the elements an investor looks for in a management team truly passionate entrepreneurs can easily demonstrate it at every opportunity.

Voice

While tone is an important aspect of your speaking voice, pace, volume and articulation are also critical. Volume is important to ensure that your listener can hear you clearly. Speak too softly and nobody will hear you. Speak too loud and you’ll irritate your listener. However, volume can also used for emphasis by speaking softly at key points, which forces your listener to lean in and concentrate. Changing pace with a pause is another great way to emphasize a key point. A brief 1-2 second pause gives your listener the opportunity to digest and consider your point before you move on. However, pace can also be problematic as many entrepreneurs try to cheat on their elevator pitches by cramming 3 minutes of data into their 60 second pitch. Speaking too quickly reduces the quality of articulation and unlike pausing, it obfuscates the key messages the speaker is trying to convey.

Facial Expressions

Many people deliver their pitches while staring at their shoes, yet, facial expressions also clearly impact the effectiveness of an elevator pitch. I always recommend making direct eye contact, which I believe conveys seriousness and attentiveness. However, for some speakers (and even some listeners) eye contact can be uncomfortable. In this case, making direct eye contact only at key points can be another great way to emphasize them. Smiling can also be used for emphasis. While I also recommend an upbeat look throughout the elevator pitch, a quick smile during a pause after a key point is a great way to highlight it.

Body Language

Body language also plays a large role in non-verbal communication. Generally speaking, most people speak more clearly and confidently when standing rather than sitting. Standing also provides an opportunity for gesticulation which can add further emphasis to key points. However, fidgeting or standing rigidly with no movement at all can both be equally distracting.

Dress

There is no doubt that appearance plays a larger role in all first impressions. In Silicon Valley the definition of business casual is stretched pretty far and includes jeans at many companies. Many engineering departments are even more casual and I’ve met several clients in IT departments were shorts and t-shirts were the norm. I wouldn’t presume to be able to tell people what to where, but I do think that business casual attire is important to making a good first impression. Rightly or wrongly the investor you are approaching will judge you based on what you are wearing and shorts, sandals, t-shirts don’t give the impression of a c-level executive. It’s reasonable for an investor to assume that the way you approach him is the way you will approach a prospective client. Of course, if you meet the investor randomly at your favorite sandwich shop over the weekend all dress code bets are off.

Practicing

Most people don’t realize what they really sound or look like to others. Hence, rapid speakers, those who stare at their feet and fidgeters often don’t realize they have poor delivery. A good way to improve your voice delivery is to record it onto a cassette (or ipod) and listen to yourself, which allows you to focus only on the way your voice sounds. Practicing your pitch in front of the mirror us a good way to improve your facial expressions. Video recording can give you a good overall picture of your delivery and also insight into your body language. In fact, I remember the first time I watched myself deliver a pitch… it was very painful, but it ultimately helped me improve my delivery because I didn’t realize how much fidgeting I was doing and I highly recommend it. Furthermore, over the course of simply practicing your pitch you’ll become much more comfortable delivering it.

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