Perspective on the Startup Pitch

In a column posted earlier this week at The Financial Times Online, Andrew Hill stated that, “The pitch — that moment when an entrepreneur briefly has a chance to market their idea to an investor — has acquired a hallowed status in the start-up world, and beyond.

“Manuals abound (Pitch Perfect, Life’s a Pitch, Perfect Pitch — you get the idea). Television formats such as Dragons’ Den have turned the mundane meeting in a windowless conference room into showbiz. Executives, film directors and innovators are urged to hone their ‘elevator pitch’. Ted Talks have become a sort of alternative pitching arena for ‘thought leaders‘, where success is measured in views rather than dollars.

“What wouldn’t any enthusiast with a bright idea give for an edge over their rivals? Researchers now claim to have identified that edge: hand gestures can make an investor on average 12 per cent more likely to back a business.

The FT column noted that, “‘People who use figurative language and skilful gestures are more likely to be persuasive,’ according to Mark Healey of Alliance Manchester Business School, co-author of the study, soon to appear in the Academy of Management Journal.

“The idea that body language can help persuade people is not new, and sounds uncontroversial. But this is surprisingly unstable academic ground.”

Mr. Hill pointed out that, “Nobody wants to listen to a halfhearted presentation. But other research suggests passion has no direct impact on investors’ decisions to fund a venture. Preparedness — the content and the entrepreneur’s command over it — does.”

Mr. Hill concluded his FT column by stating that, “Despite the popular impression given by Dragons’ Den, in the real world investors hardly ever decide whether they are ‘in’ or ‘out’ based solely on the pitch. If you cannot communicate your idea at all, you may be in the wrong career. Style alone, though, will rarely triumph over substance.”

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