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14 body language tips to improve your startup pitch
6 min read

Improve your startup pitch: 14 body language tips

Just like a baseball game, a good pitch is essential to success. A well-crafted presentation can attract investment, differentiate your offering from competitors, build partnerships, attract talent and help test and refine your business idea.

Pitch deck vs body language

Your pitch is the story behind your product and company, designed to impress and excite. Traditionally, we think of pitching as boardroom-based, but in reality, entrepreneurs need to be prepared to talk about – and sell – their business idea at the drop of a hat. Whether it’s your elevator pitch during a networking event, conference or simply chatting amongst your social network, your message needs to be clear and consistent.

But, did you know that your body language can be just as persuasive as your pitch deck? Albert Mehrabian, a researcher of body language, was the first person to break down the components of a face-to-face conversation. He found that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only.

What is body language, and why is it important?

Body language is a form of nonverbal communication that involves the use of physical behaviour, such as facial expressions, gestures, and posture, to convey information and emotions. The science behind body language involves the study of how people use these nonverbal cues to communicate with others.

One of the main theories behind the science of body language is that it is a universal form of communication that is hardwired into our brains. According to this theory, people from all cultures and backgrounds use similar nonverbal cues to express emotions and convey information. For example, a smile is generally considered to be a sign of happiness or friendliness, while a frown is often seen as a sign of sadness or disapproval.

Another important concept in the science of body language is the idea of congruence. Congruence refers to the idea that people’s verbal and nonverbal communication should be consistent with each other. When someone says one thing but their body language suggests something else, it can create confusion and mistrust. For example, if someone says they are happy but their facial expression and body posture suggest they are not, it can be difficult for others to know how to respond.

Researchers have also found that body language can have a significant impact on how people perceive us. For example, people who use open and confident body language are often perceived as more trustworthy, competent, and likeable than those who use closed and defensive body language.

Your body language is therefore absolutely crucial to the success of your startup pitch…

body language pitch

What are the key benefits of using positive body language during a pitch?

Clear communication. Your body language can convey a lot of information about your emotions, attitudes, and intentions, which can help to reinforce your spoken message. For example, a firm handshake and direct eye contact can convey confidence and trustworthiness, while slouching and avoiding eye contact can indicate disinterest or deception.

Influence and persuasion. You can influence the perceptions and behaviours of others with your body language, as it will say a lot about how comfortable you feel while delivering your pitch. For example, mirroring the body language of the other person can help build rapport and increase the chances of a successful negotiation. It’s all about conveying confidence – confidence in your idea, your business plan, and your ability to make it successful. Confidence catches – your listeners will quickly feel relaxed and at ease as a result of increased trust and confidence, making them more receptive to your business proposal. For example, using open and expansive body language can convey confidence and authority, which can increase the persuasiveness of your message.

Building relationships. Body language can also help build positive relationships with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders. For example, a warm smile and a friendly greeting can help create a welcoming and positive environment, while respectful and attentive listening can show that you value the other person’s input, perspectives and feedback.

Leadership. Body language can help to establish credibility, authority, and presence. For example, a leader who uses confident and assertive body language can inspire confidence and motivate their team, while a leader who is tentative and indecisive in their body language can undermine their authority and erode trust. Potential investors, partners and employees will be looking for a strong leader at the helm.

So, what body language can I use to improve my pitch?

  1. Keep your body open. When you get nervous, you instinctively try to cover your vital organs. That’s why you see a lot of speakers fold their arms, bring their hands in front of them or cross their legs. This is a sign of nervousness. Great speakers keep their body open, so there’s no barrier between them and their audience, making themselves more approachable and engaging.
  2. Have your palms open. Did you know that the inside of your palm actually makes your eye relax, compared to looking at the back of your hand? By keeping your hands open and showing your audience your open palms, you are showing you have nothing to hide and are open to connecting with them.
  3. Get comfortable with the space you’re presenting in. When you feel comfortable, your body becomes more free to move about. If you feel foreign in your space, your body language starts to constrict and you begin to cover your body up with your arms and hands. If you’re not comfortable, your audience won’t be either. Try and visit / rehearse in the space beforehand so you’re more familiar with your environment.
  4. Step away from the podium! Make sure to keep a comfortable distance between you and the podium (if you have to pitch from one). Putting your body on display is important because our primitive brain judges behaviour, and if your audience can’t see your body / body language (insufficient data), the brain defaults to a negative. A podium masks your body and hands, so make sure to step away so your audience can see more about you, and listen to your message and idea with a more positive mindset.
  5. Speak from your navel area. When you give open hand gestures from navel height, you appear calm, friendly and assertive, which your audience will then project back onto you. As much as you can, keep your hands at navel height and use open palm gestures to win their trust and credibility.
  6. Don’t dangle your hands. This pose brings down energy and gives a negative feel to the audience. Avoid the natural compulsions to hang your hands down by your sides when pitching.
  7. Keep your gestures symmetrical. Moving your gestures around will confuse and distract your audience from your message. As far as you can, keep your gestures clear and symmetrical, especially as you’ll likely be trying to get across complex ideas.
  8. Maintain eye contact. Make sure to maintain eye contact with your audience throughout your pitch. This shows confidence and helps build a connection with your listeners, which will ensure they remain engaged.
  9. Use gestures to emphasise key points. This can help keep your audience engaged and focused on your message.
  10. Smile! Smiling can help you come across as more approachable and friendly, which can help build rapport with your audience.
  11. Stand up straight. Stand up straight with your shoulders back to project confidence and authority. This will also help you breathe more deeply and speak more clearly. A slumped posture can demonstrate a lack of confidence or boredom.
  12. Use vocal variety. Vary your pitch, tone, and volume to make your pitch more engaging and dynamic. This can help keep your audience interested and focused on your message. Keep intonation in mind when making important statements. Former FBI agent and body language expert, Joe Navarro, suggests deepening your voice and widening your fingers at the same time to increase your authority, as opposed to ‘uptalk’, where declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end, as if they were questions. Uptalking will suggest you’re not confident in your statements.
  13. Reduce your physical tension beforehand. Warm up by leaning into a wall and press against it like a press-up. This exercise will release a lot of muscle tension, making your movements more relaxed and confident. By widening your arms as you do this exercise, you can feel more powerful.
  14. Walk in confidently and look around at your audience before beginning. People that are supremely confident when entering a room, feel more comfortable. Don’t hesitate to look around – take in your audience and get eye contact. Take a second, then begin your pitch. (For a lot of people, this is very difficult and requires practice.)

Most successful pitches from Dragon’s Den

Let’s take a look at some of the most successful pitches from Dragon’s Den – can you spot any body language techniques in action?

 

 

body language summary

 

To summarise, a successful startup pitch very much pivots on your ability to make your audience feel relaxed, comfortable and confident about your business idea, as well as your competency as a businessperson. However, while some individuals have a natural disposition to being more outgoing and self-assured, it doesn’t come as naturally to others. You could have the best business idea, but struggle to pitch it and you could miss out on crucial investment and opportunities.

While other factors contribute to the success of a pitch – the language you use, the information presented, your pitch deck – body language can be equally as persuasive and as such, should be given equal consideration. Why not try out some of these tips with a friend or family member for feedback, before putting them into professional practice? Get your pitch perfect and you certainly increase the likelihood of scoring a home run.

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