You have a dream, a business plan, or even a finished product that you know will revolutionize the way we (insert verb here). The truth is, however, no matter how incredible your product may be, it won’t matter if you can’t make an effective pitch.
The good news is, you don’t have to be a natural-born Nathan Gold to recruit support for your ideas. Thanks to decades (really, centuries) of research on rhetoric, behavioral science and management techniques, we have a better understanding than ever of what it takes to persuade people that your ideas are worth investing in.
1. Disarm your audience.
In his article Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini writes that praise – even if it is undeserved – generates affection that makes the listener more likely to comply with the wishes of the person offering the praise. Everyone likes a bit of flattery: with few exceptions, offering praise will make people like you and foster the presumption of goodwill in your dealings.
Emphasizing similarity builds that same feeling of goodwill – if you have a mutual friend, attended similar institutions, worked in the same industry, or even have a favorite lunch spot in common, it never hurts to bring it up in a friendly way. Small gestures can go a long way in persuading others that your ideas – and you personally – are a worthy investment.
2. Passion matters, but preparedness matters more.
Steve Jobs once said, “It’s so hard to build a company, that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up.” Accordingly, many investors have said they look for passion in entrepreneurs – the intense emotion that can drive a person to keep going in the face of long odds. Studies show that passion results in higher ratings by decision makers on technological merit, management ability, and commercial potential.
However, passion is not itself a substitute for preparedness – or at least the perception of it. Cognitive preparedness, which cues the entrepreneur’s readiness to move the business forward, is a better indicator of the venture’s potential for success. Passion for your idea is a positive trait, but only when you’re prepared: discipline and a well-tuned business plan are much more significant variables in persuasion.
3. Show off your social competence, not just your social capital.
Conventional wisdom holds that the better connected you are, the better off you’ll be. As an entrepreneur, factors like elite education or past work experience can help you gain access to the venture capitalists, partners and mentors that you need to get your foot in the door. But when it comes to long-term financial success, studies show that social competence is a better predictor of success.
Why? In order to attract and retain favorable collaborators, including investors, business partners and employees, traits like emotional intelligence, adaptability, and expressiveness are much more likely to produce good outcomes. Among entrepreneurs specifically in the tech industry, high levels of social perception (accuracy in perceiving others) and expressiveness are related with long-term financial gains.
4. Appearances count (yes, even in Silicon Valley)
We’ve all heard the stereotype of the rumpled, hoodie-clad entrepreneur too immersed in lines of code to think about putting on a suit and tie. It’s true that the tech world is informal – as Roger Ehrenberg of IA Ventures jokes on Quora, “I personally don’t care what an entrepreneur wears as long as they’ve showered.” But don’t assume that it won’t be matter for everyone.
Research shows that when it comes to cognitive processing of your abilities, everything is a factor – even, say, whether your socks match. Writes Paul Cianciolo of Monday Morning VC, “Are these types of judgments always fair or representative of whether someone will ultimately be successful in their endeavors? Probably not. But do they happen? Absolutely.” So when you need to build confidence that you’re the best possible advocate for your idea, make sure your socks aren’t the issue.
5. Show confidence, not swagger.
In most scenarios – either business or personal – confidence is a plus. But when you need to recruit support for your business, confidence doesn’t mean bullish swagger or overly rosy growth projections. You’re better off showing confidence by establishing yourself as an expert. But don’t assume that everyone already knows your qualifications.
You can’t “nail your diplomas to the wall and expect everyone to notice”, Cialdini writes – do spell out what you’ve done in the past that makes you the perfect person to lead your project. Look for opportunities to communicate your qualifications outside of the pitch itself: “Perhaps it’s a matter of telling an anecdote about successfully solving a problem…or mastering a complex discipline, not in a boastful way but as part of the ordinary give-and-take of conversation.”
Once you’ve established your expert status, veteran investor Raj Singh adds that you can feel unafraid to ask for what you really need. “Be proactive in asking for help,” Singh recommends. “Do scenario testing and articulate how much money you need, and demonstrate what you need money for.”