Powerful body language may be among the most valuable tools in an entrepreneur's arsenal. In the delicate art of pitching to potential investors, how you say something is nearly as important as what you say.
"In any pitch both you and the audience are communicating over two channels—verbal and nonverbal—resulting in two distinct conversations going on at the same time," says author and body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman. "If you focus on the verbal and ignore the nonverbal element, you stand a high chance of coming away from that pitch wondering why in the world your brilliantly constructed strategy didn't work the way it was supposed to."
Confidence and accessibility are key elements of powerful body language. By standing erect, with your head straight and your shoulders back, you demonstrate confidence in your idea and the authority to speak about it. By smiling, making appropriate eye contact and using open-handed gestures, you display warmth and accessibility—qualities that draw your listeners in, rather than keep them at a distance.
Here are other tips for incorporating powerful body language into your pitch:
Start with the Handshake
"Touch is the most primitive and powerful cue," Goman says. "We are programmed to feel closer to someone who's touched us."
The trick is touching the right way. A firm handshake is needed, but not so firm the other person feels like their hand's being crushed. At the same time, maintain eye contact, smile and start talking before the handshake is over, as in, "Great to see you again" or "What a pleasure to meet you!"
Don't Overdo—or Underplay—Eye Contact
As you get underway with your presentation, remember that you're talking to people, not reading from notes or staring at a PowerPoint slide. Like everyone else, investors want to feel like they're being addressed directly. So it's important to establish eye contact with everyone in the room for just the right amount of time, and no longer.
"During presentations, mentally split the room into thirds," advises corporate image consultant Margaret Batting. "Address some of your comments to one side of the room, turn your attention to the middle, and then look to the last section. Pick out one person in each section and direct your comments toward that person. The people surrounding that person will think you are making direct eye contact with them."
Demonstrate your Passion
If you're not enthusiastic about your new venture, how can you expect anyone else to get on board? Investors will, of course, rationally determine whether or not to part with their capital, but body language that conveys passion for an idea will certainly persuade them to take you seriously. As part of your presentation, demonstrate your natural energy, with both gestures and changes in vocal tone, so the audience can appreciate the enthusiasm you have for your great new idea.
Watch for Signs of Engagement
While monitoring your own body language during the presentation, keep aware of how your audience responds. When people turn their bodies away, look off elsewhere, or sit with arms and legs crossed, they're showing signs of disengagement. Either you have yet to persuade them or you're about to lose their attention altogether. That's the time to dial back on the pitch and pause to ask questions or invite comments to get people re-engaged.
Finally, pay attention to the smallest details—including where you plan to sit or stand for your pitch. Rebekah Campbell, chief executive of Posse, always sits at the head of the table when making a pitch.
"I choose this seat because in meetings with large groups, it gives me the best opportunity to make eye contact and build rapport with everyone in the group," Campbell says. "I also think that taking the head of the table sends the message that I'm leading the meeting."
A great idea may be enough to get potential investors in the room. But adding powerful body language to the mix may be the thing that rallies them to your side.