High Pressure Pitch? Chill Out.

My meeting is in 30 minutes.  I'm sitting in a hotel lobby chair at a Courtyard Marriott, my eyes closed, visualizing what a successful business pitch is going to look like.  I slow down my breathing and focus on having a "conversation" with people that just happen to hold the future of the Company in their whimsical hands.  No pressure.  

In 2011, I was part of the Techstars Seattle class, a really amazing program that chose 10 companies to "accelerate" over a 12 week period with mentorship, product support and help in raising capital.  It was awesome and nerve wracking.  On Day 1 of the Program we had to get in front of about 25 people and give our nascent company pitch.  I was so nervous and so vulnerable and I got slaughtered.  No holds barred.  Raw, unfiltered feedback that my pitch sucked.  Okay, back to the drawing board.

Over the course of the next several weeks my business pitch got better and better.  Every practice session gave me a chance to learn, refine and adapt.  I became more comfortable with being told my pitch sucked and was able to take it in a less personally attacking way.  My confidence grew. "Okay, I've got this," I thought.  

As the program was coming to an end we took a "field trip" to Trilogy Partners, a venture firm in Seattle, WA where we were supposed to give our pitch and expose ourselves to the feedback.  This was the first pitch outside of the walls of Techstars and I was pretty nervous. Okay, here I go.

There were 4 people to pitch to.  I stood up.  I presented.  I was stiff but I gave it my all.  It was exactly 5 minutes (the max time that we had) and I basically memorized the pitch.  I got a couple of questions, nothing too tough to tackle.  As my time wound down, into the room entered John Stanton, the Managing Partner at Trilogy.  He's a telecom legend.  He walked in carrying a duffel bag and I made an off the cuff comment about the bag, "Hey is that where you put the cash that I'm going to walk out with today?"  

It got a laugh.  Everyone relaxed.  I relaxed.  Then the bombshell.  One of the Partners at Trilogy said, “Russell, that is the most authentic you have been this whole time.  You were way too rigid.  Just be yourself.  Have a conversation with us.  You’re too scripted.”  I took that to mean….Chill the f**k out!

I think about that interaction a lot.  It was pretty raw.  My off the cuff comment released the oxygen I was sucking out of the room.  That single meeting was a major pivot for me.  It developed some core axioms that I use when coming into a high pressure pitch:

  1. I have fun and show it.
  2. I demonstrate my passion from a place of emotion, not just the script.
  3. I know my audience.  If the group is small, I don’t present like I’m in an auditorium.
  4. When I feel the emotion of my message I know that my audience does too.
  5. I know that the people in the room are just people like you and me.
  6. I work hard to chill the f**k out by breathing and visualizing before my business pitches.

We went on to raise $9 million of capital for EveryMove.  Getting “called to the carpet” at Trilogy was the best thing that could have happened to me.  Chilling out is not about reducing intensity.  It is about being yourself and letting the best of what makes you…you shine through.