Innovation Blog

Morning Jo: Three Ways to Avoid Pitch Anxiety


These startups know their businesses cold. They talk about them all the time. You might even say theyre obsessed! And, yet, when they get in front of the judges, they start to sweat and usually have to pee right when they are supposed to go in the room. I give every team a pep talk before they head into the judging room, and I tell them all the same thing: Dont worry too much about the outcome. Of course its great to win, but the real prize is having gone through the program and advanced the business, made valuable friends and mentors, and hopefully achieved numerous milestones on the long and windy path to success. The outcome of the judging process in no way at all correlates with the likelihood of future success, the ability to attract funding, or the possibility of winning future competitions. Its important to keep it in perspective. Just relax and tell your story.

That being said, everyone wants to win! Relaxing is easier said than done. Here are some interesting/funny tips for avoiding anxiety from some recent TED talk keynotes:

Amanda Palmer said she practiced her TED talk all the time. She did it for friends in person and via Skype, and she gave the talk to smaller groups at schools and other organizations. She took feedback and revised and continued to rehearse. Then, on the day of her talk, she just tried to relax and clear her mind. She took a long walk and tried not to think about her talk.

Joe Kowan says forget about yourself. This will allow you to connect with the audience and not dwell on your nervousness or your self-criticism. Its not about you; its about them. Joe says he still gets nervous, but he just perseveres because the more he does it, the more comfortable he becomes.

Mikael Cho is an expert on the science of stagefright, and he advocates understanding whats really causing those sweaty palms, dry mouth, and racing heartbeat. Its your fight or flight response your body is telling you this is a potentially dangerous situation, so run for your life! If you understand that this is a natural phenomenon, you can rationally decide what to do about it. You can trick your brain into calming down by raising your arms over your head, squeezing your palms to get the blood flowing, and taking deep breaths. By relaxing before you go on stage, you can adapt to stage fright, even if you dont completely conquer it.

For our startups, my best advice is just to breathe. Take some deep breaths before you walk in the room, and take a few more right before you get started. Pause and look at the judges. Dont rush and dont worry if you mess up. Hopefully once you get started, youll feel the flow and start to relax. Remember, you are a dynamic and compelling speaker a superstar!

I wish all 128 could be named winners! Youre all amazing, and its been an honor and truly my pleasure to get to know some really kickass entrepreneurs especially the women in WiMC! My favorites!

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