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Here’s How Psychology Counts when You Present A Business Pitch

8th May, 2017

Any time an individual appears before a group of people, whether for a job interview, to look for business or to present a proposal to a bank loan officer, there’s a psychological angle, usually unseen and unspoken, that can often influence the decisions made. Psychologist Mbutu Kariuki breaks it down.

Q: How should one prepare psychologically for a big event like pitching a business to potential investors? Athletes warm up before going into a race. What are the psychological warm-ups that would be helpful before taking a plunge into the Lions’ Den.

A:Mbutu Kariuki: Appearing before the LIONS can be intimidating to the upcoming entrepreneur. However, a number of events/activities before the presentation can help in lessening anxiety. These include, one, watching similar previous shows and interviews of success entrepreneurs. This will give a clear understanding of the anatomy of such presentations, expose one to business language and act as a pointer to the common mistakes that lead to the rejection of proposals.

Two, do a timed presentation of your idea to colleagues, family, friends or mentors and incorporate their feedback. This is a good way to practice presenting sensible, short and precise answers. It helps build confidence and clarity of ideas. Always have your figures and projections right and at your fingertips.

Three, work on your emotions. Learn to take feedback (questions or criticism) seriously and positively. For example, if you find yourself shouting at someone, getting irritated, thinking “that’s a stupid question” etc…it could be an unconscious cover-up for your weak ideas. Ask for help.

Four, practice doing presentations when alone. Is the business idea even sensible to you? Do you have difficulties answering your own questions? Speak to an imaginary crowd when alone at home or in the office (believe me, this is not a sign of a splitting mind!).

Five, remain positive and optimistic. Appreciate yourself for the opportunity. Being selected to participate is already good success.

Finally, get enough rest and sleep (especially on the night before the presentation). Waking up tired may only worsen matters – make you more irritable and could easily dent your image.


Q: How does the psychology of first impressions come into play?

A:The first encounter with the LIONS will definitely contribute to the impression they form about the budding entrepreneur. Normally, the first impression is the lasting impression and subsequent attempts to change this impression may not count for much. This is referred to as primacy effect – the enduring quality of initial impressions. Here, the entrepreneur should endeavor to put his/her best foot forward: Impression management (self-presentation).

However, the big question remains: Should the presenters try to act naturally and be themselves, or should they deliberately change their behavior to get the LIONS have a more favourable impression? My take is that being at our best should not be at the risk of sounding exaggerated and insincere.

Some crucial tips to help in the impression management would include using the right nonverbal cues: smile often, maintain an open posture, lean forward if sitting, maintain a high degree of eye contact, and frequently nod your head in agreement with what the interviewer is saying [remember not to overdo it – you will look insincere]. If these cues are not natural to you, try to consciously apply them during the session.  For example, if you are shy and not comfortable maintaining eye contact look slightly above the LIONS’ heads (not up). This trick works!

Second, conform to situational norms. For example, you could wear same form of dress like the LIONS (official, smart casual? – the idea is not to appear significantly different unless you are selling the fashion itself); language – strictly avoid jargon, heavy vocabularies (this is not a grammar class) and curses (sincerely no f words); and etiquette – observe good manners. Always keep in mind that you are asking people to invest in you.

Third, appreciate others. If working as team, acknowledge the input of others. “I did”, “I shall” will only present you as selfish. Even if alone, create an impression that you have been a beneficiary of help at some point (which is often the case) and would do better with more help. This is why you are here in the first instance.


Q: The word “influencer” gets thrown around a lot in business, but how does the power of persuasion really work?

A:It is important for the presenter to know that the LIONS are people with beliefs, intentions, motivations and attitudes. Hence, Attempts to influence them could actually be an uphill task.

There are many factors involved in persuasion [and attitude change] but I propose the following as organized around the main elements of the communication process: 1) The source (who conveys the message?). The presenter should endeavour to look attractive, likable and trustworthy. 2) The communication (what is the message?). The conundrum here is if the presenter should employ a rational or emotional strategy. That is, should they use basic motivators e.g. love, sex and fear or use fact or logic to persuade? We know that emotional appeals are very powerful, but how applicable would they be in this setting? 3) The medium (how is the message conveyed?). Unlike in an ad placed on tv or newspaper this is a face to face encounter. Hence tips offered above in the impression management apply. 4) The target (who receives the message?). For example, it may be easy to influence younger people than older ones. I am not sure where to place the current LIONS.


Q: Is it important to research the potential investors before going to pitch your business? What should you be looking for?

A:Absolutely yes. Everything – e.g. core business interest, figures, possible areas of conflict with your idea, areas of unfair competition with you (be wise, you could simply be giving away the goose that will lay you a golden egg) and, above all, possible areas of cooperation.


So, how does one deal with an unsuccessful pitch?

An “am out” verdict is definitely heart breaking. Fact, a presenter who attributes failure to something inside him/her will only be courting more pain, guilt, stress and perhaps depression. Fact, the “am out” verdict is not a judgement on your character, personality, intelligence or state of mind. It is about the best way to run a profitable business – which is a skill. And skills are acquired. Go for it.

But one who might say, “This was a unique opportunity for me to test my idea….” would be more likely to try again and succeed!  It is important to be realistic about the only two possible outcomes.  Avoid blame games. Resilience is the hallmark of all successful entrepreneurs. It is the ability to bounce back. Rather, pick the questions asked, criticisms, disapprovals and use them to have a better understanding of your business idea.

Remember to apply for the second season of KCB Lions Den Here

Article first appeared in the Standard Newspaper

By: Mbutu Kariuki

Mr Mbutu Kariuki is a Nairobi-based Consultant Psychologist with special interest in Workplace Well-being. He holds a Bachelor of Psychology Hons (UoN), MPhil Psych (Cambridge), and is currently a PhD candidate at University of Otago, New Zealand. (

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