Through their Impact Entrepreneurship Week series, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative highlighted some of the key lessons aspiring impact entrepreneurs must address in order to succeed.

Some topics included, asking the right questions, finding partners who share your vision, and keeping it simple. In Tyler Hoffman’s post, The Art of the Pitch, he will address one oft-overlooked area: yourself. Specifically, how to present yourself and your idea to competition judges, potential investors, or even your future customers. Read the rest of the Impact Entrepreneurship Week series in the blog archive.


First impressions are key—everyone knows that phrase. When it’s time to pitch your plan—whether that’s to the judges of an impact competition or to future investors—remember that what you have to say matters, but how you say it does too.


Take the time to develop, work on, and practice your presentation skills.  They will help you get and keep the judges’ or investors’ interest and attention. Selection committees are interviewing a number of qualified candidates and something as small as poor eye contact can lead them to lose interest in your presentation.  The good news for you (if not for selection committees!) is that most people don’t give their performance much thought. If you invest time into strengthening your presentation skills, you can ensure your venture is being presented in the best light, putting you ahead of the competition.


In preparing for interviews and public speaking engagements, think about how your will keep your audience’s attention.  You want them paying attention to you, not to the many distractions that can pull their focus away. Do I have food ready for dinner tonight? I need to call Sarah to check on that report. Did I remember to lock the door this morning? Did my dog walker show up? Your challenge is to keep your listeners from mentally–if not physically–wandering away.


Here are some easy tricks and skills that will help keep and maintain focus:

  • Don’t spend too much time talking about the problem. Instead start talking about your product—your solution—early and clearly to bring attention to exactly what you’re doing.
  • Committee members want to like you and your venture. So, make it easy for them to do so. Maintain good eye contact and smile through your interview. If your audience doesn’t respond in the way you hope, try mirroring their attitude. The more your audience can identify with you the more likely they are to pay attention. They smile, you smile. They sit up straight, you sit up straight.
  • Quick warm-ups 30 minutes prior to your pitch can help avoid awkward moments. Practice slow breathing to slow your heart rate and improve breath control. Hold your breath for 10 seconds and slowly exhale while trying to keep airflow as steady as possible. Read aloud and over articulate using your teeth, tongue, and lips to “hit” each consonant and vowel sound. Make weird faces by stretching out your mouth to keep articulators relaxed and pliant. Practice speaking in a high voice and low voice to increase your range and prevent voice cracking. Stretch your body as any athlete would to keep tension from building in your muscles. And use “power poses” to build confidence! Warm-ups start to leave the body after 30 minutes (so if your pitch is at 5 p.m., start to warm up at 4:30).
  • Remember that mistakes will happen. As simple as each skill is to practice, mastering them requires time. Your goal is to keep your body and mind ready so that when something goes wrong, you’re able to bounce back quickly. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn more about yourself and can even help your presentation. Handling an error with grace without calling attention to it can be just as effective as a flawless presentation. Don’t forget, everyone wants to like you and your venture so give them every reason to. When someone takes a tumble, isn’t it always better when you see them stand back up with confidence?


Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Wharton Social Impact on April 29, 2016.