In 2019, I traveled to Ghana to speak at the Ghana Tech Summit. During a break at the event, I heard some music playing outside that piqued my curiosity. Many of the attendees were lined up, listening to a group playing traditional African music and showcasing traditional dances. There were drums beating, sticks clacking, and dancers who enthusiastically translated the beats and sounds into mesmerizing rhythmic movements. The crowd of people were clapping along, and making small dance moves of their own.
As I listened, finding my own rhythm and clapping my hands in support of the show, one of the dancers seemed to approach me. I thought at first it was just part of their routine. Then he stopped right in front of me, pointed, and said with a thick African accent, “You! Come here, come here. Dance.” A bit confused, I looked around and saw that he was clearly only talking to me. I panicked. I was just there for entertainment. I had no plan of being part of it!
I was terrified. My instincts told me to freeze, but that did not dissuade the persistent dancer. The music stopped, and his eyes beckoned me to join him on the stage. My heart started to beat faster; I’m not a dancer. Then he took my hand and pulled me out onto the grassy area and I felt my feet move beneath me, and there I was, in front of everyone, apparently about to become part of the show. At that moment, I let my fears go, and I began to dance, following this man’s moves—even though I had no idea what I was doing!
I tell this story because life is full of moments that can catch you off guard. Moments when you feel like you might not be ready to participate. Moments when you want to participate, but fear may be holding you back from getting out on the proverbial dance floor.
As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to know how to dance, but you have to be ready to pitch at the drop of a hat. The question is how well you will do when the time comes. After being pulled onto that African dance floor, it made me realize something. Dancing has a lot in common with pitching.
How to Turn Your Nerves into Strengths
Everyday, I speak and write about what I call ditching the act. Simply put, it’s learning how to be comfortable being vulnerable, and not taking yourself so seriously. Many times our nerves will keep us from joining the dance floor of life. But when you see those nerves as an indication that you are headed in the right direction, you can reap the rewards. I have plenty of examples from my own life wherein I’ve taken these lessons head-on, from having a pimple during a big talk to fixing up my own 1977 Cal sailboat, BINGO, despite not having a mechanical background.
When pulling together material for my talk at the 2020 Ghana Tech Summit, I thought back to that moment in time when I was pulled onto the dance floor. I was nervous, scared, and not sure what to do. But I got out there and started dancing. It was one of my favorite memories from the international trip. I even finished the dance with a summersault!
Having worked with thousands of entrepreneurs all over the world, I know one thing is true. Your ability to get comfortable pitching your ideas and yourself is directly proportional to your ability to find funding, co-founders, and ultimately success. So I came up with a talk to showcase the parallels between dancing and pitching, to help you gain confidence in both!
How are dancing and pitching related? Let me explain three main reasons below.
Let’s Dissect Dancing
When you dance, it can be scary, especially when you’re in the spotlight. You also will need to have some moves when you are grooving to the music. And finally, it usually takes two, unless you are dancing by yourself. For the context of this article, I will assume that a dance isn’t really complete without another person to experience that connectivity together, as you express yourselves physically.
Let’s Dissect Pitching
Likewise, pitching is scary. There’s a lot that you could mess up—you could stumble over your words, lose the interest of your audience, lose out on funding or have a tech slip-up. Just like dance moves, you’ll need to have certain pitching moves like structure, tone, pace, body language, etc. Finally, I will assume that you will also need to share your pitch with another person, otherwise, it’s not really pitching, but just talking to yourself.
Let’s now break down each of the three similarities and talk about how to overcome them, both when it comes to dancing and pitching.
The Antidote to Being Scared Is to Have Fun
I think that the antidote to being scared of either dancing or pitching is to have fun. Instead of being scared, get in the right mindset to set yourself up for success. Whether you pitch or dance, if your goal is to have fun, your dance or presentation will come across more as more enthusiastic and genuine. You would not believe how many times I have heard an entrepreneur talk about how excited they are, when their un-excited tone and lackluster body language gives away the fact that they are nervous and scared.
But how can you have fun if you are scared? You start with your mindset. I tell people that thoughts become words, and words become things, so you should think the thoughts you want.
If you think you will give a bad pitch, or that you are a bad dancer, then there is a good chance that you will be bad at both! But if you change your mindset, and instead focus on the fun that can be had, then there is a better chance that you will have fun.
It’s too easy to worry about making a fool of yourself. Being scared and stressed out will only increase the chances that you will accidentally say the wrong line, or not have all of your notes organized, and mess up. Focus instead on what you can control, which is your attitude.
Find the Fun in Practice
I will also tell you that to find the fun, you must practice, practice, practice. My martial arts sensei said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” You can’t expect to have dance moves without first learning and practicing them. So how would you expect to be good at your pitch, if you don’t practice?
It amazes me how many entrepreneurs don’t take pitching practice seriously. Sure, they put a lot of work and effort into creating their pitch deck, doing research, and preparing for investor questions, but very few drill that pitch to the point of perfection. When you see a super-polished pitch, you can tell that they put in the work necessary to be memorable, and ideally, fundable.
What are you doing to refine your pitch?
Are you practicing the motions, or are you doing full-on dress rehearsals? Are you pitching to the mirror or to an audience, to replicate what it will be like when you take the stage? To really nail a dance or a pitch, you have to do much more than just go through the motions, over and over—it needs to be about making conscious improvement after each practice as you evaluate what needs more work.
Get Mentorship to Learn the Right Moves
For both dancing and pitching, you need moves. But what if you don’t think you have the right moves? I have something you can try. Open your mind to seeking out a mentor.
Now I want to be clear that in order to get mentorship, you need to be humble. You need to be patient and you need to be professional. So don’t just focus on one person, find the right people that might create a good mentor capacity for you, and then reach out and come to them in a humble way.
When you reach out to potential mentors, let them know you saw them talk, that you like their work, etc. Be patient because they might not get back to you immediately, and be professional because your reputation is more important than any pitch. And guess what? Your pitch may not be perfect. But if you land the right mentor, they can help continue to put you in front of the right people.
I suggest that you reach out to other speakers, business leaders or entrepreneurs! And these days, they don’t even have to live in your city. They can be halfway across the country, globe, or attend the same conference as you. You don’t have an excuse to not find a mentor if you need some direction. Take some time to find people who could be a good fit, and come to them wanting to learn how to improve.
Ditch the Pitch, and Focus on Making Conversations
Dancing and pitching takes more than one person. Otherwise, you’re dancing with yourself and you’re talking with yourself. Think of pitching as a conversation, even if you’re talking to multiple people at a time. You don’t want to be the person who stays in the dance circle the whole time, nor do you want to be the one that dominates a conversation.
The reality is, entrepreneurs talk too much. And if you do this, you will isolate yourself, regardless of being on the dance floor or at a pitch competition.
- If you go over time, you are talking too much.
- If the person you’re talking with doesn’t talk, you are talking too much.
If you talk too much, it’s not going to be as engaging for the person listening. Which is why dancing and pitching is better when more than just you are on center stage. The more you talk, the less people listen. And the less you talk, the more people ask questions. So when you’re on the dance floor, don’t be the person that’s trying to show off your moves the whole time. Do a little bit of a dance, and then step back and let somebody else into the circle. When you do that, it becomes less of a pitch and more of a conversation. When you are talking with investors, make sure that you let them talk, let them ask questions, and make it a conversation.
You better believe the next time I am speaking in Ghana, I’ll be less afraid to get on that dance floor. And the next time you have a chance to pitch or dance, I hope you remember this article.
The way I see it, you can be pitching all the time, just like you can be dancing all the time. You get to own your own dance floor, or stage. But to own it, you must get out there and do it! You may feel stupid dancing or pitching. But don’t be afraid to get out there and move around. Seek mentors to help you learn the best moves, and remember that in order to get your ideas seen and heard, you have to do more than talk. You have to also listen. You have to make it into a conversation