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Study: Smiling could sabotage your odds of securing funding

Posted by Kanika Sinha

August 6, 2021    |     3-minute read (580 words)

Entrepreneurs have long been advised to appear positive and upbeat while pitching. The popular perception is that smiling while presenting to investors gives you contagious confidence that makes an offer of funding more likely. 

But it turns out that putting on a phony grin or a constant happy face during a funding pitch might be the wrong way to court potential investors. A study published in the Journal of Business Venturing suggests that pitching with a constant smile is actually likely to hurt your funding prospects. 

The study’s authors write that having genuine facial expressions that convey a broad spectrum of emotions, in tandem with a personal storytelling narrative, was found to boost an entrepreneur's odds of securing seed capital from investors.

The research

Washington State University professor Ben Warnick and his team of researchers analyzed nearly 500 samples of pitch videos. They used facial expression software to gauge the impact of entrepreneurs’ facial expressions of emotion on their fundraising success. 

Method

The researchers coded the facial expressions of entrepreneurs for four basic emotions: happiness, anger, fear and sadness including the state of neutrality in their pitches.

Then they calculated the proportion of the pitch in which the entrepreneurs expressed each emotion.

Finally, they compared these derived ratios of emotions with the success of the pitch based on three measures: 

  1. Whether the entrepreneurs met their stated fundraising goal.
  2. How much total capital was raised. 
  3. How many people contributed.
Findings

Successful entrepreneurs used varied facial expressions in their pitches. They tended to open their speech in an upbeat manner and expressed pride in their product and team. They usually switched to using anger while discussing the problem they were trying to solve. Their expressions conveyed fear when talking about the challenges and risks ahead. 

Conversely, entrepreneurs who expressed minimal emotion during their pitch did not do well in garnering funds, despite using compelling language. Entrepreneurs whose emotions remained static or who used only a single facial expression also fell short.

Recap

  • Frequent use of different facial expressions in pitches promoted funding.
  • Entrepreneurs who used a mix of happiness, anger and fear in pitches were more successful.
  • Using facial expressions that convey sadness adversely impacted fundraising.
The case for mixing up facial expressions

As with regular everyday life, your pitch should use a range of expressions and emotions. Mixing up facial expressions conveys authenticity and is more likely to strike a chord with investors. An angry expression demonstrates you care about something, but a static smile comes off as insincere or overly optimistic. 

The authors caution that the study doesn’t suggest you should waylay your audience with abrupt mood swings while pitching. Instead, researchers stipulate that the timing of emotions matters a lot and that maintaining a proper sequence of emotions in the pitch is pertinent for fundraising success.

A successful pitch could be one that starts with positivity, channels anger midway and incorporates expressions of fear in tandem with the words and body language used by the entrepreneur, the researchers write.

 Don’t overemote 

Although the study suggests entrepreneurs with varied facial expressions are better fundraisers, there are limits. Successful entrepreneurs follow the Goldilocks rule, which states that your expressions and emotions should fall within certain margins. Expressing happiness, anger and fear promotes funding only up to a point. Overemoting is not recommended.

Key takeaway: Bring smiles into your funding pitch, but don’t overdo it. Keep it real and show gladness, fear and even anger. Avoid showing sadness.

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