How To Fight Pitch Fatigue

Between wooing potential investors and meeting people at parties, you're going to have to tell your company's story thousands of times. Worry not—there are excellent ways to pitch your heart out every time.

"Recently I was on the receiving end of a description from an entrepreneur, who has a great idea that I love, that had the emotional impact of a TSA inspection at the airport," writes Brad Feld, the VC and cofounder of the TechStars incubator.

"He was going through the motions with almost zero emotional content," Feld continues. "At the end of it, I said one sentence: 'Don’t get sick of telling your story.' "

The entrepreneur followed up with him later that day:

  • "Thanks for articulating what was going on in my head. I think I was getting burned out from telling the same story to so many mentors. I need to stay focused and stick with the story that worked well the first 40 meetings. I also need to be careful that the lack of freshness doesn’t affect how passionate and energetic I come across. Timing for this realization couldn’t be better given our upcoming fundraising trip."

So what happened to the entrepreneur who delivered his company's story with all the urgency of a DMV agent? Feld, in his wisdom, has a clear phrase for these mushy mumbles: pitch fatigue.

"The founders have said some set of words so many times that they are tired," he observes. "The emotion of what they are doing is out of the pitch. Their enthusiasm is muted—not for the business, but for describing it."

Why do we get pitch fatigue?

If these founders are like other humans, it's probably because the novelty of telling their story has been exhausted, and our brains like novelty and get itchy when they don't have it.

Novelty, as psychologist Russell Poldrack has written, is one of the most important signals we have for paying attention to the world. It makes evolutionary sense: You don't want to spend your precious energy observing what happens every day (or every investor meeting, as it were). Novelty is associated with a number of systems in the brain, including the dopamine system, which is usually thought of as a "feel good" area, though Poldrack argues dopamine is more "the 'gimme more' neurotransmitter."

So since the pitch is no longer new the 50th time we give it, we don't have the same dopamine activation, so it doesn't feel good, and we don't speak with the same "emotional content" that Feld wrote of.

Or maybe the pitch is still new:

In Say Yes to the Mess, management professor Frank J. Barrett cross-pollinates[/url [url=]improvisational arts like jazz with doing creative business.

In discussing how to make the familiar feel fresh, Barrett summons an old acting technique: If you're doing a piece for the fiftieth time, pay attention to what the other actors are doing. Tailor your performance to theirs: instead of dwelling on how old the piece is for you, focus on the subtle spontaneities of creating with other professionals.

This relates nicely to the problem of pitch fatigue: You'd excite your dopamine system—and boost your emotional content—if you placed your focus on how the person you're pitching is experiencing your story. If, like an actor, you tailored your performance to the players involved. If, like a jazz musician, you made the audience part of your improvisation.

Bottom Line: Empathy beats boredom.

Don’t Get Sick Of Telling Your Story

[Image: Flickr user Chelsea Gomez]

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  • Mmaley

    I believe there are two things to keep in mind when your pitch is feeling old.  First and foremost,  you should always keep your focus on THEM.  If you attention and energy is on the investors, you will not have time to think about how bored you are with your pitch.  Actors keep it fresh by getting excited to see how each audience will react.

    Also the advice above is great.  Go back to the beginning.  Remember why you started your business.  Remember those first few months when you lived on excitement and were bursting at the seams to tell everyone your pitch.

  • Ivan Mazour

    I think the key is to make it a conversation and not a pitch. I think everyone can relate to this - when random people at social events ask me what I do, my heart initially drops. I just don't want to yet again start the "pitch", especially if the person is not in the industry and probably won't even understand what I'm talking about. However several times I've found myself pleasantly surprised when the person I'm speaking to happens to know exactly what I'm talking about and actually provides some useful insights. The reason those times are enjoyable is because it becomes a conversation. So why not turn every pitch into a conversation (at least in your head). Make it a game in which success is persuading the other person to be interested, and where the actions are to change direction based on the visual and audible cues from the person you're pitching too. It certainly makes it more interesting and gets those dopamine receptors going again!

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  • Peter Freeth

    I think a key issue is feedback. If a person gets positive feedback, it's more likely that they'll become more animated about telling their story. If they see blank faces, they're going to let the self doubt creep in, and their lacklustre pitch will be a reaction to an anticipated disinterest. You'll hear this when sales people call you to apologise... "I'm sorry to bother you, I know you're busy..." Well, now you come to mention it...!

    I think one important way to keep the pitch fresh is to keep tweaking and changing it based on the feedback that you get. Change something and see what happens. Find out what works, and most importantly, keep changing it because what works now won't work next month. Don't spend hours in front of the mirror getting it "right", just get out there and evolve with real feedback.


  • Ronnie

    Drake - this is a great post since I've been telling my story for 11 years. I just wish you provided an example of what it sounds like or more on "how to". 

  • Sam Horn

    Drake and Brad, thanks for these great tips about "Pitch Fatigue."

    There are several other things we can do to keep an often-repeated pitch intriguing.

    1.  Remember, it may be the 100th time for you; it's the 1st time for them. 

    2.  Don't "re-tell" your story;' re-enact it. 

    Put yourself back into the scene of how you came up with your idea.

    Re-experiencing how that felt pulls you out of robot mode, puts you back "in the moment" and transforms your info into imagery.  This makes your story come alive ... for you and your listeners.

    3.  Blase' is boring.  And boring won't get you bought.

    Remind yourself, "Investors won't get excited if I'm not." Take a cue from professional athletes and mentally ramp yourself up for peak performance ... just as you would a championship game.

    4.  Get your decision-makers' eyebrows up. 

    The easiest way to tell if you're engaging your audience is to watch their eyebrows.

    If their eyebrows are knit or furrowed; it means they're confused.  And confused people don't buy.

    If their eyebrows don't move, it means your decision-makers are unmoved.  Not good.

    You want everone's eyebrows UP. 

    Try it right now.  LIFT your eyebrows.  Feel curious?  Like you want to know more?

    That means we just got our pitch in your mental door.

    Next time you're about to pitch, remind yourself that capturing and keeping your decision-makers' attention is a deal-maker or deal-breaker. 

    If you want all your hard work to pay off -if you want to close a deal or at least get a follow-up meeting - INVEST YOURSELF in delivering ptich that keeps you and your audience intrigued - from start to finish.

    Sam Horn, Intrigue Expert and author of POP! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title or Tagline

  • Kelly Boyer Sagert

    Very interesting! This holds true for pitching article ideas, book proposals and the like, as well. Thanks for this fresh perspective!