"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."
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.
In Say Yes to the Mess, management professor Frank J. Barrett cross-pollinates[/url [url=http://www.fastcompany.com/3000340/if-miles-davis-taught-your-office-improvise]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.
[Image: Flickr user Chelsea Gomez]