How to deal with nerves during your startup pitch

Pitching in front of a crowd can be daunting. We’ve seen all manner of nerves at The Pitch – founders tumbling over words, sweating, pacing anxiously and even dashing off the stage.

It’s hard to effectively communicate what you do and why it matters when you’re nervous. The good news is that pitching nerves are something you can overcome with enough practice.

We’ve outlined some tips for overcoming your nerves, including the importance of practising and pacing yourself.

Pace yourself

Your pitch is about presentation as much as content. Public speaking is tough, but it’s essential for founders to get to grips with it. Even the best pitch won’t get you anywhere if it comes out rushed and unintelligible. 

At The Pitch, we encourage anyone who isn’t confident to bring notes with them on stage. That said, it’s important to engage with the audience; notes should act as a prompt, not a shield to hide behind.

“I always learn a script. Some people don’t like that, but I can move away from it and always come back. I record myself too. It’s horrible, but if you want to get better, record the hell out of your pitch,” says The Handwriting Company’s Robert Van Den Bergh.

Practise makes perfect

Get as much practice as you can. Pitch to family and friends, enter competitions and attend networking events. It helps pitching to become second nature – something you won’t even think about anymore. 

The Pitch finalist and OneUp Sales founder Derry Holt is a great example of what practice can do. A self-described “introverted programmer”, he hated pitching and being solely responsible for the business’s success. Still, he persevered. 

“My first pitch at an incubator came about when I arrived a few minutes late. Out of breath and with a half-baked pitch in my mind, it fell to pieces. Forgetting to breathe, forgetting words, stressing myself out – it was absolutely horrible,” he remembers. 

“But, week by week, I began refining my pitch and started to grow in confidence. I still speak far too fast for most people and trip on my words. But when it counts, I know I can be depended on. 

“You have to fake it ’til you make it. I’ve had to pitch to clients in person, cold call and pitch in front of 500 people. I do all of these things with as much conviction and self-belief as possible. Without any self-confidence, you’re only holding yourself back.”

“Week by week, I began refining my pitch and started to grow in confidence. I still speak far too fast for most people and trip on my words. But when it counts, I know I can be depended on.”

Derry Holt, founder of OneUp Sales and The Pitch finalist

Jonathan Keeling, partnerships director at Crowdcube, stresses the importance of practicing your pitch too. 

“Don’t be afraid to practice your pitch with your family and friends, or pitch to yourself in the mirror. Not everyone can reel off the perfect pitch with no preparation or notes. Practice makes perfect and it’s important that you come across as polished with a solid understanding of your product or service.”

The usefulness of power posing

One of our pitching coaches recommends doing a “superhero pose” before you pitch. Go to a quiet space, put your hands on your hips and puff out your chest. Believe you can do it. 

Another recommended doing press ups or hitting the ground with a rolled up magazine, providing you can find somewhere sensible to do it!

To learn more about how to structure your pitch and deal with pitching nerves, download our guide to creating a winning 90-second pitch.

Download your pitching toolkit now

To learn about other key parts of your pitch and the questions investors are likely to ask, download our guide on how to create a winning 90-second pitch.

For this guide, we’ve talked to founders and investors about how to structure a 90-second pitch and the key elements that matter. There’s also information on how The Pitch scoring criteria works and questions you might get asked after your pitch.

Simply fill in the form below and we’ll direct you to the PDF straight away.

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Kat Haylock
Kat is the lead writer at Inkwell, the company behind The Pitch. She’s worked with small businesses for the last six years, championing Britain’s startup scene and anyone who has snacks.

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