The next time you're looking for investment capital, hone your pitch to a fine edge. But before you go the meeting, do a little navel gazing.
Why do I say this? Because in 2010, Amy Cuddy, who teaches at Harvard Business School, was quoted as saying that the success of a start-up's pitch to venture-capital investors depends on nonverbal factors like "how comfortable and charismatic you are. The predictors of who actually gets the money are all about how you present yourself, and nothing to do with content."
Citing research by Boston College doctoral student Lakshmi Balachandra, who studied 185 venture-capital pitches and found that variables like "calmness," "passion," "eye contact," and "lack of awkwardness" were strong predictors of success, Cuddy argued that inner states, like confidence, are infectious in part because "people tend to mirror each other. There are dedicated 'mirror neurons' in the brain."
I think it's more complicated than that. All companies pitching to investors get screened on their content, but they get selected from among all qualified candidates for other, nonrational reasons.
So the guys who get the money have both great content and charisma, calmness, passion, and eye contact. They clear the rational hurdles in the investors' minds, but they also succeed by appealing to the investors' nonrational needs for comfort and trust.
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about mirror neurons.
A neuron is a specialized cell that transmits nerve impulses, and a mirror neuron is one that fires both when someone performs an action and when someone observes the same action performed by another. The neuron mirrors the behavior of the other person, so the observer feels that he or she is performing the action.
For instance, you're walking through a park when, from out of nowhere, the man in front of you gets smacked by an errant Frisbee. What do you do? You instinctively recoil.
Or you're watching a race, and your own heart pounds with excitement as the runners lean to cross the finish line.
Or you see a woman sniff some unfamiliar food and wrinkle her nose in disgust. Suddenly, the nostrils of your own nose retract.
Scientists speculate that mirror neurons may enable people to 1) understand the thoughts and feelings of others (some consider them the neurochemical basis of empathy), and 2) literally experience the feelings of others.
However, one big caveat: While some scientists have found mirror neurons in monkeys, there is not yet any compelling evidence that they also exist in humans.
Nevertheless, this is what Cuddy and Balachandra are implying: that your emotional state could be pivotal to your speaking success because your audience feels what you feel. Their mirror neurons are creating your emotions in their bodies.
So what does this mean for you as an entrepreneur trying to raise money? First, it means that your content must be equal to (or distinct from) that of the best of your competition. Second, it means that before you walk into the room, you need to navel gaze, or do whatever floats your boat, to achieve a positive inner state.