17 Jan 2023 | BY Karl Pontau

Here are two stories that show the power of listening, and what can happen when you don’t listen.

I attended a startup pitch event last Friday, where over 50 founders presented to a panel for investors over the course of 2 hours.

One founder – who I had met with over Zoom a couple weeks before – started his presentation off like most founders do.

Bland opening.

No emotion.

Grand vision with no explanation of how to achieve it.

Lots of grandiose claims about the total available market.

One of the investors spoke up, asking for a clarification of how the founder would bring in the lofty 8 figure revenue projection in one year.

Before he finished his question, the founder spoke over him.

“Oh, no.” I thought. “That was a big mistake.”

For the next few minutes, they went back and forth, talking over each other, arguing about how the founder’s projections could possibly be realistic.

By not waiting until the investor was done talking, the founder looked weak and disrespectful.

That resulted in the investor becoming more annoyed and impatient with the founder.

The moderator put their argument out of its misery, saying they had to move on to the next pitch.

The investors did not request a second meeting with that founder.

Here’s the thing, the founder’s numbers did add up.

He had explained it to me when we’d met 1:1.

He misspoke during his pitch, rushed and nervous as he was.

(His projection was still unreasonably optimistic, but that’s another issue.)

If the founder had listened until the end of the investor’s question, he might have been able to clarify his numbers.

But, he didn’t listen.

This story is an example of a larger problem we have in America.

People don’t actively listen.

You might be surprised to learn that, despite being a professional storyteller, I prefer to listen.

Active listening is my superpower.

That same Friday, right after the pitch event, I had a feedback meeting with a coaching client.

We’d had two sessions; so, I wanted to hear how he felt it was going so far.

One of the things I said he liked about working with me was how he felt heard and understood.

He shared some deep, personal feelings and stories about himself in our first two sessions.

Weights off his back, per se.

I told him how sharing our inner demons releases us from their hold on our minds.

But, we need somebody to listen to us, show us we aren’t alone in carrying such burdens.

We’ve lost that in our society.

We feel alone.

So, here are three things I do to actively listen to people.

Hold Space + Mirror: Let them finish their thought, then paraphrase what they said back to them to ensure you understood it and show them you were listening.
Ask them to tell you more: “Tell me more” is one of the most empathetic phrases ever. It shows you’re interested in and value what they’re saying.
Before responding, ask, “Do you want advice or do you want to vent?” People need to be open to fixing a problem before you give advice. Otherwise, you make them feel like a problem that needs solving, not a human being who’s in pain.

The point is, whether you’re pitching to an investor or talking with a client, actively listening is going to get you better results than assuming you know the right answer and talking over others.

Maybe you can make active listening your superpower too!

If you want help improving your investor pitches, check out this free webinar.


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