Judi James is a leading communication and body language expert who regularly appears on TV and radio, analysing major political, royal and celebrity events.
From BBC News to Newsnight, Big Brother and Strictly Come Dancing, Judi delivers thorough and insightful analysis on the body language of politicians, world leaders, celebrities and other public figures.
Our startup cohort on the Amazon Sustainability Accelerator were lucky enough to benefit from her words of wisdom recently. She helped them realise the unintended consequences of their body language, especially when presenting and pitching their business ideas.
We were fortunate to catch up with Judi afterwards and hear her top tips for positive body language for better pitching success.
Firstly Judi, how did you get started in this career?
Following a career in modelling and marketing, I was asked to give a talk on how to present a professional image. This subsequently led to nearly 30 years of me giving talks on how to maximise personal and professional personas - as well as being asked to write books about how to market yourself in business. This led to the bestselling BodyTalk and BodyTalk at Work books.
Of course body language involves much more than just wearing the right jacket at the right time! There’s so many other psychological factors involved - but no one was talking about the impact of body language at that time.
I was really keen to address this because I felt it was such an influential and deciding factor when meeting people and brokering deals. I would look around at people like politicians and business leaders and think, ok you might not be wearing the right suit or tie, but against the odds, you've got this kind of charismatic ability to persuade people to listen to what you have to say.
Big Brother Calling
I continued to present and write books and then I got a call from a TV programme about to launch the second series of Big Brother. I thought they were joking at first but I went along and had good fun with them - doing the show for sixteen years. I’m always open to good ideas - never passive!
Sometimes doing things that aren't financially viable are important, if they get you to the right audience. So my TV and radio career started from there! I had my own body language TV series and a nightly show on Sky news during the election.
So Judi, what tips would you give to Founders for ultimate pitching success?
1. Believe Your Own Message
Sell your own story to yourself first. Listen to your own pitch. I see lots of people when they're pitching for business or politics. They don't really believe their own message. They haven't sold it to themselves before they've tried to sell it to other people.
2. The X Factor
Beyond a rational response to your pitch, there’s an underlying vibe you may be sharing that perhaps you’re not even aware of. The Limbic part of the brain is powerfully influential when it comes to ‘buy’ decisions, which is about how people feel rather than what is logical. Try to become more aware of how this impacts people - in a good or negative way.
For example, one of the startup teams on this Amazon accelerator programme really connected with me. They were funny. The co-founders of Grub Club Pets - an insect based dog food - didn’t take themselves too seriously although they were clearly serious about the value and the sustainability of their product. I took a bunch of their samples away and I don’t even have a dog. They just looked like a club that I wanted to join!
3. Nerves .v. arrogance
It’s so easy to get nervous when you are thinking about a pitch and thinking that you’ve got to say the perfect thing. But ‘perfect’ can end up looking slick and lacking in authentic passion, so always retain your own individual style of charisma and energy, even if that means the odd mistake..
However, I would also beg people not to watch programmes like ‘The Apprentice’ and think that there's anything to copy there. That level of arrogance won't work either!
Be aware of your audience and pitch accordingly. Not everyone responds to an over friendly approach. I remember working with premium, luxury store staff. In their case, a slightly distant, understated customer approach worked perfectly for their particular type of customer.
It's about getting the right blend of your product and pricing and knowing your customer.
4. Back to front pitching
A useful tip in pitching effectively is what I call back to front pitching.
It's about thinking about the end result. What do you want people to feel or do? It's about getting out of the mindset that ‘I’ve got to sell this product to someone’. Because actually that person needs to feel immersed, inspired and moved by your pitch. It’s about your impact or problem solving or customer reward rather than your personal capabilities or reward.
Also, don’t think about the opportunity as a pitch. Perhaps think that it’s more of a conversation. Take your customer or investor on a journey with you.
In that way too, don’t over rely or hide behind your slides. Your presentation is just a backup to help illustrate a point.
5. Who do you want to work with?
Sometimes female founders pitching to male investors can feel quite intimidated. It's imposter syndrome playing in their heads. So knowing how to adapt a pitch is key.
If the investor is a bullying, alpha type, it’s sometimes good to mirror their style - but not always! Being assertive is not the same as being confrontational.
Equally if the investor is presenting a style that’s resolutely confrontational, you might want to question if they are even right for you. Think about the kind of working relationship you want going forward - are they the kind of people who you can feel comfortable and confident in? Or perhaps call directly in a mutually respectful partnership?
Or are you inadvertently entering into a compliant child and critical parent relationship where you end up bending over backward and promising what you can’t deliver? Be very careful who you choose to work with and don’t diminish yourself.
Either way, I would always recommend practising answers to those difficult questions. Imagine the worst and most difficult questions you could get asked and have your answers prepared and ready! Otherwise being fearful of not having all the answers will definitely affect your body language. Always be keen to take questions as it registers interest in your product. Never back off, fold your arms or look defensive, lean in or step out towards the person asking the question to show keenness.
6. And finally, don’t worry!
Not every pitch is going to be perfect so expect this and don’t worry. Over time, you will get better. I remember being interviewed for a television programme. I finished the interview, said thank you and walked straight into a small cupboard rather than out through the exit door. And I stayed there! I could hear the next person being interviewed. I though - I'm gonna have to sneak out afterwards but why does it matter if I come out now and just shrug? At least they will remember me!
QUICK BODY LANGUAGE TIPS FOR A PITCH
- Practise your pole position, ie how you will stand when you start. Feet should be slightly splayed with no crossing the legs at the ankle. Keep a slight upturned ‘V’ gap under the armpits to help look and feel confident.
- Always use eye contact during your intro. Too many people say ‘hello everyone’ while looking down at their script.
- The Attribution Effect, ie how they will begin to assess or judge you begins as soon as you are visible. So your pitch starts as you walk into the room. Make sure your greeting rituals look confident and friendly.
- Never read from your slides and avoid turning round to look at them. They’re there to help the buyer’s understanding, not yours.
- Keep your slides simple and high in impact. What message does each create?
- Warm up before you go into the meeting. Do a full body shake-down to relax your muscles and push the tip of your tongue into the roof of your mouth to relax your jaw.
- Smile! It’s important but your smile shouldn’t look fake. Start by creating an eye smile and allow the smile to work down to your mouth.
- Emphatic gesticulation is good but just flapping your hands around or fiddling will be a distraction. Practise some exaggerated gesticulation as you practise your pitch then tone it down slightly for the real thing.