UCL School of Management

26 August 2021

The visual power of energy, expression and gesture

Entrepreneur enthusiastically presenting a pitch with a microphone to an audience

Stage presence is everything. Speaking to Harvard Business review Chia-Jung Tsay explains how her recent research on entrepreneurial pitch competitions demonstrates the power of visual cues and for securing VC funds.  

Chia invited nearly 2000 study participants - a balance of experienced professionals and amateurs - to review and predict the winners of 19 venture capital pitch competitions. Presenting the pitches in varying mediums of videos with sound, silent videos, audio recordings and transcripts, Tsay discovered that it was the participants watching the silent videos that best predicted the eventual winners of the competitions.

Based on these findings, Chia suggests that visuals such as body language and facial expressions help to influence the correct judgment more than words and the actual content of the pitches themselves, which she found to be true when using both the experienced professionals and the amateur study-participants.

The study-participants who received more information (through transcripts or audio) than their silent video counterparts, did prove to be more confident of their choices, but less accurate at predicting the outcome. Chia argues that this underlines a discrepancy between what people say they value and the information that drives real-world decisions.

Chia is hesitant to refer to these findings as indicating ‘bias’, demonstrating that the research was built to avoid several biases and instead taking the viewpoint that people are responding to the visual demonstration of passion, which is reflected in a constellation of ways, including energy, gesture, and expression. Chia maintains that passion and confidence are in fact directly related to successful outcomes, adding that a future step for the research, would be to look at the winning start-ups’ outcomes to identify if letting visuals drive decisions is a sound investment strategy.

She warns that entrepreneurs should still focus on creating a solid pitch and polishing the content, but that the importance of their visual presence must be acknowledged and time spent to practise that side of the presentation to convey the idea in a way that conveys passion whilst remaining authentic to the presenter.

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Last updated Wednesday, 1 September 2021