Dear SaaStr: How Do You Overcome “Stage Fright” as a First Time CEO?

Don’t worry about stage fright. It’s real.  I used to have it.  And … you’ll get over it.

I remember the very first time I had to present to a Fancy Board Meeting. I wasn’t a founder yet, but I was told I had to get up in front of a half dozen very famous, very prominent Venture Capitalists.

10 minutes in, I froze. And walked out.

It was terrible.

Fast forward to the first time I had to get on stage in front of 2,000+ in a Vegas kick-off. I’d done it so many times, I refused to even show up to the prep session.

You’ll get better with practice. It’s OK.

The secret is repetition. You’ll start to get very good at your pitch, the vision, the value proposition, once you’ve done it a few times.

So a few suggestions:

  • Speak any time you get a chance. Even at a tiny, tiny event. I remember once speaking at a startup event when only 7 people came to the session. It’s OK. It all helps. And one of the 7 people was a VC who gave me a term sheet, it turned out.
  • Practice before you do your first important VC pitch. Practice. Find a CEO, another founder, even a VC that isn’t a good fit. Practice first.
  • Stand, if you are speaking in person. Most of us present better when we’re standing.
  • Make your presentation shorter & tighter. Try to distill any presentation 5–7 slides, or maybe even 1. Take out 90% of the text. Try to get it down to its bare essence. You’ll almost automatically perform better.
  • Pitch what you’d buy yourself. So, so many folks get this wrong.  There is no magic to a customer or VC or SKO pitch. Would you buy what you are pitching? You have passion around what you are building. The best way to make that shine through is to make sure the pitch is not just an information transfer, but really makes you want to buy from yourself. Cut anything or rework anything that doesn’t do that.
  • Focus on your passion. If nothing else, pitch and talk about your passion. Whatever you are most excited about. Even if that means keeping other things out of the presentation. This is where you will shine.

Every founder gets pretty good at this.  Especially once you’ve done the pitch 10, 20, 100, 200, 1000 times 😉

How to Prepare Yourself to Be a Great CEO

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