When Stakes Are High – For Startups And Investors
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It was a pretty exciting day for me, being invited to be the body language consultant for an investor who was meeting the team of a startup he was seriously interested in investing into.
This was a day different from other days since the stakes were high for the investor. He was seeking to have more of a long term strategic alliance with the company, unlike the typical investor mentality of seeking an exit route after a period of 4-5 years.
This would mean understanding in detail about each team member, how the team functions together, which member backs up others, who dons the hat of the leader, and so forth.
Here are a few tips for such investors to keep in mind, when they meet teams they have never encountered before and will now be trusting with a lot of their precious wealth.
This is probably the first thing you notice about people you meet for the first time. Don’t be fooled by the dressing of the individuals. Dressing to manipulate your perception of the individual or influence the psychology of the opposite team is one of the easiest strategies and one each team should be aware of and avoid being influenced by.
Who enters first, or escorts the team into the room is generally the leader of the team or atleast the one handling more responsibility. This might not always be true though. I have seen arrogant individuals who push through the door, least caring who is following them or leaving the door open for them. This would be an extreme other end of the personality trait. A further analysis during the interview round would reveal more about such a person, but do keep your eyes on him.
The question answer:
How strongly the answers are put forth would tell you about the conviction of the team in the ideas that they present. Self touching gestures during such times should be observed and noted. Once I saw the technical lead start sweating in a fully air conditioned room when he was asked some futuristic questions. Of course this does not mean the person is anything but nervous.
It would be too quick to draw any conclusions but tensed gestures do mean that a more thorough round of questions need to be asked. You may want to pay some attention to building rapport first and conveying to the team that they are being understood rather than interrogated.
The venue of the meeting sets a tone in the subconscious of every individual. Meeting on home ground puts the home team on a dominant footing from the beginning. This is because the surroundings would be ones they are used to on a daily basis. They would not feel any “threat” in the place and hence not waste energy, subconsciously or otherwise, in being on guard. Neutral meetings grounds are generally preferred for equal scope of negotiation.
The layout and shape of the table can also determine how forth coming each side would be during the conversation. The table, if long and rectangular, makes a meeting very formal and the invited team would be on guard, defensive and cautious. It would also necessarily seat the teams in an “us” versus “them” position. Use these ideas as deliberate tactics when you have a particular strategy in mind of tackling the meeting.
A sharp individual would be quick to identify the decision maker in the team of the investors and would like to sit opposite him, if the former is going to be the key negotiator in the team of the startup. There are a lot of subtle cues which hint at whether the seating taken up by the team pitching their company is deliberate or unconscious.
Seating style: Individuals leaning forward and paying attention to your words are the ones you are influencing at any point in time. If you see them backing off and leaning back on their seat, you need to know you have lost their vote of confidence.
Signs to pay heed to:
Self-touching gestures, like mildly stroking one thumb with the other, touching the ear or nose, clutching one hand with the other, generally signal nervousness or lack of confidence in varying degrees. So does the need to break eye contact more frequently than otherwise during the same conversation. Furrows on the forehead, narrowed eyes, tensed lips, these are all signs of either holding back emotions or general tension. These should be evaluated as per the situation.
During the tough questions, whenever any member gets stuck, you will see the leader be quick to backup the answers of the member or improve them instantly. He would also be the one passing out questions to specific individuals to handle, depending on the nature of the question. A good leader generally tries to begin his answer by agreeing with the opposite team before putting forward his point of view.
You can analyze strength of rapport amongst the startup team by observing how frequently they all take up the same seating style during the conversation, or start imitating your style of seating. This can be as slight as just leaning back on the same side of the chair, or as evident as copying every action of the each other or you. If the team has a split view, it would be possible to spot likely sides by seeing how they imitate each others’ positions. Also, if they start mirroring you or your team of investors, it is a good sign that they have started liking your terms of the deed and will oblige to a lot of terms.
These are of course a few points you can begin with, to start analyzing how the team behaves, both as individuals and together. For a more thorough analysis, it would be advised to leave the task to someone who focuses solely on the non verbals while you take your time with the question answer round. Are you on the other side of the table – coming from the startup team rather than the team of investors? The strategies you should adopt and the signals you should be observing are then entirely different!