Having a happy face may not be enough for entrepreneurs to win over potential investors.
Despite the perception that entrepreneurs should always be positive about their businesses, a study by a Washington State University researcher found that entrepreneurs whose facial expressions went through a mixture of happiness, anger and fear when fundraisers were more successful.
“Our results show that there is a role for different emotions in pitches,” said Ben Warnick, WSU assistant professor at WSU’s Carson College of Business and lead author of the study published in the Journal of Business Venturing. “For example, an angry facial expression can indicate how much you care about something, instead of just smiling, which in the extreme may seem insincere or overly optimistic. It’s good to balance that out. . There are different reasons for using different expressions. “
While previous research – and advice for entrepreneurs – has focused on using happy or positive attitudes in pitches, Warnick and his co-authors have looked at several emotions: happiness, anger, fear. and sadness.
For the study, the researchers analyzed nearly 500 introductory videos from the online crowdfunding site, Kickstarter. They used facial analysis software to code the presenters’ facial expressions for all four emotions as well as neutral expressions for each frame of each video. They measured the percentage of the pitch that entrepreneurs expressed for each emotion. Then, they compared the display of these emotional expressions with the speech’s ultimate success by three metrics: whether the entrepreneurs reached their stated fundraising goal, the total amount raised, and the number of people who contributed.
The study found that those who used a variety of three emotional expressions – happiness, anger, and fear – had the most success in fundraising. The only emotion that had a negative effect on the fundraising was sadness.
In a qualitative analysis, the authors found that many successful entrepreneurs used different emotional expressions at different points in speech. For example, many entrepreneurs would start their pitch happily, introducing themselves and saying how proud they are of their team. They would then use anger to talk about their resolve or the problem they were trying to solve. When entrepreneurs spoke of obstacles, the risk they were taking, or the need for resources, they often used facial expressions that conveyed fear.
In contrast, people who expressed very little emotion on their faces did not do well in raising funds, even if the words they said were convincing. Entrepreneurs who stuck to one emotion also didn’t do as well.
Still, there were limits to the use of emotion in pitching, even though it was varied.
“There’s a Goldilocks point where you can have too much or too little,” Warnick said. “Expressing happiness, anger and fear all help fundraising up to a point. But if you express any of these emotions too frequently, you hurt your fundraising prospects. ”
This study only looked at the use of facial expressions. Warnick suggested that further research could look into other channels of expression or the connection between what people actually feel and what they express, as the two don’t always align.
“Some people can be very expressive, where what they feel inside shows up quite easily to others,” Warnick said. “Others might get involved in managing impressions, in other words, pretending.”
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Material provided by Washington State University. Original written by Sara Zaske. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.