Pitching tips from Finnish stage stars

A Finnish entrepreneur goes to extreme and even comical lengths to improve his business pitch. Does it work? (See video.)

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In honour of Finnish startup events, we look at the amazing and somewhat comical story of a Finnish entrepreneur who, seeking to improve his business pitching and presentation skills, asks dancers, singers and actors for advice. Does it work?

Vesa Tornberg, from a startup called Laturi, tried this approach: Over a four-week period he sought pitching help from dancing, singing and acting professionals, as well as a few business investors. Here’s what he discovered to help him transform himself from a mild-mannered, monotonous presenter into a more expressive, confident star on the stage.

“Overall, I learned that it is not just about the content of your presentation,” says Tornberg. “It’s about performance. It’s about posture, facial expressions, enthusiasm and feeling.”

The dance instructor

Dance instructor Merja Satulehto presses Vesa Tornberg’s posture into shape.

Dance instructor Merja Satulehto presses Vesa Tornberg’s posture into shape.Photo: Henna Majuri

Dance instructor Merja Satulehto has been a judge on the Finnish TV series Dance and Dancing with the Stars. She advises Tornberg how to use his body to show excitement for his product and business: “Body language and tone of voice are definitely things to practice,” she says. “Vesa is used to talking business and it shows. His performance feels too serious.” Her advice? “Push your chest out and hold your head high. Show emotion and confidence.”

The singing teacher

Singer, voice teacher and breathing therapist Maija Lauri teaches performing arts at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences. She challenges entrepreneurs like Tornberg to become a rock star in front of their audience. “Proper abdominal breathing will improve the quality of your voice and help relax both the body and mind,” she says. “Don’t speak like a doctor using a dictation machine – monotonously and all in one breath. Leave pauses to give meaning to what you have just said.” She also offers advice on how to raise voice volume: “Focus on the back row of the audience when you are speaking to a crowd.”

The actor

After: Watch Tornberg’s final pitch at the Midnight Pitch Fest in Oulu, after coaching by five different experts. (Before: See link to pre-coaching version below.)

Elina Korhonen is a successful young actor with experience in movies, TV and theatre. Her pitching advice? “To help you relax, you should warm up your body before your presentation. Also, to help bring energy into your presentation, move around the stage a little.”

The English teacher

Riitta Annala, English teacher and CEO of English language game company Hawina, has advice for people who have difficulty pronouncing some English words. “Don’t get rid of your accent,” she says. “Just find other, easier words that say the same thing. So instead of saying ‘strategy,’ for example, say ‘approach’ or ‘plan.’”

The investor

Juho Risku, cofounder of Finnish venture capitalist firm Butterfly, offers this advice: “Focus less on the abstract and more on the concrete. In other words, don’t use elaborate, fluffy terms like ‘unique product offering.’ Finns tend to use too many abstract words. Instead, talk about your product, company or professional performance, like ‘30 years of experience in the fitness industry.’”

By Mark Badham, November 2014

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