It is not only through good arguments that leaders can convince and influence others. Recent research results about how entrepreneurs influence investors in entrepreneurial pitches provide insights into the importance of a leader’s visual presence.

Chia-Jung Tsay, Associate Professor at the UCL School of Management, tried to find factors that could predict which entrepreneurs would get funded by investors in entrepreneurial pitch competitions. For that purpose, she presented 1,855 study participants with various recordings of actual pitches: silent videos, sound recordings, video-with-sound recordings, and text transcriptions.

The surprising result: silent videos were the best basis for both experts and novices to predict who got funded—much more than getting factual information about the entrepreneurial venture (e.g. in the video-with-sound recordings or text transcriptions of the actual contents of the presentations).

The crucial role of showing commitment and confidence in your physical presence

That means that investors were strongly influenced by visual clues such as body language, gestures and mimics of the presenters (the presenters did not use PowerPoint slides, by the way). The presenters’ physical presence clearly made a clear difference in influencing investors. Professor Tsay particularly attributed these results to what she called ‘visible passion,’ a high level of commitment and confidence that the entrepreneurs showed in the way they were presenting their pitch.

Tsay also asked the participants to name the ‘most passionate’ entrepreneurs, and there was again a clear match with the actual winners. Just as entrepreneurs influence investors, leaders influence their followers. Tsay’s research results therefore also remind leaders of the importance of how they visually convey their message. Leaders raise their chances of influencing others when they are able to get their passion and commitment across through their body language and facial expressions.

Key takeaway for smart leaders

  • You will highly increase your chances of influencing your followers if you show ‘visual passion’—if you are able to convey your energy, commitment and confidence in your body language, gestures, and mimics.
Research reference: This blogpost is based on the findings of the following research study: Tsay, C. J. (2021). Visuals Dominate Investor Decisions about Entrepreneurial Pitches. Academy of Management Discoveries, 7(3), 343-366.

Further information about the research can also be found in an interview with Chia-Jung Tsay in Harvard Business Review: 

Illustration: © Eva Kobin

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