I like speaking. A lot…
Nerves Leading up to YC Demo Day
That said, for me, speaking is a bit like running. I’m not naturally good at it and there’s an aspect of fitness involved. If I’ve been coding for a few months and not communicating and engaging in enough verbal interactions, I can be, well… sloppy and robotic. I get nervous in front of crowds and have trouble controlling butterflies and shakes.
YCombinator has a great process in the days leading up to Demo Day. You get to practice your pitch over and over in front individual partners who each bring their own valuable insight. Paul Graham is particularly helpful for quickly thickening your skin in preparation for the actual day.
YC also does something really fun and smart. The day before is a dry run called Alumni Day where 400 YC Alumni come to watch you on the same stage, present wearing the same mic, controlling your slides with the same projector and clicker. Getting used to the setting and equipment is critical. I would practice my pitch holding my phone pretending it was the slide clicker while moving my hands in the same way I planned to on stage. This really helped ground the first few moments of the real deal. I was super nervous on Alumi Day. It wasn’t obvious - but I was shaking.
YCombinator Demo Day & What’s at Stake
Last Tuesday I pitched AirPair in front of a room full of 450 of Silicon Valley’s most influential investors. Your 150 second talk has the potential to equate to a difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding over the days that follow.
Although I was shaky on Alumni Day, on the Demo Day itself, I was super chilled and spoke in a calm and conversational manner that I was happy with.
Part of my comfort on the day came from the practice through the YC process. The other part was a set of tricks I employed using body language, music, funny imagery and recalling special memories in the half hour leading up to going on-stage.
Harnessing Body Language to Control Your Hormones
If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk - it’s one of the all time top watched TED talks. The summary is you can assume Alpha body language to release testosterone that will calm you and help you control high stress situations. I highly suggest watching her talk now if you haven’t.
Bare Foot Presenting and AirPair Alpha Style
If you’ve met me, you’ll already be aware, that one of my trademarks is I almost never wear shoes. My feet get hot :(
On rehearsal day, I wasn’t comfortable even in my flip flops, so I went up without wearing any shoes and while being on stage Paul Graham asked me "Are you going to be bare foot on demo day?". To which I replied "Probably not". But when he instantly countered with "Because you can if you want to", I didn’t hesitate for a second to capitalize on the opportunity.
I was aware that being bare foot could be considered rude. It was certainly an against the grain move. But the way I thought about it was this…
AirPair is a company that eats with its hands, IF eating with your hands makes the experience better (which is not always a rule of thumb). We respect norms, but not at the expense of not letting us harness our potential. In this case being bare foot helped me be more comfortable and deliver my talk with less anxiety. I was able to project exactly who I was and that gave me more confidence.
Being Silly and Celebrating Like it was Already Over
YC is an amazing 12 weeks of going beyond normal effort to make shit happen. I was glad that it came to an end, as it’s “The most leveraged days of your life” and really not something that’s sustainable. There’s something to celebrate in just trying your best for that length of time and making it to the end.
So on the way to DDay Igor and I put ourselves in the mind frame that we already deserved to reward ourselves and not worry about what was to come with investors and the like after our talk. We took Amy Cuddy’s alpha advice to the extreme by playing Tom Cruise’s most epic alpha Topic Thunder dance scene in the car to pump ourselves up. We mimicked his body language right before leaving the green room and going up on stage to remind ourselves things were good and in the word’s of Paul Graham “Demo Day is about having fun”:
So yeah, listen to music you love, make jokes about serious things, and catch yourself in your body language so you can control a better outcome when presenting in front of people.
I’m sorry if I offended anyone by how I was on stage or anything else during YC. That’s not what I or AirPair culture is about. We like to do good work and execute to the best of our ability. Sometimes that means doing things differently. That’s what makes us unique, open-minded and fun people to work with.