First Impressions Matter When VCs and Entrepreneurs Meet, Says Charisma Coach

For Olivia Fox, the notion that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is no ordinary saying. It’s a way of life. And, she says, the saying is true.

Fox is a self-described charisma coach, helping to provide leadership training skills to a number of large corporations, such as Deloitte and Stanford University, as well as numerous other businesses, including Google.

Fox, who spoke last night at an event in San Francisco, says she is increasingly approached by small companies and startups, not to mention a high-profile VC from Silicon Valley, inquiring about her services. They don’t just want to be more charming; they want to be more influential. She declined to name the VC.

I recently chatted with her about the kind of consulting she provides and why startup entrepreneurs and VCs should listen to her advice. For more info, here’s a link to a TED-like video she has posted on her Facebook fan page.

Q: Why are you being approached by more VCs and startup entrepreneurs?

A: People are getting smarter about how to do business. There’s a talent war going on and executives are looking to recruit the best engineers out there. They have to court them, since they can’t offer them founder status, or even stock anymore. People are looking for a competitive edge.

Q: Are you expensive?

A: Yes. That’s probably why only the well-funded VCs and startups are approaching me.

Q: What types of advice do you give?

A: The most frequent advice is about body language. I tell them how they come across and what they need to tweak. It could be as simple as the handshake.

Although it may not seem like a big deal, a handshake is a serious step in intimacy and it establishes a lot of trust. I often tell clients that no matter how expensive their suit, watch or briefcase, if their handshake is bad, their first impression is out the window.

Q: What are some examples of a bad handshake?

A: Two of the worst offenders are the dead fish and the knuckle cruncher. If an entrepreneur has a bad handshake when they’re about to step into a pitch meeting, for example, then chances are they’ve lost out before they even said a word.

Q: Are people receptive to hearing this kind of advice?

A: Some are aware that the best term sheet or product they’ve developed is not enough, and so they are more willing to invest in how they present themselves.

Q: Often, when I tell people I’ve met you and you’re a charisma coach, they ask if you’re teaching people how to lie. Is that what you’re doing?

A: No. I’m giving people items they can pull out of their charisma tool kit to use effectively when communicating with others.

Q: Are charisma skills equally important for investors and the startup engineers?

A: Yes. For VCs, their lives consist of a lot of different people pitching them daily. Showing trust and warmth may not seem like a big deal to an investor, but those skills are critically important when working with entrepreneurs and establishing trust.

Similarly, engineers are accustomed to working with products and with being focused on innovation. But knowing how to behave, knowing how your body language is perceived, is important when you’re pitching your product.

Q: Bottom line, is it true that you never get a second chance at first impression?

A: It will just take a few seconds, but in that time during a first meeting, you will have your social and economic level judged. They will even make assumptions about your level of success. And that first impression can last a lifetime.

You may have the greatest idea, but it won’t matter when pitching a VC if you have a bad first impression.