As a female entrepreneur, you are likely at some point to find yourself in the position of pitching to a room full of men.
Years ago when I worked in the corporate world for General Electric in London, I experienced something similar. I was frequently one of a few women in a room full of men and often one of the few people who was not from the US.
At that time, I did not have the tools to handle this situation. I often ended up alternating between hiding away and hoping I wouldn't be noticed, or being pushy as I thought that was what was required in the male-dominated, American corporate culture.
Now, years later, with my training and experience as a voice and communications expert, I see it very differently and I am pleased to share with you the top ten tips I wish I knew before pitching to a room full of men.
1. Be the leader in the room
You are the one who is giving the presentation. You need to 'own' being up front and unapologetic about what you know.
At the same time, a good leader will listen to, value and empower the other people in the room. Nor is a good leader threatened by what other people know.
The combination of being sure of yourself and your talents and abilities, and valuing and empowering others, is attractive and also compelling to an audience.
2. Keep it relevant
As I know you have something great to pitch and are well prepared, I won't even talk about that. However, you may, as a woman, wonder what to include that will be interesting to a male audience.
Asking simple questions such as, “Is this relevant to the men in the room? Is this what the (male) audience wants to hear?" as you prepare and before you give your talk, can really assist you in making sure you don't bore or tire your audience.
When you ask these questions, you will start to get some pointers as to the direction your pitch can go.
3. Be professional, without losing you
There are two things I'd like to talk about here. One is related to clothing and the other is about how you act.
I remember a grey pinstriped skirt suit that I owned in my corporate days. It made me feel hidden, unseen and not me. It was a strange attempt to fit into the male-dominated culture of the work environment, which did not work!
My suggestion is to find clothes that are professional and that you feel good in. You will feel more relaxed and more confident.
As a professional woman, pitching to a group of men, I suggest you avoid being overtly flirtatious. At the same time, who you are as a woman is part of you and your life force. If you cut that off, you also cut off part of your power and vitality, which you need to make your best presentation.
There is a way of 'showing up' as a woman in a room full of men, which allows you to retain your female power without overstepping boundaries of what is appropriate in a professional setting.
4. Invite and 'tease' your audience
It can be tempting to tell your audience everything about your subject. This can leave the audience feeling bombarded with information, which can sometimes lead to boredom, confusion and even hostility.
So, keep the pitch short and sweet. Give people a minimum of information so that they need to ask questions and reach for more.
This keeps them alert, engaged, interested and most likely enthusiastic.
5. Deal with nerves
If you start to feel nervous when you see the 'sea of men's faces' in front of you, I suggest planting your feet firmly on the ground. You may want to have them quite far apart, if that is comfortable for you, and breathe deeply down into your abdomen. This will make you feel stable, grounded and present.
At the same time, you can ask for your awareness to expand out beyond the audience and beyond the room you are in. This may help you not 'get lost' or feel overwhelmed.
6. Engage and energise your audience
There are two ways that people tend to 'show up' when they are presenting in front of an audience, neither of which is very effective. When you know the alternative, you will find it easy to have every person in the room engaged and attentive.
Nervous people tend to be 'neutral', with the result that people find it hard to engage with them and even sometimes hard to hear them. Others 'push' what they are saying at their audience, which tends to make the audience defensive and resistant.
There is an alternative way, which is to 'pull energy'. You can do this by imagining an energetic connection that comes from behind your audience, through them, through you, to behind you. Don't worry if you don't completely understand this or find it strange. This technique is what a lot of great speakers and performers do very naturally.
'Pulling energy' will result in your audience feeling alive, energised and engaged with you, before you have even started to speak!
7. Share your personal story
If there is something in your personal story that is relevant to your pitch, mention it briefly to illustrate what you are talking about. It has the effect of making people feel close to you, that they know you and would like to support you.
This is not to say that you should talk non-stop about yourself in an unrelated context. Of course you know the difference!
8. Be willing to receive judgement
As you become more successful, there are bound to be people who are judging you or even disliking you. Pitching to a room full of men is reason enough for some people to judge you.
The way you handle this judgement will be key to your success. You must find a way to be at ease with it or you will stop yourself from making a good presentation and beyond that, from being successful as an entrepreneur.
Remember that judgement is never about you, it is always about the other person. If someone feels the need to criticise you, it is most likely because they are jealous of your success. Anyone who is confident in themselves will delight in your progress and achievements.
Just knowing this can make it easier to take no notice of the judgement coming your way. What if you could even enjoy it as a sign of your growing success?
9. Let go of perfection
As I mentioned earlier, it is a given that you are well prepared and know your subject well. However, if you are trying to be perfect, or worrying that someone may ask you the one question you don't know the answer to, you will not be performing at your best, as part of your mind will be analysing your talk to see if you're perfect or not. This will stop your natural spontaneity and flow.
If you don't see it as a problem if you 'fluff' a line or don't know the answer to something, your audience will most likely not be concerned about it either. It may even draw them further in if they see you relaxed, even about a 'mistake'.
10. Be you and enjoy yourself!
There is something about giving a presentation, being in front of an audience that makes a lot of people forget themselves and adopt a persona of some kind. Some people become very serious and sound like a textbook. Others may 'become their Mom'.
If you notice this occurring, you can ask, “Who am I being?" This simple question interrupts the pattern of mimicking someone else and brings you back to you.
When you are being you, you are relaxed and energised and the audience feels that and responds positively.
So, these are the ten tips I wish I had known back when I was wearing the grey pinstriped skirt suit and struggling to know how to behave in meetings full of men!
I hope they will assist you in creating the success you desire and deserve as a female entrepreneur.