April 2, 2024
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Guest commentary: Seven tips for women to prepare their pitch presentation 


By Lois Phillips

Pitching a bold idea has the potential to advance your career and can be lucrative.

An innovative product, service, or operational improvement can benefit everyone. 

In today’s complex, uncertain world, organizations need to create a culture in which it’s safe to offer ways to shake things up, be more efficient, find new markets, and be innovative. 

It’s obvious that women can have a different perspective from men’s on how to address age-old and emerging problems and seize opportunities that aren’t immediately apparent to men; for instance, globally, women consumers control $20 trillion in consumer spending. 

They make the final decision for buying 91% of home purchases, 65% of the new cars, 80% of health care choices, and 66% of computers, a ginormous market to tap into.

As a public speaking coach, I’ve heard from diverse women clients who have had a big idea for a new product or service to address emerging global markets such as the women’s market but were reticent to pitch them. 

No doubt pitching a bold idea requires you to take a risk and make yourself vulnerable to criticism. 

If you’re a single parent who needs her job, who wants that? 

Various streams of socialization teach girls and women to be humble, polite, and self-effacing while boys and men are encouraged to step up and stand out. 

On a personal level, reticent women may struggle with the “modesty ethos” and are loathe to be seen as critical of the status quo, pushy or bragging. 

This is described well in comedienne Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants. 

She describes how she avoided being seen as “the boss” albeit in charge of her production, personnel, and resources. 

While attempting to balance family life and a demanding position, she dealt with pushback from pervasive sexism in a male-dominated industry. 

Research confirms that there are real risks for women who pitch due to stereotypes and sexist biases from investors. 

Research from 2017 describes how Venture Capitalists ask women entrepreneurs different questions than men based on an assumption that women are more likely to fail.  

Across 180 entrepreneurs and 140 VCs at one TechCrunch competition, men were consistently asked more ‘promotion’ questions (upside and potential gains), while women were asked more ‘preventive’ questions (potential losses and risk mitigation). 

It’s no surprise then, that the men entrepreneurs raised at least six times more money than the women. Knowing that this line of questioning might occur can help women entrepreneurs strategically prepare for a disheartening Q and A after their pitch and be neither surprised nor defensive if it should happen.

Here are seven tips for women entrepreneurs to consider before saying one single word:

Evaluate your group’s readiness for change: Assess your target audience. Are they open-minded? Bright ideas can save money, create customer loyalty, and help retain talent in the long run; but changing how things are done can be expensive and shake up the culture. Executives might be resistant to change. 

Question your assumptions about the audience: Are you assuming listeners have the technical capacity or background to understand and appreciate your big idea? Are listeners dynamic decision-makers who need hard data before being convinced? Offer dramatic visuals, statistics, and real examples that pack an emotional punch to ensure your bold idea is understood. 

Evaluate the risks inherent in suggesting a change: Managers or executives might feel embarrassed by a perceived critique. On the other hand, is there a reward for developing a big idea that benefits everyone? How does your big idea support the success of people already in leadership roles? Also, if the pitch backfires, can you walk away?

Solicit feedback from trusted co-workers or knowledgeable friends in the field: Identify listeners who will be candid as their suggestions for tightening up your pitch are golden. Find people who see value and benefits of your idea and who will support the idea publicly, if asked. If there isn’t anyone who will watch your back, decide if your pitch is worth a calculated risk

Demonstrate authority: Convey why YOU are the perfect person to initiate this big idea. Briefly state your experience and unique knowledge of the content and subject matter. Demonstrate how your experience gives you credibility as “the voice of authority.”

Be strategic in your presentation: Should there be unconscious bias, women who pitch need to be prepared to present scenarios showing an understanding of the current landscape. While any entrepreneur should be passionate about the product or service being pitched, women need to be particularly logical when presenting their pitch. Be ready to explain the goals you want to achieve, the benefits of your plan that align with key business objectives and the lost opportunities if no action is taken.

Be prepared for tough questions focused on negative risks: Acknowledge the risk, but shift focus to your demonstrated capacity to overcome and succeed. Explain how you are tested, known to be resilient, and should the unexpected happen, will pivot into Plan B. 

Forbes Business Council touts the old adage “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward” as a fundamental truth applying to all areas of life. 

Complacency leads to failure, so dynamic organizations must make the environment safe for everyone — including diverse women — to offer innovative ideas and reward those who do. 

Lois Phillips has a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara and wrote “9 Fast and Flawless Presentations for Women Speakers” with Dr. Anita Perez Ferguson and coaches executives and leaders in public speaking and media skills.