I recently sat in on two consecutive presentations given by women – the first, by a software consultant; the second by a director of marketing for a startup company. Both women were somewhere around 30, casually dressed and clearly competent. One controlled her audience; the other did not. Here’s what happened:
“Your opinion, while interesting is irrelevant”
The audience of about 50 software engineers sat quietly and took notes during the consultant’s presentation. Maybe they were younger and less experienced. Maybe their mothers taught them good manners. They photographed slides and asked a handful of questions during the presentation but mostly waited for a discussion period at the end.
In loved the quote the second speaker opened with, You opinion while interesting, is irrelevant.” She then poked fun at herself, saying she was director of marketing because there was no one else in her department. She characterized her company as simple and straightforward; her market as full of people who were bored on Fridays. She got as far as her first slide before two men began critiquing her process. Their comments, though interesting, were irrelevant to the rest of us, and time-consuming.
Be like Beyonce: Ask for feedback. Look for it. Give it.
I wondered if she wanted to have more of a collaboration with her audience rather than a traditional presentation. But 30 minutes and two slides into the pitch, it became clear that she was not in control. We’ve all been there at some point in our careers, and I know this woman will learn from this experience.In fact, in describing how she shares her data with others in her company, she told a story of Beyonce’s immediately critiquing each of her performances, sending night-of feedback to her back-up performers.
Be professional; never, ever minimize your professionalism or what you have to say
Speaking to a group of people you don’t know is a challenge, any way you cut it. But there are ways to hedge your bets and set yourself up to be successful:
- Dress the part. Don’t fool yourself: Men can get away with dressing more casually than women can. Dress the part you’re playing. If you’re an executive, look like one.
- Define your expertise, don’t inflate it but don’t minimize it either.
- Set clear guidelines for your audience. If in doubt, use the tried and true
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them: “I’ll spend 20 minutes outlining my process, leaving 15 minutes for your questions and comments …”
- If someone in the audience insists on interrupting, stick to your guns: “Let me finish outlining my process, then your question will make more sense…” Practice this; you’ll become more witty and charming, always a good thing.